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[dupe] Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? (theguardian.com)
586 points by pmcpinto on Nov 3, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 228 comments

As discussed yesterday: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10490010 (22 comments) and about a week ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10433288 (163 comments)

Thanks, I was wondering if I was the only one to remember...

As an Indonesian, I'll give some context and nuance around the burning.

1. Who did the burning? mostly It is CORPORATIONs that owned massive chunks of lands (which some of the case these lands overlap with National Park territories). The rest is small land owners (which also cover big areas if you sum it). These companies though have a strong lobby in the government across layers, whether it is in the national level or province level. FYI, many of the companies are foreign ones including Singapore companies and Malaysian companies.

2. Why did the government not make it illegal to burn land? There are several factors. Actually the amount of land that CAN BE burnt is limited. However the government do not strictly enforce it, because you know, it's Indonesian government. So a step back, how come the government allow people to burn land in the first place? There is an old local bill (in Borneo area) that protect land owner to burn land. This date back to an old tradition that in Borneo, in order to farm you gotta burn the land first because of the nature of the peat land itself. I agree that in 2015, there should be a solution in making a farmland productive without even to burn it. This bill is not yet overruled and even so, being abused by corps to justified the act.

3. Another reason why there is almost no response from the Indonesian government is that the burning happened only in Sumatra and Borneo to the (North)West side (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand). For better or worse, Java island doesn't get the haze at all, thus many politicians can't relate how bad it is actually.

What is sad is that it is the epitome of capitalism, that we can't do much about it. Palm oil is used everywhere and as long as there is a demand, supply will be there too.

Regarding that last, I don't buy it. Products can be produced differently, or can be substituted. There are many success stories of destructive products either being banned or having their production regulated and people either switch to something else or figure out how to produce it less destructively.

Not long ago, you might have said "freon is used everywhere" or "leaded gasoline is used everywhere" or "asbestos is used everywhere" and as long as there is demand, supply will be there too. But people didn't just give up, they fought, and won.

Edit: all three replies (as of right now) seem to be saying the same thing: that what I'm proposing doesn't work with market forces, and requires government regulation. Which is exactly what I'm saying: just because capitalism dictates that this continues doesn't mean we have to put up with it, we can ban palm oil or at least ban palm oil farmed in a harmful manner, and fix the problem.

But it took years for leaded gasoline, asbestos, and freon to be replaced. And that only happened because they were made illegal or regulated out of certain uses, not because a better alternative existed that the market preferred.

This is a job for a functional government, not for capitalism. But it doesn't sound like help is on the way anytime soon.

Or perhaps a functional international regime, pretty much the opposite role that the WTO and TPP fulfill.

That only happens when the new solution is better and cheaper, or the old solution becomes illegal. And more importantly, almost exclusively in the First World, where taking advantage of an entire country is a little harder.

The trick with palm oil is that it is in so many products you might not even know it. Food, beauty products, industrial usage and the majority of names used in the ingredients doesn't even contain 'palm' in it for most cases. The other historic cases you made were easily identified and segregated by product or end-use. Indonesia and Malaysia, normally at odds with each other on certain subjects, are forming a palm oil cartel to even further push for global usage of the product that has brought them money without regards to the environment.

Thank you for your answer, interesting to read these 3 points. But I think with your last sentence you are inconsistent with what you've described before, which is:

- a complete lack of democracy, instead a small elite that is literally burning their country to the ground, in order to take it all until nothing is left.

- the absence of skill or will to provide the necessary legislative law in order to actually govern this country and not just passively stand on the sidelines and watch until every thing is dissolved in smoke.

He's kinda right about the capitalism thing - a small elite controlling everything is the inevitable outcome for a capitalist society without government (i.e. socialist, for the greater good of the population) oversight.

Now, that's not really what happened here, the government seems to have already been weak and corrupted, so those with money just take advantage of it.

without government (i.e. socialist, for the greater good of the population) oversight

But the Indonesians have a government that claims to be operating "for the greater good of the population". Clearly, they're not doing so, at least in significant cases.

Political science and economics understands many of the reasons for such failures. And it's not due to the label you put on the government. Whatever *ist you choose to call it, it's operated by people, and they're subject to the very same incentives and motivations. Putting a sainted "socialist" hat on doesn't make the politicians immune to these. Look into the field of "public choice economics" for more understanding of this.

Indeed, the worst crimes against humanity in all of history have been perpetrated by socialist governments claiming to be socialist, and working for the good of their people. Giving the government additional powers to protect you is functionally identical to giving the government additional powers to exploit you. You'll need some way to guard against that, and the good intentions of those believing in an "-ism" aren't sufficient.

Sorry, someone in government has control over this. They have a military and I am quite sure its not multinational's run amok. When people blame capitalism in many cases it simply is government run amok. These companies cannot operate where a military is without someone allowing it.

Governments have been selling out people forever, whether to other individuals or whatever business group they formed. that is not capitalism, its exploitation

Their incentives are to burn the dead crops to maximize profit. There is not a system of property rights and a government willing to enforce them to prevent them from burning. I kind of doubt it's even a Coasean outcome given that it's causing quite a lot of damage to the air quality in Singapore and neighboring countries where they might be willing to pay them not to burn, but somehow that solution doesn't work (neutral enforcers of the agreement is obviously one difficult issue, and nobody is willing to go to war over it).

> "that is not capitalism, its exploitation"

Let's put it like this. Imagine the Indonesian government didn't exist. What would the people be able to do to stop the environmental destruction? Would you advocate vigilante justice?

Without a structured government, then the people are the "government", so to speak, and vigilante justice would not be so vigilante.

> "vigilante justice would not be so vigilante."

Explain why.

Because vigilante justice is usually defined as people taking legal authority for themselves because they feel the government's authority or response is lacking. If there is no government to define this by, then it is not vigilante justice and starts to delve more into natural rights. Think of a remote village with no semblance of what we would describe as a modern government, they still deal with problems in their own way. You wouldn't call them vigilantes.

I'm not asking for the dictionary definition, I'm asking about why vigilante justice (whether you want to call the participants vigilantes or not) would be less troublesome.

For example, imagine I've discovered Starbucks is doing terrible things, and to express my disgust I go around throwing bricks in the windows of the Starbucks in my area. What prevents/discourages this sort of vigilante behaviour?

In a hypothetical where the government doesn't exist to provide justice, "vigilante justice" would be the only justice. Whether vigilante justice is preferable to a total absence of justice is the question.

More generally, the whole point of vigilantism is going outside the established judicial framework. If there is no such framework, the concept of vigilantism is meaningless.

As to what prevents/discourages this behaviour, the answer is mostly going to be "the presence of an existing judicial structure, backed by force, which disallows such behaviour".

If you're getting hung up on the word vigilante (which has been the case for most people who replied to my earlier comment it seems), replace the word 'vigilante' with the word 'street', i.e. street justice. Note my intended meaning hasn't changed, only the way I'm choosing to express it.

Now what prevents street justice in a society without government intervention? The (simplified) answer is self-organised defence organisations. Is a mob/gang boss a preferable means of protection in a community, compared to those means that can be put in place by an elected government?

Can't we define 'vigilante' to be a response that's not commensurate with the crime? A lack of justice, if you will. In that view, its quite debatable if no justice would not be better.

