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Environment

Indonesia's fires may be the environmental catastrophe of the 21st century

Flickr: CIFOR

An enormous fire is ripping across Indonesia.

Locally, it’s destroying homes, villages, and communities. And it is devastating to the entire world.

The fire is releasing CO2 into the air at a rate faster than the US economy. In three weeks, its carbon output has surpassed Germany’s annual carbon emissions.

This isn’t even the most jarring fact of the fire, as George Moinbot passionately describes in The Guardian.

Fires are a normal and even healthy feature of forests--but not when the fires are instigated and worsened by human activity.

Healthy forests can cope with fires and recover.

But forests ravaged by intense logging, reckless development, construction of artificial canals and the replacement of diverse plant life with monocultures (for farming) stand no chance.

It’s the difference between a house made of paper and a house made of stone that has a few parts made of wood.

The house of paper will be torched at the touch of a match. The house of stone will survive with some smoke damage.

Similarly, Indonesia’s forest fire is running wild on land made too-weak by industrial interests, especially those dealing in palm oil, that are enabled by a thoroughly corrupt government.

It grimly illustrates what can happen to a country that loses sight of environmental protection and puts the rights of industry over the rights of people.

Thousands, perhaps millions, of species are being threatened. They’re being violently pushed out of their habitats, pushed to the edge of extinction in some cases.

Ecosystems and archaeological sites are being destroyed.

And the people of Indonesia are being rapidly displaced. Some have already choked to death. Those who stay are suffering through endless smog. Even in buildings, people are wearing surgical masks because the smog is so thick.

The fire is estimated to eventually cost the Indonesian economy $30 billion USD.

But in the face of so much human, animal and environmental destruction, is that even a number that matters?