Vleeptron's Weather Report from Earth: Indonesia's Green Monster Smog Cloud
The first draft of this post was on VleeptronZ for about 30 minutes this morning, and then vanished entirely. I suspect the government of Indonesia hacked into the Agence-Vleeptron Presse supercomputer.
That Green Shit is smog, caused by slash-and-burn clearing of the rain forest, largely in Indonesia -- the island of Sumatra and the Indonesian half of Borneo.
The image is not a single satellite image, but rather an amalgam of data from four satellites that carry an instrument called TOMS (Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer) for measuring ozone values. (This image is actually not this season's Monster Smog Cloud, but its ancestor from 2001. So sue me.)
In nearly all rain forests around Earth, poor subsistance farmers practice slash-and-burn to make new arable fields. Typically their governments do not directly forbid the practice for fear of an angry political backlash, or even violent resistance. Around the world in the last decade, poor farmers are learning how to organize and resist, even if the government policies they oppose are (as perceived by the prosperous, environmentally-conscious West) wise and necessary.
As the planet chokes, gasps, and suffers economic and social disruption, a fundamental question: Who gets to decide which policies are wise, good and necessary? Another: If the Western-wise policies prevail, what happens to the farmers and their families?
Though not directly a cause of the Monster Smog Cloud, the other great threat to equatorial rain forests is pressure to log rare old-growth hardwoods like mahoganny, which command high prices in the West for furniture and building construction. The outlaw state Myanmar, desperate for hard Western currency, has been aggressively raping its old-growth rain forest in violation of international environmental treaties. As the rain forest vanishes, so does the habitat for endangered, unique wildlife.
Slash-and-burn and rain forest logging did far less damage before the invention and mass distribution of the portable (1-person) gasoline-engine chainsaw. Prior to this, attacks on the rain forest were more limited by the volume of damage muscle-power (axes and saws) could do. The introduction of the chainsaw has probably ratcheted up the damage and the annual rate of rain forest shrinkage by a factor of 10.
Likewise, ocean fishing was largely limited by coast-hugging boats dependent on muscle-power and sails. The introduction, around 1910, of gasoline-powered diesel engines vastly increased the range of fishing fleets and explosively turned ocean fishing into a huge-volume industry.
When I was a kid, our circa-1958 textbooks confidently proclaimed that The Grand Banks (in the North Atlantic near Newfoundland, Canada) had "an inexhaustible supply of fish." (Mostly cod.) 16th-century European sailors spread legends that the Grand Banks were so dense with fish that sailors could walk from boat to boat without falling into the sea.
The Grand Banks were closed in the 1990s, and about 30,000 Canadian fishermen/fisherwomen were out of work. No more fish. The governments are hoping that a decade of No Fishing may encourage the few remaining fish to have lots of unprotected sex and eventually replenish The Grand Banks. Save your tartar sauce and Watch This Space.
Friday 13 October 2006
by Ahmad Pathoni
Meeting of Haze-hit countries
ends without detailed plan
PEKANBARU, Indonesia (Reuters) -- Southeast Asian nations failed on Friday to agree on a detailed plan to tackle Indonesian forest fires, telling Jakarta it must ratify a smog pact before it could expect large amounts of aid.
Environment and other ministers from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei gathered in Pekanbaru, on Indonesia's Sumatra island, on Friday to discuss the crisis.
Little was agreed and officials instead pledged to hold more talks in the near future.
Indonesia had appealed at the meeting for help to fight the forest and brush fires that have spread smoke over much of Southeast Asia, triggering fears of a repeat of months of choking haze in 1997-98 that cost the region billions in economic losses.
One official estimated the fires raging in parts of Sumatra and Indonesia's part of Borneo island had so far cost the country $1 billion in economic damage this year.
Indonesia's neighbors are growing increasingly frustrated with Jakarta's failure to tackle the annual dry season fires, most of which are deliberately lit by farmers as well as timber and oil palm plantation owners.
When the meeting ended on Friday evening, some individual pledges of support had been made, but Jakarta had been told it would have to formally ratify an Association of South East Asian Nations haze treaty before expecting major funding from it.
Regional countries signed the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Indonesia this week pledged to ratify the pact.
Asked at a news conference about implementing the ASEAN haze agreement, Malaysian environment minister Azmi Khalid said, "We don't have that yet because until the agreement is signed, we cannot move forward."
Singaporean environment minister Yaacub Ibrahim said: "If the agreement is signed the fund will be operational. The fund will allow us to do a lot more," referring to provisions in the pact.
FORCES OF NATURE
Indonesian environment minister Rachmat Witoelar opened the meeting by saying Jakarta recognized that forces of nature and social conditions had severely limited the effectiveness of the government's fire suppression measures and called for ASEAN aid.
As if to underline the haze threat, the meeting in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, is in an area of Sumatra badly affected by the raging fires.
But the minister's appeal failed to win over his neighbors and the joint statement issued at the end lacked mention of specific fresh direct steps, beyond saying "firefighting mechanism(s)" would be upgraded and more effectively used.
It also announced plans for a regional workshop in Indonesia in November that would look into new measures to tackle the haze problem, including seeking international expertise to develop a comprehensive plan of action. It also called for a ministerial steering committee to oversee implementation.
"The formation of the committee and the outcomes of the regional workshop will be submitted to the ASEAN summit in December 2006," the statement added.
ASEAN includes the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in addition to the countries meeting in Pekanbaru.
Malaysia has proposed the five countries at the meeting buy two Russian-built Ilyushin aircraft to scoop up sea water and douse fires, Riau police chief Ito Sumardi told reporters.
Singapore's Ibrahim said it is offering firefighters and a C-130 airplane for cloud seeding, adding: "Everybody should do their part to tackle the problem."
The fires have been burning for weeks, creating the smoke that has made many ill, shut airports and threatened wildlife in protected forests.
Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban said more than 75 percent of the fires were not in government forests but plantations and farms of private companies and local people.
He said Central Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo island was the worst hit, with around 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of peat land in one area on fire. Peat fires are particularly hard to put out and can burn for months.
Khairul Zainal, head of the environmental impact control agency in Riau, estimated the cost of the haze at 10 trillion rupiah ($1.09 billion) for Kalimantan and Sumatra.
Indonesia bans slash-and-burn practices by farmers, timber firms and plantations. But prosecutions take time and few have stuck.