No, because that's not what the word means, nor what it is generally held to mean by prior precedent.

We're using different dictionaries then. Vengeance would seem to agree with my definition.


1. a member of a vigilance committee.

2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.


3. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures

Vigilante justice is usually about the people choosing to enforce laws that they feel the government is choosing to not enforce. Vengeance usually has nothing to do with the law or its enforcement.

Say a heinous murder is committed and the perpetrator has been discovered. Vigilante justice is a person, or group, taking the perpetrator into custody and punishing them because they don't like that the government refuses to do so for some reason. Vengeance is a person, or group, taking the perpetrator into custody and punishing them even if the government wishes to do the same.

you are definitely not getting the support you think from those definitions. vigilantism fairly clearly has nothing to do with a commensurate response.

So 'avenge' doesn't ring any bells with you? True justice is not about vengeance. In America, we have specific clauses forbidding 'cruel and unusual punishment'.

That was an example. The definitional clause preceding it was the important part.

Also, you surely aren't going to convince me that your personal interpretation of a common word is correct by being snotty with me about it.

I'm sorry it seemed that way to you. I try to be concise in writing. If it has an emotional tone, its not because I meant to put it there.

The adjective form of vigilante spells out violent and summary action. Summary action is often incorrect action which would not be commensurate with the (non-existent in that case) crime. Violent action is not the usual response of the justice system, so again it would be a response not commensurate with the (real this time) crime.

That definition seems to support my original description pretty well!

I would imagine that, without a structured government to prevent your destructive behavior and the inevitable response, the owner of the Starbucks in question would shoot you for damaging their property. Neither your actions nor the response of the owner would be considered vigilante justice.

> "I would imagine that, without a structured government to prevent your destructive behavior and the inevitable response, the owner of the Starbucks in question would shoot you for damaging their property. Neither your actions nor the response of the owner would be considered vigilante justice."

I don't care how you define it, what I'm asking is, is that better? Is that the society we want?

No, it is not preferable; for two reasons. For one, vigilante justice usually devolves into something as despicable as the thing the people are wanting justice for. It is also a sign that the government is failing and the people are slipping into anarchy. But that is a different matter than the hypothetical I was answering.

I'm glad we agree on something.

Going back to my original point, which was about whether a capitalist society without government intervention would be free from exploitation, what are your thoughts on that?

I understood what you were trying to say, and I never disagreed. But I didn't feel that was the point of the discussion I was responding to. I don't recall that the economic system of choice was involved in determining whether vigilante justice was actually vigilante justice in the absence of government.

As for your question, a capitalistic society is never free from exploitation. Regardless of the state of the government. Without the government then capitalism would eventually run amok to the detriment of the people. With government it can still go too far due to corruption and cronyism to the detriment of the people. But between the two, I'll take capitalism with government oversight.

But I don't see much of this point to discuss as I believe that any form of economic and government system will never be free from exploitation, because human beings are involved.

The only thing to discourage it would be the better sense of the people in the community. Presumably there are better ways to stop Starbucks than throwing bricks. You have to convince enough people that the place needs to be shut down, then go in and confiscate the coffee beans.

What would stop organised crime taking advantage of this? The local mafia (or equivalent) providing protection for a fee, etc...

If there is no government stepping in to prevent Starbucks from doing terrible things, it's no longer vigilante justice.

You're missing the point. My definition of terrible things may be different from your definition of terrible things. Without a legal framework in place, everyone will choose to act based on their own personal views.

Let's go back to the Starbucks example. The reason I used Starbucks is because they're very likely to be one of the companies that's indirectly supporting the deforestation happening in Indonesia as a result of demand in palm oil.


Now how responsible do you make them? One person may argue it's not Starbucks' fault, it's up to the suppliers to act responsibly. Another person would say that companies like Starbucks should be made responsible, as they're one of the companies driving demand for cheap palm oil without the environmental cost factored in.

The reason we have laws in place is to act as a way to set out acceptable behaviour, informed by consensus rather than the whim of an individual. If we abandon law we abandon the framework by which the actions of individuals can be fairly judged. If we leave it up to individuals then you're much more likely to have chaos, more exciting perhaps but more frustrating if you want to have any lasting stability.

I believe you missed my point as well. Government creates laws that are voted on (either through representation or directly with full democratic voting) which are then enforced through "approved" force (the executive branch, the police, etc). When government and police don't exist (or aren't doing their jobs) it forms a vacuum for vigilantes to exist in.

This isn't just theory. In countries where (for lack of a better work) the justice framework has broken down (such as Mexico) vigilantes fight against cartels due to police and the government taking no action (either due to fear, corruption, etc). A vigilante is only a vigilante until there is no local sanctioned governing and policing structure, at which point the vigilante becomes the police for all intents and purposes.

Does this cause chaos? I'm sure. At the same time, I'm sure locals would prefer someone protecting them versus no one.

I'm not completely against vigilantism, there are cases where it's warranted, especially as a temporary workaround for government corruption. However, once you start relying on vigilantism as the only way to get things done then new problems arise, if I had to generalise those problems they're to do with increased difficulty in going back to stable governance.

Consider the rise of the Sicilian Mafia as one example of what can happen when you have an inept government unable or unwilling to protect its people:


In a place where there is no government, I don't see what would be wrong with vigilante justice. If there are no authorities and no help then you have little choice but to take matters into your own hands.

> "In a place where there is no government, I don't see what would be wrong with vigilante justice. If there are no authorities and no help then you have little choice but to take matters into your own hands."

The problems with vigilante justice are universal, it doesn't matter if you have little choice or not. Generally speaking the problem is that vigilante justice is much more open to the whim of individual desires and views.

Why is that bad? Let's use the 'brick through the window of Starbucks' example I've used before. If you agree that Starbucks are bad, then the brick through the window may look justified, but if you do not believe Starbucks are bad then the action may appear unjustified.

Consider that the problem some people have with government is that decisions are made on your behalf and you feel powerless to change this. However, if you consider what you have without government, you still have people making decisions on your behalf, except you now have millions more of them, and there's less chance to influence what happens as a result of their actions if you disagree with what they've done. Is that better?

What you outline is basically why I think it's a bad idea to live in a place with no government. There's a huge potential for problems and often there are no good choices.

The moment you say "Imagine the Indonesian government didn't exist," well, it's going to be a complete shithole. At best you'll be at the mercy of the local warlord or gang leader. Quibbling over exactly how you live your life in this lawless shithole doesn't seem very relevant to the actual situation.

Yes, I agree, but the argument that I responded to considered there was a distinction between capitalism and exploitation. My point is that exploitation is not the sole domain of government, if you had a capitalist society without government intervention then exploitation would still exist, but you'd have to rely on different methods in order to resist this exploitation, and those methods would not necessarily be an improvement over what we have now.

Gotcha, I must have missed the context and taken your comment too literally.

He's not wrong about the capitalism thing. These farmers own the land--why shouldn't they be able to do whatever they want to it, including burning it? At least, that's the libertarian formulation of it.

Libertarians have the intellectual tools to deal with the negative externalities of air pollution and the positive externalities of environmental services. Although they frequently want to pretend externalities are minimal to nonexistant.

