Saturday, October 31, 2015

Monbiot Proclaims the Arrival of Eco-Apocalypse

That's Indonesia - Under the Smoke

Who knew it would begin in Indonesia? Who knew the world's mainstream media would simply ignore it?  Guardian enviro-scribe George Monbiot is gobsmacked at the wildfire devastation that has swept Indonesia along its entire 5000 km. length and how almost no one is noticing.

I’ve often wondered how the media would respond when eco-apocalypse struck. I pictured the news programmes producing brief, sensational reports, while failing to explain why it was happening or how it might be stopped. Then they would ask their financial correspondents how the disaster affected share prices, before turning to the sport. As you can probably tell, I don’t have an ocean of faith in the industry for which I work. What I did not expect was that they would ignore it.

A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century – so far.

And the media? It’s talking about the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?

What I’m discussing is a barbecue on a different scale. Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany.

Monbiot points out that the devastation is the handiwork of man and nature in combination.

It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries.

Why is this happening? Indonesia’s forests have been fragmented for decades by timber and farming companies. Canals have been cut through the peat to drain and dry it. Plantation companies move in to destroy what remains of the forest to plant monocultures of pulpwood, timber and palm oil. The easiest way to clear the land is to torch it. Every year, this causes disasters. But in an extreme El NiƱo year like this one, we have a perfect formula for environmental catastrophe.

Monbiot concludes with a dark outlook for the upcoming Paris climate summit.

Governments ignore issues when the media ignores them. And the media ignores them because … well, there’s a question with a thousand answers, many of which involve power. But one reason is the complete failure of perspective in a de-skilled industry dominated by corporate press releases, photo ops and fashion shoots, where everyone seems to be waiting for everyone else to take a lead. The media makes a collective non-decision to treat this catastrophe as a non-issue, and we all carry on as if it’s not happening.

At the climate summit in Paris in December the media, trapped within the intergovernmental bubble of abstract diplomacy and manufactured drama, will cover the negotiations almost without reference to what is happening elsewhere. The talks will be removed to a realm with which we have no moral contact. And, when the circus moves on, the silence will resume. Is there any other industry that serves its customers so badly?


Toby said...

Monbiot touched on it but this is clearer.

"For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia have choked vast expanses of south-east Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled."

People deliberately started the fires, and continue to do so, although what is burning is out of control. How do we deal with that? There is a similar attack on the Amazon.

When do the Indonesians start their mass emigration?

The Mound of Sound said...

That's a very legitimate question. Who knows? We're just beginning to test the resilience of national governments and societies to climate change impacts. Overall we like to think of ourselves as a lot more resilient than we turn out to be when we're under stress.

Northern PoV said...

1965 ... the CIA sponsored and coordinated an mass assassination campaign against the popular leftists. About 500k people.

Society was 'cleansed' and has never recovered. Saddest place on earth.

John's aghast said...

Isn't that the stompin' grounds of Rafe Mair's friend Sukanto Tanoto, the dude that wants to fire up an LNG plant in Woodfibre? That'd start up a pretty good blaze!