Spurred by climate change worries, industrializing nations are being called on to minimize emissions. As Indonesia demonstrates, this in turn requires new policies and improved forest management to limit the deforestation linked to growing industry. That’s a point echoed in a study by Yale and Stanford University researchers, which projects that expansion of palm plantations in Indonesia’s could pump more that 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020, more than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions.
Indonesia has the third-largest tropical rainforest coverage in the world and as global warming is blamed for more severe weather events and environmental catastrophes, many eyes are turning to the Southeast Asian nation to keep the lungs of the earth intact.
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Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra says in the Avaaz petition appeal, “Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony, and it should benefit, not harm, Indonesians.”
Wolfgang Sachs, author of The Development Dictionary, has written: “Politics is compelled to push either equity without ecology or ecology without equity.” He continues to discuss post-development initiatives where, “a transition from economies based on fossil-fuel resources to economies based on biodiversity is paramount.”
One possible model is ecotourism, which lets people earn money while living in harmony with the earth. Indigenous communities retain their independence, at the same time accessing a sustainable economy.
Disputes between indigenous populations and multinational companies are increasingly common, in a disturbing trend known as “land grabbing” or “economic land concessions.” In Laos and Cambodia, for example, the chain of collusion strings together multinational companies, backed by banks in Europe, which are granted land concessions by corrupt government officials, who then look away as locals are rendered powerless, their farmland and livelihoods destroyed. The disenfranchised are left with an ultimatum: work for the companies or starve.
Right now in Borneo, the Malaysian firm Sarawak Energy is planning to establish hydroelectric dams, which according to news site Mongebay are “controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest. Furthermore there is currently little demand for the electricity that will be generated, raising suspicions that the primary purpose of the projects is to generate lucrative contracts for politically well-connected firms.”
Ecotourism turns this trend around. Rather than economic growth at any social and environmental cost, people are empowered to create a conservation-focused economy, creating job opportunities while providing incentives for protecting rainforests and generating funds for wilderness patrols and the rehabilitation of endangered species displaced by human activity.
Take the inspiring example of community-based ecotourism in Tangkahan — near the Gunung Leuser National Park, an area under threat from the Aceh Government’s forest plans. Fuelled by the desire to create a sustainable economy, two villages of more than 7000 people came together to establish The Lembaga Pariwisata Tangkahan (LPT). Supported by NGOs Indecon and Flora and Fauna International, in 2002, LPT signed an agreement with the National Park Authority, securing 10,000 hectares (now 17,000 hectares) for eco-tourism activities under the prerequisite that it be protected. From 55 founding members, 32 formerly worked as illegal loggers, indicating an innate wish to protect their environment while retaining the ability to feed their families.