I'm not sure how to square those sentences with each other. If they have the intellectual tools, yet they frequently pretend the externalities are minimal or non-existent, doesn't that point to them not really having the intellectual tools, or worse the ability to interpret the what the tools say, in most cases?

If your screws never stay in after you hammer them then maybe, contrary to expectations, you don't have the right tools.

Libertarians have a lot of cognitive dissonance about things like externalities and information costs, it's true. They have to have considered arguments about externalities because externalities are quite inconvenient for lots of libertarian theory, especially because externalities are one of the most powerful rationales for government intervention in the private sector. It's easier to just handwave them away. But yes, then you're stuck hammering your screws and tapping in the nails with a screwdriver. But the problem there isn't the lack of hammer, screwdriver, nails, or screws.

My point is that while it appears we can all rationally look at evidence and make decisions, in reality there are far to many quirks of human nature to allow us to do so effectively. How can we expect people to individually come to useful decisions for the group when we've shown time and again that our reasoning skill are not just impaired, but impaired in a way that makes it hard to recognize they are impaired (e.g. confirmation bias, our poor reasoning about future risk/rewards). Our tools are broken, and we know it, yet we continue to assume there's no consequences of this.

I'm not specifically anti-libertarian, I think people of that mindset have a place (frontiers, in all senses of the word), but that putting personal rights on a pedestal in a highly civilized, industrialized and often urbanized society doesn't yield good results. That said, there's problems with the other end of the spectrum as well, where the group cannot focus on the important through petty squabbles, or even agree on importance, or worse yet focus on solutions that do not yield results (all rooted in the same reason as above, mind you). Our own nature is one of our worst enemies at this point.

In a private property absolutist state, the farmers would be liable to all the damages caused to the surrounding properties (including to human bodies) in the form of spreading fire and pollution. They'd be sued to the ground.

What if everything is so diffuse that there's no single obvious target, but instead thousands or millions of them? How is a person living in Singapore, for example, going to sue a million different Indonesian farmers for polluting his air?

It's why numerous large organizations exist such as the WTO, UN and so on.

If you have a million farmers causing it, then it has to be elevated to a national level, as an enforcement issue. It becomes no different than if country A were allowing radioactive run-off to flow into country B's territory.

If you then say that those international bodies don't function properly, such that they can't or won't punish Indonesia for failing to stop the mass pollution that is directly harming Singapore, then that is a huge inter-governmental failure that obviously needs to be corrected.

Property rights are enforced at the government level (judicial, police, military), not by corporations. Any failure on protecting property rights, is inherently a governmental failure in one regard or another.

Nobody is going to sue a single farmer for doing 10$ worth of damage spread across the entire globe.

No, many people would initiate a single lawsuit against many farmers. What makes you think a lawsuit can only have one defendant?

There is a large difference between suing 100 people and 100,000+ people. Feel free to come up with a successful single suit with more than 50,000 defendants. In then end mass lawsuits are really related suits where each defendant get's to defend themselves individually.

PS: It's a question of overhead, there are some downloading lawsuits with large numbers of defendants but they tend to be worth ~3k / person and are settled individually. With a max payout < 10$ it’s just not worth it.

Good luck suing a defendant on ten dollars. Hell good luck suing on ten thousand dollars. The transaction costs are too high compared to the damage.

Liable to who? This again presupposes government and non-market solution.

If you're interested, there is plenty to read on private courts on mises.org and similar websites.

Land and other finite natural resources as private property is antithetical to the principles of a free market because the former allows an infinite amount of something to be purchased for a finite sum. Just like money, land has a time value. Geologists and geolibertarians call it "ground rent".

If we're going to have capitalism, we should at least fix this. Natural resources belong to the commons, and capitalist should pay market rate rent on those resources, the proceeds of which should be distributed to all or be used to fund commons costs (government).

It's not antithetical, because in reality you could never accumulate enough of those natural resources in your very finite life to dent the context. The scenario is nothing more than a nearly impossible potential - like pretending that some rich person could bottle all the oxygen on earth.

The richest people in world history never came even remotely close to accumulating even a tiny fraction of global wealth. The same goes for the world's biggest commodity corporations.

There will never be a corporation more dominant in oil than Standard Oil was in its time, and even they couldn't corner the global oil market. Oil is far easier to corner than real estate. The richest / biggest private land-owners in the world, hold a comically tiny slice of land compared to what's out there.

I don't disagree at all, and I think Benjamin Tucker's (op)position on the Four Monopolies makes much sense, I just wrote based on the context of the previous post - that even with land as property, you can't just burn it willy-nilly.

Because they're not alone on earth?

You can own a gun but not be able to do whatever you want with it. Property doesn't mean absolute freedom.

Not even for libertarians.

Why should anyone be allowed to create pollution? They are effectively stealing from all other property owners.

And what's worse--why is the libertarian's only recourse to sue people after they've done (possibly permanent) damage?

Who cares about the potential winnings from a lawsuit, in a world with no health inspectors (to pick a common "the free market would sort it out" theme), if a restaurant has poisoned your granny and she's in a coma?

just because you legally own something, doesn't mean you can do anything with it, especially immoral stuff, and super especially when it affects all of us.

>I agree that in 2015, there should be a solution in making a farmland productive without even to burn it

We may be discussing slightly different points here. In Australia, we control bush land (including farm land) by controlled burning.

It releases nutrients back to the soil. It stops build up of plant matter which can become dangerous and cause extreme bushfires.

I am not aware of a better solution than controlled burning that is cost effective. I was told that it's like several smaller natural bush fires than 1 big uncontrollable fire, so the environmental impact (eg. Smoke) is not increased. However seed pods of wildlife are preserved in smaller fires but destroyed in bigger fires.

Burning is a natural part of many ecologies in dry areas, but I doubt it happens naturally in rain forests and peat bogs - unless they've been drained as the article describes.

I'm a Singaporean.

> FYI, many of the companies are foreign ones including Singapore companies and Malaysian companies.

Most of those companies seem to be of Indonesian origin. The Singapore-related ones I know of:

* Sinar Mas and Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources are both owned by Indonesian tycoon Eka Tjipta Widjaja.

* APRIL is headquartered in Singapore but owned by RGE, an Indonesian group run by another tycoon.

* Even Wilmar International was cofounded by an Indonesian.

Honestly, if Singaporean landowning companies were really directly causing the haze, I think (hope) they'd be more sensitive to the damage they'd be causing to their homeland.[1] The impact is incredibly obvious to anyone in Singapore, which no doubt includes some of the top management of companies based here.

The chain of responsibility goes all the way back to the people starting the fires and the conditions motivating them to do it. The Indonesian government has to trace that chain and carry out the investigations and arrests. Singapore can only punish downstream companies in order to exert an indirect effect.

> What is sad is that it is the epitome of capitalism, that we can't do much about it. Palm oil is used everywhere and as long as there is a demand, supply will be there too.

No, we can do something about it - simply enforce the laws that are already in place against starting fires. Palm oil isn't the problem - the lack of ability or will to enforce the laws is. If the Indonesian government manages to do that (and even find a alternative way for the farmers to earn a livelihood), palm oil will be fine to use.

[1] The Singapore government and newspapers have been digging into the relationships of these firms: http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesias-biggest-...

