by Liam Campbell
In 1997, forest fires in Indonesia grew so large that they accounted for 40% of global emissions during that period. The Borneo rainforest is the most ancient in the world, having taken 120 million years to evolve into its current state of rich diversity. Indonesia is also home to some of the world’s largest tropic peat bogs, deep and vast stockpiles of carbon which have formed over millennia. When these peat bogs ignite they are almost impossible to extinguish because they burn deeply into the Earth and smoulder for weeks or even months, and they can also release millions of years worth of stored carbon into the atmosphere very suddenly. Although seasonal fires are common in the Borneo, climate collapse has made the rainforest more susceptible, and the magnitude of this year’s fires are already unfathomable.
Many of the fires we’re seeing right now are caused by exploitative agriculturalists who are burning the rainforest to open land up for human crops and livestock. In doing so, they are destroying 120 million years of evolution and rapidly annihilating one of the Earth’s most diverse and ancient living ecosystems. Although Indonesia claims to be doing “everything in their power” to extinguish the fires, they are not doing nearly enough to prevent them from happening in the first place. Only about 200 suspects have been arrested in relation to the arsons, and it is likely that many of them will be released without charges or consequences. It is understandable that individual farmers may be tempted by the prospect of opening more land for profitable exploitation, but the act of burning such an ancient ecosystem is among the worst crimes a human can commit; it not only endangers the rest of the planet’s climate, it destroys one of the most ancient living systems on this planet.
Most of the fires were started by palm oil plantations, which are often owned by large corporations. Officials estimate that about 80% of the fires were set intentionally and they now number in the thousands, with 2,900 especially bad hot spots. In all, only about two dozen palm oil plantations have been temporarily shut down in connection to arsons, they are primarily owned by Malaysian and Singaporean companies. These companies are unlikely to face significant charges or repercussions, and will likely return to increasingly profitable business after paying fines.