Saturday, February 17, 2007
  Stop-Start Making Sense

Flip-flopping, positive-negative conflicting messages: how on earth is a blogger and his reader(s) supposed to make sense of this world?

A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says that 98% of the remaining forests on Sumatra and Borneo could be gone by 2022. Apparently "orangutans face perhaps the most dire situation", rather than the rhinoceros, tiger and elephant populations.

Me, I'm worried about the trees. UNEP estimates that more than 73 percent of all logging in Indonesia is illegal and satellite imagery confirms that illegal logging is taking place in 37 of Indonesia's 41 national parks.

What troubles UNEP officials and environmentalists most about the illegal logging is how well organized it is. "It is not being done by individual impoverished people, but by well-organized elusive commercial networks," said Achim Steiner, head of the UNEP.

This was echoed at this week's merry jaunt in Bali for the "Country-Led Initiative of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Forestry Minister is reported in the Jakarta Post as saying that efforts to control forestry and plantations over the past few decades had proved to be more complicated than was first thought. "There are many parties involved and their network has been extensive," he said.

Many "actors", or environmental criminals, continued to safely exist in the government bureaucracy, legislative bodies, the military and business.

But it is encouraging to hear these noises and to actually see that not all of the actors are immune.

The governor of East Kalimantan ... has been suspended and faces life in prison for his involvement in an oil palm plantation scheme that caused the deforestation of a million hectares of tropical rainforest.

As well as the rainforest, I'm also worried about Kalimantan's peat bogs.

In late 1995, President Suharto felt obliged to restore Indonesia's rice self-sufficiency. Unfortunately he was in the final throes of his megalomania, was easily swayed by his cronies who had their eyes on the vast hinterland of Kalimantan and so the Mega Rice Project was launched.

... about one million hectares of rice paddy in Java had been sold for commercial and urban development. To compensate, he decreed that an equivalent area be created out of lowland peat swamps in Borneo. In theory this proposal had much to commend it. However, the peatland soil characteristics in Central Kalimantan are completely different from those of volcanic Java. The project was doomed to fail before it started.

Illegal logging with innumerable species of flora and fauna decimated, peat bogs dehydrated and burning adding not only to the annual haze afflicting South East Asia but also releasing "at least one billion tonnes of carbon ... into the atmosphere".

And now the government of SBY is intent on reviving development of the peatlands. This depends on a presidential decree, but basically he has said that 80%, about 1.1 million hectares will be conserved. Presumably this means that they will be rehydrated, perhaps by small scale damming of the water channels.

The other 20% is to be used for agriculture, but presumably not rice. By coincidence I had a lengthy conversation this week with two employees of a major palm oil company which has plantations in Kalimantan and Borneo. I asked them what, apart palm oil (kelapa sawit), is peatland good for agriculturally and they told me "nothing". They also told me that the land would probably be 'unproductive' once the 30 year life span of the trees was complete.

Surely, the solution for these lands is to restore them all to their original function, which is to serve as "the lungs of the world". It is possible. After all, this week an agreement to protect large areas of forest in central Borneo was officially signed by three governments that share the island. Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia will "conserve and sustainably manage" the so-called 'Heart of Borneo', one of the most biodiverse, and threatened, tropical rainforests in the world.

Trying to comprehend these issues gives me a headache. So allow me to close on a news item of pure commonsense. Indonesia will (hopefully) be extending the 30-day tourist visa to as much as 120 days, which is twice as long as it was before it was halved to the current restrictive one. Well, that's roughly what Josef Kalla reportedly said on Thursday.

And that is really good news as it will encourage the return of backpacking tourists who will now have time to get to the more remote parts of the country. Who knows, but they may wish to spend some time volunteering with environmental groups, such as the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation which is about to release some 200 orangutans back into the forests of Central Kalimantan.

In 2003, several astronomers reported that the blood-red sky in Edvard Munch's The Scream
(above left) was actually a realistic rendering of the blazing sunsets caused by detritus from the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883, one of the few 'natural' disasters to hit Indonesia.

Miko's Comment - February 18, 2007, 9:28 am
As a footnote to your footnote, Munch's Scream is not the only rendering of a spectacular sunset caused by an Indonesian volcanic eruption.

Many of Turner's paintings have beautiful sunsets and those from late 1815 have been linked to the explosion of Mount Tambora in Sumbawa. It was the biggest explosion ever recorded up till that time and caused tsunamis and earthquakes as well as pyroclastic flows that killed 10,000 people instantly and led to the deaths of as many as 80,000 people as a result of famine when crops were blanketed with a thick layer of dust and ash.

However the disturbances were not limited to Indonesia, the huge volume of dust and ash released into the atmosphere (1200 metres were blown off the top of the mountain leading to a volcanic column 25km high) caused climatic turmoil throughout the planet with 200 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide released into the atmosphere.

The Indian monsoons were disrupted leading to a cholera outbreak that spread throughout the world, there were devastating floods in China, Ireland suffered its first ever great famine and in North America 1816 is known as the year without a summer.

Isn't it nice to know that even then Indonesia was only known throughout the world for all the wrong reasons.

Incidentally Turner's painting's weren't the only artistic result of the eruption. Lord Byron and his chum Percy Bysshe Shelley and others were spending the summer of 1816 in Geneva. The weather was so bad they spent most of the time entertaining themselves indoors. Byron came up with the idea that in such gloomy circumstances they should each attempt to write a good ghost story, Shelley's wife Mary came up with a real beezer, it was called Frankenstein.

Interesting I thought.

I totally agree, Miko. Many thanks.


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