At the end of the day, it takes a person holding a match to the tinder to get these fires going. You can blame the government, laws, and corporations all you want, but someone still lit the fires. Surely these farmers (whether self-employed or not) must realize how shitty they are making their lives? And if not, could a grassroots effort to educate them help?

At a guess not really, because they are presumably making their lives better, not worse. Most people know about global warming but still turn on their heating in Winter.

This kind of accountability only makes sense in a functional and free society. But I agree with you on the grassroots. This is the poeples problem to solve. They have to fight for influence and for political power. And if they don't care, so be it. They are free to burn their whole country to the ground. I think it wrong to intervene from outside. The only thing we shouldn't do, is doing business with them. This doesn't seem to be a democracy, and we betray our ideals by doing so.

I really wish there was a reasonable answer to this question. I lived in Singapore for many years, and its proximity to Sumatra, where most of the burning is happening, is a huge burden on everyone in Singapore for most times of the year, and it is getting worse. I was there during the 2013 haze crisis and had to leave Singapore for several days just to get a breath of healthy air. Birds were dying in-flight and roads had flocks of them dead all over the pavement, and on park grounds. Yet nothing changes. This year, the haze crisis has been its worst in 20 years, and Indonesia fails to address it. It is illegal to start these fires, but the law is not enforced. If this happened in proximity to a nation like the U.S., after numerous warnings, the country would just cross borders without permission and put out the fires. But no one will do that in SE Asia. Singapore and Malaysia have every right to protect their citizens, but they also respect the sovereignty of Indonesia, so aside from public comments by leaders, they do nothing, and nothing changes. Even if you don't live in SE Asia, it is a devastating reality for the whole planet. Massive rainforest are getting destroyed.

After decades of no action by Indonesia, it is clear the only way to fix this is for neighboring nations to be more forceful and go in there and do something about it. But fear of conflict in SE Asia is high, so I'm worried that this problem is only going to get worse without worldwide pressure by major nations.

I'm just back from a business trip to Singapore. I never really understood what people meant with "haze" until one evening. From what I heard from my Singaporean colleagues the haze during my time there was pretty much cleared up.

They have a number to measure how bad it is, they call it "PSI", see e.g. http://www.haze.gov.sg/. This is used in multiple countries, though the definition on what number constitutes bad air differs. During my entire stay, the number was 50-100 or so. Keep this in mind.

So my experience: One evening there's like a fog, you can maybe see for 50 meters max. But the fog isn't water particles in the air, it is leftover material from the fire. Meaning: what you're seeing is utterly bad. Most of the time I spend either in the office, restaurant, a bar and public transport (AFAIK not only air conditioned but also filtered air). I wear contact lenses. Though only spending maybe 30 min in open air max: I got red eyes, had to clean my contact lenses again and had to buy eye drops to fix my red eyes.

The haze was way worse before I arrived there. Only 1.5 day it was really bad. However, you could never see the sky. Just filthiness in the air preventing you from seeing it.

I had it badly with 50-100 of "PSI". Before I was there it was around 300!

Singapore is pretty interesting (fooooood! :-D), but living there will really shorten your life thanks to this.

I never really understood haze until I experienced it myself. It's good to remember that it's not like the fog I am used to. It's like staying in the smoke of a burning building.

Here in Thailand the impact has been pretty severe in the south. Very unhealthy air quality, a number of deaths of elderly from respiratory failure, many dozens of flights cancelled to Phuket and Krabi. Seems a lot worse this year than many years past.

Next up is Thailand's burning season in a few months when the people in the north and neighboring Myanmar do their annual burn of farmlands and forest. That's usually pretty bad, too, but not on the same scale as the burning in Indonesia.

>I had it badly with 50-100 of "PSI". Before I was there it was around 300!

Kalimantan, where the fires are burning, hit 3300 PSI.


When I was there, the PSI peaked at something like 412. A PSI of over 100 is now often considered "normal" which is tragic. I start to notice the air quality degrading at around PSI of 50.

When we got back from our Thailand trip to flee the haze in 2013, the leftover remnants of the crisis yielded all our clothes in our closet penetrated with thick black dust.

Very informative thanks!

After doing a quick web search, you can play spot the difference in air quality in these pictures: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/singapore-indonesia-haze-interactiv...

In the North America analogy Indonesia would be U.S. burning and Mexico and Canada suffering. Indonesia is 4th most populous country in the world (250 million people). Singapore and Malaysia are outmatched in population, GDP and military.

About being outmatched in GDP and military - you're joking right? Have a look at the figures over the last few decades for Singapore and Indonesia. Singapore is a tiny spec when it comes to size and population, but economically it's in a league of it's own.

Sure, per capita GDP of Singapore is vastly higher, but here it's total GDP that's relevant, not per capita. Last I seen, GDP of Indonesia was 3 times that of Singapore.

>GDP of Indonesia was 3 times that of Singapore.

So, like 40-50 times less per capita. Total GDP doesn't matter much when there are size discrepancies that large.

Why not? The amount of weapons a country can buy is related to its total GDP, not per capita. The number of soldiers a country can field is related to its total GDP and actually goes up when per-capita GDP is lower, because you don't have to pay them as much.

GDP per capita versus total GDP. Indonesia is a developing country, but it's big. Singapore is a developed country, but it's small.

Per capita it's much larger than Indonesians, yes, but Indonesians total gdp is significantly higher, 300 billion vs 2.8 trilllion.

Indonesia's GDP isn't close to $2.8 trillion. That would give them an economy the size of the UK and France.

They have an estimated 2015 GDP per capita of $3,400 per the IMF. They have 250 million people. Their GDP is a lot closer to $850 billion.

A $2.8 trillion GDP would require a $11,000 GDP per capita. That's not accurate.



Singapore currently has the most advanced airforce in the world. The size and prowess of its military relative to its size is unmatched anywhere on this planet. Economically, it is at least on par with Hong Kong and Tokyo. Nearly all major companies with a presence in Asia have an office in Singapore, many of them their entire Asian headquarters are in Singapore. I'm not sure I understand your analogy; I think it is the vice-versa of what you mean.

Singapore does not have the most advanced air force in the world, not even remotely close.

1) Most of their advanced air force consists of American hardware. That automatically means they're behind the US in technology.

2) You can't attempt to claim that title without long-range bombers. B1? B2? B52? Anything? The tech, targeting and global deployment capabilities to support all of it? Nope, Singapore has nothing there.

3) Their drone programs are very far behind what the US had ten years ago. They're relying on weak, short-range Israel UAV tech. The IAI Scout is the core of their drone capabilities and it's 40 year old tech. It can only fly to 15,000 feet and at 109 mph. Then the IAI Searcher, which is only capable of 20,000 feet and 125 mph. Those are toy drones.

The Global Hawk goes to 60,000 feet, and 357 mph. And that's considered old US tech.

4) Their global air force integration capabilities are non-existent. That includes complicated logistics and the ability to fly anywhere globally, and refuel for long-range strikes while ensuring the safety of all planes in question.

That means the Singapore air force can be destroyed locally without ever posing a threat. That's not an advanced air force, it's a sitting duck. China would dismantle their air force in a matter of a few days.

5) They have no space capabilities at all. That includes the ability to shoot down satellites, a required capability for the next 20+ years to claim an advanced air force. They have no ICBMs, and no other long-range missile capabilities.

