The Jakarta Globe, 26 October 2010
Oftentimes people do not realize the cost of environment destruction, or they have been compensated (or bribed) by companies to make the destruction worthwhile. In many cases few people are aware of the fact that there are other options, and other employment opportunities.
An example is found in a village near coal mining activities in Meratus Mountains, South Kalimantan. Rivers in the region, which the population heavily depend on for daily activities, are polluted, while agricultural lands have been converted for mining activities. Residents live within earshot of noise from the mining activities.
A mechanism for enforcing the rules against environmental destruction is of course important, but without support from locals, there will always be a black market to destroy the environment, and companies will continue providing handsome compensation to the people who support their activities.
What’s the solution?
Education is key. We need to be able to convince those most intimately connected to the environment that they do not benefit from its destruction.
We have to work from the demand side. For example, people in the United States are very aware of the health risks posed by smoking. Demand for cigarettes in the US consequently is relatively low. Cigarette companies in many cases have marketed more aggressively in other countries where people are not as aware of smoking risks. They go to Indonesia to enjoy a market of consumers who are less health-conscious.
Similarly, companies in need of forest areas go to the countries where the people are not aware of the cost of destroying the environment — or to where they can be compensated to allow it. Companies continue burning forests because this method gives them lucrative profit.
One way to convince them to adopt different methods is to cut into this profit. In the case of the haze, this would mean drawing attention to those products that result from slash-and-burn agriculture. A conscientious consumer is part of the solution.
At the same time, we must support the local people. We must create alternative employment, so that populations dwelling near forests know that there are other opportunities that can give them at least as good an income as those that are harmful for the environment. A third step we can take is to create productive employment that depends directly on the healthy biodiversity of the local environment.
If these three policies are well implemented, companies will find burning forests a less attractive option because of lack of demand for their goods and a lack of compliance on the part of local populations. The people in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia would no longer suffer from the haze of forest fires, and the people responsible for making them would no longer have special incentive to do so.