This week I’m publishing a different article to support a particular global crisis that is in need of awareness and understanding. With all that is going on in the world right now and the social media debates following, I decided this week my best contribution is to use my skills to raise awareness on something hasn’t had as much media coverage in recent months. It goes without saying that I deeply pray for all those affected in the world by acts of terrorism.
Under an hour’s flight away from where I write this in Bali, there is huge crisis and global emergency happening in Borneo – the peat fires that are threatening human lives, endangered species and the environment on a shocking scale. Some are saying this is the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st Century.
Not only am I living in Bali close to this and with a power to speak out to those within my sphere of my influence, but the links to palm oil production mean that as food consumers we have some power in our purchasing efforts that may have an impact.
In this article, I’m going to explain the causes and effects of the fires, talk about how you can help and call up on some media perspective that I want to highlight.
So what’s happening in Borneo?
Fires. Lots of them. Underground. Uncontrolled and hard to stop. We’re not just talking 50 odd, we’re talking 100,000’s.
Why has this happened?
Borneo has a large area of peat swamp forests where waterlogged soil prevents dead leaves and wood from fully decomposing.
Over the past decade, there’s been a demand for agricultural land, particularly for pulpwood and palm oil – the latter which is used in many processed products we consume day to day. Think big manufacturing companies like Kraft and PepsiCo who aren’t exactly being ethical in their industrial methods.
The situation, the politics and industrial use of the land is complex but essentially these forests have been cleared and drained. This has lead to large dry areas of peat which are extremely prone to fires. These fires spread underground uncontrollably and emit smoke and haze that cause thick smog.
How to the fires start?
- Contractors of palm oil companies who accidentally start fires
- Small holders practicing slash and burn as a cheap way to clear land
- Large plantations with poor Health and Safety practices – employees can toss cigarette butts into dry scrub
What’s the impact?
Whether it’s human health, the environment or animals that really touches your heart, this crisis is seriously devastating on all fronts:
- Many people and children are living in thick smoke and haze 24 hours a day. Over 75million people have been exposed to the smoke. 500,000 have contracted respiratory illnesses. The long-term effects will likely continue for years to come. Whilst initial death toll is low, the long term knock on could be severe.
- The burning releases CO2 at an obscene rate. It’s reported that daily emissions are equal to the daily emissions of the US. A three week period equals the annual output of Germany. That is just crazy when you truly comprehend it.
- The habitats of animals are being destroyed. Nature is losing to out to human greed. Fires now threaten 1/3 of the worlds remaining orangutang population.
How is the world responding?
Well, the media don’t seem to be doing as much as you think they would be given the scale of things. It seems that people aren’t fully aware of what’s going on, the scale of it and what they can do to help (hence why I’m writing this).
This has been going on for months but as George Monibot points out in his article discussing the lack of media response to the crisis, it turns out that at times, sensationalist food related headlines like ‘Are sausages healthy’ have dominated debates instead.
Reading a lot about health I know sensationalist food headlines well. I’m all for raising awareness of how people can improve their health, eat less sugar, stop long term disease etc. but it’s sometimes taken too far and can at times dominate the media coverage.
Whilst I appreciate the need for consciousness, going overkill on food, diets (including sugar-free) or fat loss can take up the mental capacity of people away from important issues and problems that they could help with – these fires in Borneo just as one example.
You can apply your own skills and talents today to understand, research, write, speak, share. Create your own mini project around issues you feel strongly about and you’ll probably forget about sugar for a good while whilst you apply yourself.
If those who are already pretty aware of food, shifted a bit off focus off the more minor detail of what they’re eating/not eating and applied some of that energy to how they could help or support another problem in the world, I’m convinced their overall health would improve, a lot of good stuff would happen and mental health issues would reduce.
What do you think?
So what can you do to help with the Borneo fires?
1. Raise awareness
It could be as easy as sharing something on Facebook or Twitter. You can share this article or watch and share this video of when Harrison Ford met the Indonesian Minister of Forestry. You can write your own blog post on Medium.com and share on your social feeds like I am here. Write a blog, start a discussion, share an opinion.
2. Boycott palm oil
You can vote with your purchases not to support the companies that are fuelling the fires and destroying the orangutang homes through deforestation.
One thing I know I am always careful with when it comes to palm oil is nut butter (because I eat a lot of it!). Here are a list of brands in the UK that I know don’t contain palm oil and that I would recommend:
If you’re really serious about it, this guide on How your daily routine can help the rainforest is super comprehensive and helpful in naming good and bad brands in all categories.
You can also sign this Greenpeace petition to support 22yr old Rahmi Carolina who is a student gathering global support from the customers of palm oil brands.
Of course, you can also donate to help buy masks, firefighting equipment, and medication for those on the ground now. Here are a few good organisations:
Everyone reading this has talents, skills, contacts and resources that could be used to help contribute and help fight this devastating disaster or another. You don’t need to have loads of money or time – get creative, decide on some action and start making your difference, no matter how big or small (buying non palm oil peanut butter counts!).
Be aware of losing perspective to your media feeds; make a note to shop responsibly, give generously your time and resoucrces where you can and share important messages.
Reading and sources:
- Is Indonesia’s fire crisis connected to the palm oil in our snack food?, The Guardian
- Indonesia is burning, so why is the world looking away?, The Guardian
- Indonesia’s forest fires choke Malaysia, Singapore: ‘Burning land…just for fun’, Forbes.com
- Indonesian fires: Forget the orangutans, is the blaze a tipping point for carbon emissions, www.abc.net.au