6) They don't have a fraction of the global spying and data gathering (targeting, situation awareness, et al) capability the US air force has.

7) They don't possess the F22, which is the best fighter jet in existence.

8) They're incapable of producing the bulk of the hardware that makes up their own air force, including the planes, UAVs, missiles, helicopters, etc. That means they're always behind and always will be by default.

being a singaporean, i have to sadly agree with you on the points.

it's quite bad enough that they keep claiming that they're using the best technology when in fact, they just typically bought it from somewhere else.

It has a quite a bad propaganda which you guys can't even tell from it unless you really think deep about it.

Cars here are so expensive also. On top of that, you need to pay more to "own" the car. For some cars, that cert cost even more than the car itself. Not only that, we have road tax, erp, parking fee, etc, etc whatnot.

Income inequality is quite prominent, even though they claim that they have high GDP. Of course you can say your country has it worst...but hell, you wouldn't claim your country has no beggar if there's someone in the streets picking up cardboard and begging for money, would you?

last but not the least, the population is so dam high and i think like...40% are foreigners? I can't tell who are foreigners anymore.

There are more things that I can think of, but I just end it here in case I get arrested for saying "wrong" things

I would think it is somewhat difficult to define who is a "foreigner" in Singapore. "Born outside the country" might be something you can clearly derive from papers.

But 200 years ago the island had about 1,000 people living there, almost all of them indigenous Malays. Current population of 5.5 million, mostly ethnic Chinese, likely does not have very many who would be descended from them?

>but hell, you wouldn't claim your country has no beggar if there's someone in the streets picking up cardboard and begging for money, would you?

Yes, they would.

Interesting, I read an article while I was there, on Channel News Asia (a Singapore government-run news organization) that mentioned the specific planes they are using that currently no one else had at the time. I cannot remember what they were, but perhaps I bought into the spin too much, a victim of the propaganda? I guess it makes sense they wouldn't have exclusive technology since they are probably too small a nation to be manufacturing their own cutting edge fighter jets, so now I'm wishing I could dig up whatever it was I read.

Singapore is advanced and rich, but it is small compared to Indonesia. Singapore has larger GDP and military per capita, but in absolute terms, Indonesia is much larger. Its army has four times as many men as Singapore (300,000 vs. 75,000), and Indonesian GDP is 2840 billion USD while Singapore is 453 billion.


Not agreeing with the previous statement regarding Singapore's military supremacy, but measuring military effectiveness by number of troops is a hopelessly outdated method.

Powerful armies are nothing more than logistics organizations, with 80-90% of members operating supply chains and maintenance to enable the 21st century weapons systems and their elite operators to destroy things.

300,000 guys with assault rifles and crappy Air Force are no match against 75,000 with modern technology and precision munitions.

It also depends very much on the rules of engagement. 300,000 guys with modern technology, precision munitions and a government with strong human rights legislation have a hard time against 75,000 men with assault rifles, improvised munitions and no limits on what they can do to their enemies.

Indonesia's GDP is ~$850 billion, not $2.8 trillion.

Singapore is ~$300 billion.

Not sure why Indonesia's GDP keeps getting over-estimated by such a dramatic amount in this thread.

> Not sure why Indonesia's GDP keeps getting over-estimated by such a dramatic amount in this thread.

Sorry, that was just a bit careless looking up of numbers. $850 billion is nominal GDP, $2.8 trillion is the PPP adjusted figure.

For Singapore, the nominal and PPP adjusted values are much closer to each other ($300 billion vs. $450 billion).

"Singapore currently has the most advanced airforce in the world. The size and prowess of its military relative to its size is unmatched anywhere on this planet."

I'd love to see the reasoning behind that statement - particularly when they are compared with the likes of Israel, which isn't that much bigger.

Can't say I'm a military expert, but the Singapore air force, at least during the time I was there, was well-known to have capabilities and technology unrivaled by even the United States. But I know there are major developments happening in American air technology, so that is possibly changing.

Indonesia, not unlike Malaysia, is at it's core a corrupt country filled with an ignorant majority ethnic group that rides on the backs of the East Asian immigrant populations that actually value education and hard work.

I work with numerous people who would otherwise be starting businesses in their home countries, but don't want to have their pocket picked by the absurd laws forcing native Malays and Indonesians to be employed in top positions despite having no skills.

This comment is completely unacceptable and racist at its core.

> ignorant majority ethnic group

In fact Indonesia is has thousands of native tribes that constitute many different ethnic groups with a huge diversity of cultures and languages. These are the NATIVE people of Indonesia: Indonesians.

> rides on the backs of the East Asian immigrant populations that actually value education and hard work

Those Chinese immigrants are notorious in Indonesia for being exploitative businessmen who treat Indonesians, regardless of education level, as an underclass, funnel money out of Indonesia and into China, and hiring exclusively Chinese to work in their businesses. Because of the weak government (Indonesia was admirably non-bloc during the Cold War years, leaving it economically vulnerable), Chinese businesses since the 90s have been able to bargain their way into the country in order to harvest its natural resources while giving as little as possible to the Indonesian people.

> actually value education and hard work

The argument presented in JPKab's comment is a common slander against poor countries. Similar arguments have been made by the US about basically the entire people of Latin America, and by imperialist European countries. But an examination of what motivations are actually driving them reveal the true sentiment: "You're not harvesting your countries resources for me well enough!"

The "absurd laws" that aim to protect the Indonesians people and their land are some of the most promising things, as they are long-term assurances that the country will not grow up to be a two-tiered society, ruled by the Chinese.

JPKab and those who think like him would do better to do business in their own countries rather than forcing their way into countries who dont want them while simultaneously spreading bigoted lies about thousands of tribes and hundreds of millions of people that make up the "majority ethnic group[s]" of Indonesia.

Replace "Chinese" with "Jews", and "Indonesia" with "Germany."

Indonesia even has its own government-led anti-Chinese genocidal massacres that killed half a million people[0]! Though of course it's not covered in state textbooks...

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_killings_of_1965–...

I agree that it is a racist remark, but you'd be surprised how much explicit and accepted racism exists in SE Asia. When I lived there, if you were of Indian ethnicity, you were not allowed to live above the 4th floor in the HDB housing towers, which house nearly half the population. Singapore will also not allow ethnic Malays to have high ranks in its military. And very common you see Help Wanted posters around town that list the races they will allow for application.

Theres an easy solution that people traditionally employed in those cases, e.g. whites in Detroit. Vote with your feet.

Here is a live map of the (known) fires in the past week. It's really disturbing.


You can turn on layers in the Forest Use tab to see the correlation between where fires are/have been burning and where palm oil concessions are. It's pretty clear what's going on.

You can try to reduce your own palm oil usage, but it's difficult, because it's in everything from cookies to shampoo and it's not always clearly listed in the ingredients list for various reasons. A second issue is that palm oil has incredibly high yields per hectare when compared with other oil crops... so from a sustainability perspective choosing a different source of plant oil is a tough call and depends on where the alternative is being produced.

Whatever happens, there must be some way to reward Indonesians for sustainably producing palm oil or some other crop. Large food companies can do a whole lot, they should absolutely be working to get their supply chains certified under the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) program (you can also turn on a layer on the map to see these areas as well). This program is far from perfect, but is much better than the wild west of conventional palm oil, and rewards responsible producers.

