Thursday, August 09, 2012

Indonesians Burning

When we caught the Ekspress Rakyat from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur we passed many palm plantations, clearly where jungle had been cleared. However, Malaysia clearing jungle for palm plantations is nothing compared to what Indonesia is doing.

As I recounted at the time, each day we would greet our friend in KL with, 'How's the weather Manny?'

He invariably replied with, 'Hazy. The Indonesians are burning again.'

To Malaysia and Singapore, and other nearby countries, the Indonesians burning is of great concern. The smoke travels and smothers both countries. In Indonesia peat lands are drained and the peat set alight. Once alight peat is almost impossible to extinguish.  A conference between the appropriate government ministers from surrounding affected countries was being planned while we were in Malaysia. But it was suggested that the conference was pointless as Indonesia just shrugs its shoulders and says it does have the money or resources to enforce its land clearing laws that stop the burning of peat and the cutting down of the jungle.

Our friend from northern Victoria spends most of his time when he is not in Australia alternating between Bangkok, Chang Mai and Penang. At times he has to leave Penang when the smoke gets too bad.

As well as the smoke problem, there is such a loss of wild life habitat.

An emotive picture always helps. Look at the poor innocent orangutan, being deprived of his jungle by Indonesia clearing and burning. Orangutans are truly delightful animals.

As well as palm oil being in a lot of our processed food, it is also used in biofuel. Biofuel was supposed to help the environment by replacing petroleum fuels, but around the world it has not. Huge swathes of forest and jungle have been cleared for biofuel production, along with productive farmland being turned over to biofuel production. Somehow, I don't think the promotion of biofuel was really thought through properly. It is rather like us extracting biofuel from sugar cane. Yep, let's clear more Queensland tropical rainforest and plant sugar cane for biofuel. Former Prime Minister Howard, at the behest of cane growers, pushed for biofuel very hard but the ten per cent mix that was available at service stations has not been seen by me for some time, no matter that it was cheaper. It seems the public rejected it.

Indonesia's carbon emissions are right up there with the giant energy consumers of the world, China and the United States, purely from rainforest destruction.

I can't vouch for these figures from Palm Oil Action Australia, but if accurate, they are of great concern. Like genetically modified food, I think we have a right to know what in our supermarkets and shops contains palm oil and then we can decide.
  • Indonesia has the second highest rate of deforestation in the world.
  • Over 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed every hour in South East Asia.
  • Clearing forest for palm oil plantations is the leading cause of deforestation.
  • Over 50 Orangutans a week die because of this devastation.
  • There are now less than 500 Sumatran tigers and 3000 Sumatran Elephants left in the wild.
  • Palm oil is contained in 40% of products in Australian supermarkets.
  • It is not mandatory to label palm oil in Australia.
  • There is an alternative. Companies can source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) which is planted on already degraded land or grassland NOT rainforest.
Just to note, I do not blame the poor people of Indonesia who make a dollar however they can and I don't think the poor have the capital to finance huge land clearing projects, but someone does.


  1. Hello Andrew:
    This makes, as we are sure that you are aware, for totally depressing reading. The destruction of the earth's rain forests, wherever they may be, is a concern for us all and to have experienced it first hand, as yo have done, must make it even more real, and terrible.

    This is a matter for all responsible governments worldwide and, if need be, as we suspect is the case, to find the money, albeit from taxpayers, to assist such countries as Indonesia to find effective solutions to this and other problems.

  2. A provoking and stimulating blog entry, Andrew.
    If you can pin-point one country that got independence since the advent of the UN after WW2 that has been a success story, I would be mightily surprised. Also since the break-up of countries in the Soviet block after the Berlin Wall came down. All run by either corrupt military or elitist families.
    The only benefactorary of all this corruption, pollution and the list goes on are the vaults of the Swiss banks under the streets of Zurich. The Swiss did not join the UN until 2002 and the bankers just thumb their collective noses as to what is coming in and from where their beloved vaults. And who can blame them???
    Actually you don't have to even go to Indonesia to find out about this, it is happening right above us in our former manadated territory, PNG!
    This may be the second "can of worms" that you have opened in just a short time.
    I shall be looking forward to other comments. Google "PNG Attitude" and you may see why.
    Well done anyhow.

  3. JayLa, that is what is going to have to happen. I think it has started already, as I believe we pay some money to Indonesia to stop land clearing.

