Rainforest Action Network: People, peat and promises for a new direction in Sumatra

• July 20, 2011

Deforestation in the Sumatran rainforest | Photo Credit: Rainforest Action Network

Deforestation in the Sumatran rainforest | Photo Credit: Rainforest Action Network

Reposted from our partners at the Rainforest Action Network.

If you think this title sounds hyperbolic, you probably have not visited Sumatra lately. Before traveling here, I had heard stories about the oceans of oil palm that have been planted where rainforest once stood. But I was not prepared for this.

The first sign that something is terribly wrong came before our plane even landed. From 30,000 feet over the Java Sea between Jakarta and Sumatra, there was no sign of land or ocean below. Just a sickly haze stretching to the horizon.

Global climate change is usually an abstraction — a concept that must be imagined or made academic to understand. But here, it’s in your face, tangible and acute. Incredibly, Indonesia has become the world’s third largest carbon polluting country, behind only the US and China — and 80% of those emissions are the result of deforestation.

Stepping off the plane in Pekanbaru, the capital city of the Province of Riau, the assault on my eyes and nose and lungs was immediate. I actually had to suppress an initial panic that I would suffocate from the smoke. Our friends here later told us we were lucky to land at all, as air traffic would likely be cancelled again for lack of visibility. Shipping traffic from Singapore is sometimes similarly interrupted by the intensity of the smog. Our hosts laughed a little uncomfortably, explaining that before the vast deforestation of the past decades there used to be two seasons here: the wet season and the dry season. Now, they said, there are four: the wet season, the flooding season, the dry season and the smoke season.

Read more at The Understory Blog.

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About the Author

Karl Burkart is the Digital Communications Director for the GCCA, the Global Call for Climate Action, and TckTckTck, a network of 400+ diverse organizations working around the world for greater action on the growing problem of climate change. Karl also blogs on technology and the environment for a variety of publications. You can follow him on Twitter @greendig.

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