Paper and timber are a bit easier, you can make sure all of the paper you use in your office or packaging is FSC certified, and you should require that any construction done on you or your company's behalf sources FSC timber. It's not necessarily more expensive.

Following recent news I've begun to question the worth of these "certified by XYZ" logos and branding.

See stories about -

Coffee certified by the RainForest Alliance: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-34173532

Tuna: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tunaleaguetable

Free range certified eggs came from battery hens suggesting the "British Lion" mark is meaningless: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/mar/11/free-range-eggs-fr...

Cool! Unfortunately I could not get the layers working. Nasa seems to offer similar tool http://go.nasa.gov/VbYrug

Thanks! I never knew about this site, it is very good, particularly with the date sliders at the bottom.

if you zoom out on that map there are loads more red dots in Africa, I wonder what's the threshold for 'thermal anomalyes'

Interestingly, Brazil and central Africa look as bad or worse on that map. And anyway, aren't wild fires good for ecosystems?

those areas are much emptier. and I guess the fact SEA is mostly islands doesn't help either.

Why is the world looking away? Indonesia is a sovereign nation, we can't tell them how to manage their natural resources. Well we can tell them but they won't listen. If we did, they could point that finger right back at us and ask us what happened to our forests and peat? Uhm, we chopped it down and burned it all before Indonesia was founded. But you shouldn't do that.

That's an amazingly simplistic answer.

Burning is one way to ensure you have really cheap palm oil.. Most of the palm oil demand is foreign, it is NOT Indonesia making it purely for themselves.

For one, Indonesia should have rules banning the burning practice. AFAIK, they have been offered money to combat the need for burning (as compensation) and they ignored these offers (probably reputation thing).

Secondly, other countries should enforce that companies ensure that the palm oil is produced in a ecological friendly manner. Ecological way is NOT expensive btw; cost wise it makes almost no difference.

Lastly, countries should pressure Indonesia to enforce this. Economic pressure is used all the time. Indonesia is NOT sovereign, especially in this case. They're quite good in responding to the palm oil demand from other countries!

I meant it as a descriptive answer: why is the world looking away? This is why. Indonesia does have laws against these practices, but it seems they cannot or will not enforce them. Indonesia is also a major regional power so it seems its neighbors can't do anything about it either.

I'm not sure you understand exactly how bad this is. It becomes incredibly hard to breathe. I was in KL in mid-2014 when they started the burns and I couldn't walk 200m without being out of breath. No one is saying that you can't pollute your own country, but you shouldn't be allowed to pollute others to the point where it is inhospitable.

So what do you suggest we do about it?

It is a decent point that something short of military action would be advisable, because if this goes on long enough then eventually it's going to look like a pretty attractive option.

Slap huge tariffs on their palm oil to make burning the land unprofitable. Other more general sanctions would be possible as well.

some of the other countries in the region should simply move their defensive forces over and annex the island of Sumatra. the Indonesian government has simply run out of resources and that island is completely without any semblance of organization. I have doubts that the Jakarta administration will even notice if the island is no longer under their ownership, but even if they do I do not believe that they will do much more than voice a very angry opinion.

The Japanese and the Dutch already tried, guess 3rd time's the charm?

You need a bit more than "defensive" forces for this.

So, basically, the "right people" need to colonize Indonesia?

We stopped doing a lot of stuff because we now understand more about the consequences. And this is not only a disaster for nature but also for humans meaning it's everyone's concern. Just embargo (or threaten; maybe it's enough) the buying of the oil (and anything else) until they want to listen to reason. Like many said already; it's not more costly to do this in an ecologically friendly way as they are killing their people, forests, wildlife and shortening the lives of people living in countries around them.

Well all our nations are sovereign too, and we can choose not to import products from places where they are produced in a way that create big external damages.

>If we did, they could point that finger right back at us and ask us what happened to our forests and peat? Uhm, we chopped it down and burned it all before Indonesia was founded. But you shouldn't do that.

That's hardly a reason they should be allowed to do it. Hypocrisy should make us feel bad, but it in no way invalidates our request that they quit shitting up the environment.

It's not like foreign governments could meddle with Indonesia's internal affairs.

All of us share this planet and it's resources. Particularly the atmosphere and climate. There is a finite capacity of the atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gases. As the concentration of greenhouse gases rises in the atmosphere, our planet's climate patterns destabilize with the increased energy trapped on Earth leading to rising temperatures. The number one way to avoid this is to tax carbon emissions such as burning rainforests and fossil fuels. The revenues from this tax can act as subsidies to entities that choose to protect forests and preserve resources. Reimbursements could be disbursed to countries like Indonesia whose rainforests have an important impact on carbon fixation. This type of market on pricing of greenhouse gases would help get emissions out of the atmosphere and back into sentient organisms like trees and plants, from there the animals that depend on them.

Palm oil should be taxed per the burn. We can calculate the aggregate impacts of this burning. Why not quantify a cost on these industries for abusing our common good? We all share this planet. The destabilization of it due to climate change from carbon emissions in unjust to all citizens of Earth, regardless of country. We should take a stand and push for a price on carbon, a price to burn.

My in-laws live in Kuala Lumpur, and are really struggling with the smoke; they're already not in the best of health. Next month we're going to basically evacuate my wife's parents and bring them to stay out of the smoke for a few weeks in Cambodia, and try to get some kind of air filtration in place in their house.

It's an awful situation. We're also flying into this mess with two small children; I guess we'll bring masks and protect them as much as possible. We're far less affected than all of the people staying there all the time, of course.

It's a hard problem to fight; it seems obviously a legal issue first... this shouldn't be allowed. But the Indonesian govt isn't handling it; so... critique them? Replace them? It seems like a choice between useless and ridiculous. Is there any really useful response here?

Or focus on the companies benefiting from it, e.g., http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/ntuc-fairp...

Boycott palm oil (but it's in everything); ask the massive corporations downstream to be more responsible about the raw materials they purchase... how big of a boycott does this need to be, how loud/public a demand, before they'll make serious changes, not just gestures?

I do think we'll see some positive response, in fits & starts, but it's a depressing situation at the moment.

> why is the world looking away?

Maybe it's some kind of "Apocalypse fatigue"? At some point, you become desensitized when so many bad news follow each other, and I have the impression the Western public is at that point. Which, of course, is a bad thing.

Also maybe sometimes is that you are worried about your own problems.

Example: I am from Brazil, since about a year ago I stopped paying much attention to international news, because we have enough trouble here (severe drought, countrywide power supply problems, 10% inflation, -2% GDP growth, unemployment, Olympics preparation is sucking, World Cup, the one that already happened, is still with buildings under construction and creating problems, massive corruption found, parts of the military seemly preparing a right-wing coup, while other parts are seemly preparing a left-wing coup, and the list of problems goes on for a looong time. Also our president has 7% approval rating, probably is one of the most hated politicians in the world right now).

Silly question. When have humans ever really cared about the environment over capitalism? Sure, we saved the whales, but that was only after petroleum mined from the ground removed the main reason we were killing whales. Palm oil is way cheaper than the alternatives, and we have a exceedingly poor history of choosing more expensive, yet more environmentally friendly alternatives.