    I cannot name one Colin. I supported independence for Rhodesia and look what happened there. Did I learn a lesson? I was back supporting independence for East Timor. The best thing about countries that gained independence in the twentieth century is the infrastructure and organisation the colonisers left behind. Except someone should have told them that it needs modernising and updating at times. PNG is a basket case, a failed state and it is our responsibility, even if it means treading on sensitive toes. But their are no votes in that and PNG will just stagger along while we pour $s into it. At least the last Prime Ministerial stouch was sorted out without bloodshed. Will the real PM stand forward!

  4. Colin2:09 pm

    Andrew - well admitted.
    Look at blog I sent - view, the reunions and sports sections.
    Also I have had much to say on the political shenanigans that are going on.
    Also have a look at the three females who have somehow got into this "NEW" parliament. They have interesting backgrounds.
    "Will the real PM stand forward"!!!!!!!
    That my friend will be interesting indeed, I think the one with the most "loot" will emerge and then back to Square 1.
    Mugabee eh! Were you in a trance. like Malcolm Fraser??
    The once bread basket of Africa, now the worst messed up country in the World and just how much money is hidden in the vaults of Zurich?
    Hmmmmmmmmmmm ! This could get interesting indeed.

  5. I think that the push to label each oil more specifically has been a campaign in Oz for years and it's criminal that it hasn't been done yet.

    Someone told me to check the ingredients label and to assume that, if it just said 'vegetable oil' it contained palm oil and to put it right back on the shelf. I did that every time.

  6. This is a valuable posting. Good on you.

  7. It is criminal what is happening to the little rainforest which is left on the planet. The state of P/NG is heartbreaking. Such a beautiful country going to rack and ruin, with Indonesia helping to destroy the forests there also.

  8. Sorry Colin. I do too much skimming. What blog? This is not going to get interesting. No one cares much, least of all me now. As for Rhodesia, who would have imagined. I wonder what Fraser thinks now.

    Ok Kath. The ubiquitous vegetable oil. Noted. I am going to look into it a bit further.

    But a futile post I suspect RH.

    Diane, we have heard a little of what happens in Western New Guinea, with Australian companies being guilty. It is sad about PNG because it really needs guidance and policing, like in the old days.

  9. I read product ingredients too and if an item has vegetable oil with no further specification, I'll assume it is palm oil. But sometimes now, I find a product that has vegetable oil then in brackets canola, sunflower or soybean oils. It certainly adds a good bit of time to the weekly shopping trip now. My current bottle of Crisco has non-genetically modified canola and soybean oils. Usually I stick with a specific oil, such as olive, sunflower or peanut etc so I know exactly what is in it.

  10. 300 football fields every hour, surely that can't be right Andrew, if it is heaven help us! I grew up in Zimbabwe (when it was still Rhodesia) and Zambia, it was amazing, it's heartbreaking to see it now.

  11. That's so scary, frustrating, and depressing. And so sad about the orangutans. It's horrible.

  12. Shrugging their shoulders suggests there is not the political will to save the nation's air quality. Either the Parliamentarians are inept, or they have a vested interest in retaining the status quo.

  13. This is all SO tragic. And yes, what a legacy all of Europe has left for its former colonies, and it started with the UN.
    The "Granting" of independence in many instances has simply lifted the lids from a lot of pressure cookers. What imperial powers forgot to take with them were artificially created boundaries between different states... though they did remember to turn out the lights as they left.

    Agribusiness seems to have started the ball rolling decades ago. Many people living at subsistence level and reliant on small, home gardens had their lives destroyed when their land was sold out from underneath them. Not a good recipe for social cohesion.

    As for PNG, the only thing we can say in our defence is that it wasn't an actual 'colony'.

    I had no idea about the smoke problem. What we should be burning is all the claptrap in every book or paper published by Milton Friedman and his acolytes.

  14. River, it seems that is a fair assumption and I wasn't aware of it. Yes, we too buy specific oils. What you suggest is another way to label. Rather than force companies to label, but the products that do label, such as non GM, or as you say, specifying on the label what sort of oil it is if it is not palm oil.

    Sounds a lot to me Grace too. Ever see the made for tv play Drums along Balmoral Drive?

    Dina, I suppose it will change in time, but it does require people being aware of the situation. Maybe I have helped a little.

    Hels, I would go down the road of of vested interests. The connection between the army and government is very unhealthy.

    FC, it was not only border problems left behind. It was often toxic ethnic mixes of imported workers or industrious money makers. I suppose with agribusiness, you can even go back to England when peasants were at the mercy of their land lord and what he wanted to do with his land.

    PNG, may not have been ours originally, but we ended up responsible for it. I don't disagree about Friedman.


Before you change something, find out why it is the way it is in the first place - unknown.