When the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei all pledged to conserve the heart of Borneo in February, I was positively ecstatic. I never thought I would see this happen. I really thought the whole island would go up in smoke, devoured by palm oil plantations and our insatiable desire for cheap lumber. Only about half of Borneo’s original forest remains, but if these three governments keep their word to preserve what is left, there could still be wild orangutans, rhinos and tigers there when my grandchildren are born.
Could the tide be turning? Could the world finally be getting the message that tropical rainforests are in desperate need of conservation? Am I dreaming?
When I woke up to this story in the Guardian the other day, I figured I must have been.
An in-depth investigation has revealed than an area the size of the UK has been sold off to logging companies – mostly based in Europe – in defiance of a World Bank moratorium on logging in the area. It seems that the contracts were obtained in 2002 when the government was in transition, following years of civil war.
This part though really takes the f’ing cake:
“To gain access to the forests for the next 25 years, the European companies have made agreements with village chiefs, offering bags of salt, machetes and bicycles, and in some cases promised to build rudimentary schools, the report states.”
So the local people will suffer doubly – they will lose the forest and all its resources, and they will not reap any concrete economic benefits themselves.
Altogether now: sigh…
If that wasn’t bad enough, there are indications that rainforests – the “lungs of the world” – may start to die back of their own accord as our climate warms. If you feel like not sleeping for the next couple of weeks, check out this short piece I wrote for The Globe and Mail in February (pardon my shameless self promotion):
ZERO HOUR FOR THE AMAZON
For decades‚ people have wrung their hands over deforestation in the Amazon. Now‚ scientists fear that climate change alone may turn the massive rain forest into a baking desert. If droughts and forest fires intensify and the rain forest shrinks‚ it creates less rain‚ leading to more droughts and fires‚ and so on‚ in a vicious cycle. Just as in the boreal forests‚ the Amazon’s burning trees will release stored carbon into the air‚ further speeding global warming. If the entire Amazon went up in smoke — which may happen within decades — it would release 100 billion tonnes of carbon‚ says Daniel Nepstad‚ who studies rain–forest droughts and fires. (Humans currently release about six billion tonnes a year by burning fossil fuels.)
“This‚” Dr. Nepstad says‚ “really is frightening.”
Yikes. I don’t know about you, but I feel like a drink right about now.