If we actually managed to preserve the Indonesian rainforests in the face of global capitalism, that would be unprecedented in the history of the human race. The question isn't why we haven't, but how in the world could we?

Hell, the Chinese government can't even stop their own people from wanting rhino horns. And it's not for lack of trying.

Watch "The Act of Killing" and you'll know why this country is resistant to advice and doomed.


That looks awesome, thanks!

It's a shame. I live in Germany, and just heard of this for the first time at HN. I can't believe it... we are discussing stupid things in politics, the refugee "situation", Ukraine and Greece. I even heard of the recent earthquake.

But Indonesia burns? Not even worth a mention. Not a single word.

I wonder if you trying to be sarcastic, or just follow an immensely narrow set of German media?

Of course e.g. Deutsche Welle was predicting this is coming in July: http://www.dw.com/de/el-ni%C3%B1o-erh%C3%B6ht-feuergefahr-in...

and have kept reporting, e.g. a few days ago: http://www.dw.com/de/die-verheerenden-folgen-der-brandrodung...

FWIW I posted this article on FB and all my American friends had not heard about this problem before either. Most Westerners are not aware of what is happening in Indonesia at all.

For what it is worth I didn't read this comment as sarcastic. I live in Japan, watch the news almost daily, and HN is the first I've heard of it.

I post this 4 days ago:


I always check hnews + 3 others news sites (like the guardian) just to be well rounded ;)

Checking in from the US, same here.

Strange. This has been reported e.g. by CNN many times.

Sep 19: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/16/asia/gallery/southeast-asi...

Sep 25: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/25/asia/singapore-haze-indone...

Oct 01: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/01/asia/indonesia-evacuates-b...

Oct 30: http://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/10/30/indonesia-fig...

And this is just one (albeit major) news provider.

(I have seen this many times reported by my local national broadcaster in Finland. But then maybe I just notice and care because I know people who live in the affected area. E.g. in June this year, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited APRIL announced it will stop forestry work in order to reduce forest fires and conserve nature. http://yle.fi/uutiset/aasian_sellujatti_lopettaa_hakkuut_ind... )

Well, it's not close to us, so people don't really care. I mean, there's people starving everywhere, but that doesn't make problems like the refugee situation any less urgent. It's all relative...

Yeah and at one point too much bad news mean we tune it out.

I really can't suffer for Indonesia, Greece, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and many more without going insane.

I live in a country next to you and yes, same situation here. Only very superficial reports about "bad air" in airports etc.

I live in France and it's the same here. Not a word. I don't think you meant it as sarcasm.

I sense sarcasm but I can't be sure...

No, not sarcasm. Not reported at all here.

I think that the reason is that people do not understand what is going on. So articles like this should create bigger awareness.

Also people do not know how they could react and discussion like this here could give them ideas.

I would think that what a person could do in another country for example is to pressurise his representative to create embargo against Indonesia so that they have less economical motivation to carry on with such fires. Embargo could be conditional - if fires continue (could be observed from orbit), embargo continues.

This would probably not protect forest, as now more forest is needed to cut down to be economical, but it would protect peoples health.

>I think that the reason is that people do understand what is going on.

I think you mean "do not understand".

As for diplomatic solutions, Singapore has tried to get Indonesia to release the names of any Singapore-based companies who are creating this problem in the region by farming there, but Indonesia won't do that either. Try to protect their business interests. If Indonesia could do that, Singapore could punish those countries under its control.

Wow. You'd think Singapore could offer enough of a personal reward to make it possible for individuals involved to defect (immunity + $$$$$$$).

Yes, I meant "do not understand". I fixed this. Thanks!

If what you are saying is true, then it really points to the direction that international embargo would be a solution to this problem.

"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."

Well that clears it right up. Forget deaths, acres burned, people displaced, homes destroyed - the real metric to measure the scale of the tragedy is CO2 released because, you know, global warming.

I like that the author mocks his own industry for pursuing their own agenda instead of caring about the real story in the opening paragraph then exemplifies that very trait.

It's even dumber than that. This isn't fossilized carbon, that hasn't been a part of the carbon cycle for a few geological epochs. No, this is carbon that is an active part of the current carbon cycle, that has in just the last few decades/centuries been pulled out of the air and turned into plant/tree matter.

It is utterly irrelevant that it is being released now. It will be reabsorbed when the forests regenerate. If those trees had died of non-fire causes, they likely would have rotted in the open air and released methane anyway. This is just natural noise in the carbon cycle, which would occur if the human race didn't exist. Global warming is the theory that by digging up FOSSILIZED carbon, that isn't part of the current cycle and releasing it we are forcing the system out of the prevailing equilibrium.

Classic stuff from good old George Moonbat, who is notorious for struggling with the science bit of his job.

It's not just the forests burning, peat is also burning. It can take thousands of years for the peat to accumulate.

...then exemplifies that very trait.

Inspired by the Principle of Charity, I choose to read incongruous lines like that as allowances for the "double audience". Of course destroying the rain forest and choking millions of people is worse than some theoretical threat that's mostly relevant to politics. However one can't simply write that in the Guardian. Even if one could, there's nothing wrong with appealing to people of varying ideologies.

No, these are man made fires to clear up land. They're going the Easter Island route, apparently...

The author is George Monbiot.

The article is cross posted on theguardian.com and monbiot.com.

The Guardian version says:

> ... Starbucks, PepsiCo and Kraft Heinz are examples. Don’t buy their products until you see results.

His personal webpage version says:

> ... Starbucks, PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz and Unilever are examples. Don’t buy their products until they change.


George Monbiot is a rare breed: a journalist with great integrity and transparency.

As a case in point his "Registries of Interests" lists his annual fees, sources of income from one-off articles, gifts he was given, and just about anything that implicates him financially! It is astoundingly good and he makes a fine example that I wish more journalists and news organisations would follow.


Thanks! This is truly disgusting and hypocrytical act from Guardian.

I asked them: https://twitter.com/keff85/status/661642069828587520

I currently live in Singapore. Clear skies today.

But for the last two months it's been constant smoggy haze that makes your throat itch and your nose stuffy. And there's virtually no protest to it here. Just sarcasm and cynicism.

Do you guys wear masks or anything when it gets bad? Would that make a difference?


The Indonesian government's attempts to stop burning are hindered by a lack of proper land ownership data. From the Jakarta Post:

"The one-map policy — a comprehensive map of land ownership to provide clarity on the exact boundaries of land owned by companies — should be fully implemented. Experience over the past decades has shown there is an acute lack of transparency when it comes to maps on land ownership. Without a centralized, public map, the task of pinpointing errant companies or landowners becomes murky.

"The government also seems to have been reluctant to make its existing concession maps publicly available to public forest-monitoring platforms. If we are serious about tackling the appalling air pollution, the government must release data that will facilitate public monitoring."


Beautiful country, awesome food but Indonesia is a mess... If you have the opportunity to go there you will see why, the lack of government is apparent everywhere, they are as poor as it gets and the government is completely incapable of handling it's country.

I come from a country like that and there is no way this will be solved easily, some countries are just too corrupt and incapable of handling themselves, it takes a lot of investment in education and a large number of generations to fix that and since the country is a mess there is no way for that to happen without some miracle.

It's so absurd that drug use or commerce is punishable by death yet every five minutes you get stopped getting offered some kind of it, of course being a tourist in my early 30's help with that but I was with my wife and I don't exactly look like a junkie. What I mean is people (some at least) are not afraid of breaking the law...

This is not even in their radar.

It's worth a visit, but living is probably not fun.

I've visited too, but I actually came away feeling optimistic about Indonesia (and not just because I loved the food!).

Where were you that you were offered drugs? Places where Indonesians live or places where tourists go to party?

I mostly Bali so you are probably right, but I spent most of my time in Seminiyak, Ubud and some other towns, I didn't went there to party more to relax/surf/eat.

I was offered drugs everywhere... people would stop us in little vespas while walking, sellers inside stores, etc... it reached a point where my wife became afraid of people coming toward us.

People are great, friendly, some scammers but well that is expected in tourist places, the place is beautiful, it's dirty cheap. it's just that it looked crazy poor /unorganized, I was born in Brazil so being among really poor people is common to me(unfortunately) and I was choked when I got there.

If the "world" as defined as other countries, the comments suggest it's because the "world" can't tell them what to do. If the world is referring to people, we can see that the article has 386,059 shares and 1569 comments. The world is definitely not looking away.

If the question was, "can we change how some people are apathetic to Indonesia burning?" I think that would be an interesting question.

Nice hook btw, the title got me to comment. Then, I looked at your website. Of course OP has experience in click baiting and copywriting ;)

One point I rarely see raised in these stories about "eco-apocalypse" is that fire is a part of nature. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that clearcutting jungle or intentionally setting fires is a good thing; but if the forest is dry enough that it'll burn for days once lit, it will also do that if there's a lightning strike.

Here in Australia, fire is such a part of the cycle of life that the local ecosystem has entirely adapted to it: for example, there's a tree (the stringybark) which exudes a flammable oil and drops its bark in wonderfully flammable strips into piles on the ground. This ensures that, when the next bushfire comes roaring along, it rips through at lightning speed, leaving the core of the tree alive to regrow and eliminating the weaker competition. It's just a bit of a shame if your house happens to be in the way... and what's happening in Indonesia and Singapore right now is basically an intensified, human-supercharged version of the same phenomenon.

And FWIW, I lived in Singapore for 8 years and endured some of that haze myself. It still can't hold the proverbial candle to the level of entirely man-made air pollution in China and, worst of all, northern India.

Except, they are purposefully drying up peat land to start the fires...

> Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that clearcutting jungle or intentionally setting fires is a good thing

What is happening there is very unlikely to occur with such frequency if it was purely natural. It takes manmade intervention to create the kind of problem happening in Indonesia right now. Every year, for most of the year, these fires rage because of techniques created by humans. It is about a lot more than just dry forests.

I do not buy anything with palm oil in it. I try to find and buy shares of companies that are developing synthetic palm oil alternatives.

I'm also offering up prayers to the Lord of the host of ganoderma boninense.

I expect all of the above to have about the same effect.

This problem makes me very sad, because of all the affected people in the region, because of the poor orangutans and because of losing hundreds of years old trees in the rainforest. But could it be solved if you think about it from this direction:

Singaporeans are badly affected by the smoke. On the other hand, Singaporean business apparently are quite involved as the cause of the burning (for palm oil growing). Shouldn't therefore the SG public push these companies to stop it? Could there be a petition or some sort of protest? I would even try to help such a movement as I can (though I'm in HK, not SG).

I think this happens almost every year in Indonesia. Some years it's not really bad, but this year it's been really - really bad. A lot of the year, we're somewhat relying on the rain to reduce the number of the hotspots but last I heard, not much rain happening this year (a few days ago, there were rain and it kinda help it a bit).

I'm somewhat agree with one of the sentiments thrown in this discussion that a lot of people who doesn't get the haze directly (mostly the high ranking government official in Jakarta) won't understand the dire situation in the fields.

The world isn't looking away but rather ganging up on Indonesia. Those farmers own that land and its their right to do anything they want to it, in accordance with Indonesian law. Those trees trapped carbon from the atmosphere in the first place, so burning them is just releasing the same carbon. If somebody has a problem with that they can pay the farmers money to sustain themselves in otherways, e.g. I believe Norway pays Brazil to preserve the Amazon forests. Thats how Capitalism with private property rights works.

Why should someone have the right to release smoke from their land and spread it over other people's land? It's generally agreed that you don't have the right to dump trash on other people's property without their permission. Why would it suddenly become acceptable to do this just because the trash consists of fine particles instead of diapers and hamburger wrappers?

We have a choice in what system we use for managing natural resources and preventing large-scale environmental problems. Just because capitalism has been efficient so far for economic growth does not mean the current implementation is perfect for everything else.

Also, there's nothing natural about free markets and capitalism. We (humans) made it up! We're free to change the rules in order to make life and the world better.

Look up Tragedy of the Commons. That's how capitalism works in the real world that we need to share.

We were getting the haze here in Saigon, Vietnam. Seems better this week though, but before that it was the worst I've seen it in five years living here.

I was definitely cleaning out more black stuff from nose than normal.

I do think Indonesia will have to answer to ASEAN at some point, because this year it seemed so much worse than normal and affected the entire region. I can't see the current Vietnamese government letting it slide.

You would think they could do something along the lines of a complete ban on any kind of commercial activity or exploitation of land that's been burned for the next 20-30 years. Wouldn't there be no more reason to burn after this?

I suspect the politicians of Indonesia and the corporations in neighboring countries have other motives in this - and it's a quite a bit more complicated then the world looking away.

Buy that land and stop burning. If it is moneywise efficient to burn it, it will be burned. Its capitalism, believe it or not. Rainforest is not good for business, that's all. And for the UK journalist, is not Indonesia too far away to make news? There are hundreds of environmental issues in the UK to be addressed. Starting from rabbits.

That's only true in a very narrow view of "moneywise efficient". If you're a company producing palm oil, burn vs. no burn is clear. If you're looking at this from a macro view and want to cost out the health implications over a widespread area, costs for direct injuries and any fire-fighting resources, costs for people displaced, and the CO2 costs to the environment, I'd love to see the math that says this is "moneywise efficient".

singapore as a nation. and its neighbours. just have no political will to solve this. its been going on for years, if not decades. surely if GIC+Temasek holdings(how big and successful they claim to be!) and/or its peers around the region started buying indonesian forest since ten years ago they'd have bought all of it by now?

It's an incredibly difficult problem, with no easy solutions - projects like this one (http://www.katinganproject.com/) need to be supported and publicised, as they seek to find practical alternatives to burning the peat and forests.

Still, some other countries are helping - http://asiancorrespondent.com/2015/11/indonesias-annual-peat...

A lot of report on smoke. But what is with the source of the fires: the wood, the forest. Is it destroyed, or does it recover? How does it recover, with trees and forest or only gras? How long does it take until the trees grow back (if they grow back at all)? What is with the animals?

Dan Gilbert has a good TEDx talk on why we can't get worked up about things like this (and climate change). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fle_FkILmEQ

The world looks away from the horror of North Korea every day.

Syria is having a mass exodus of 20 million people running from their own government and the world is pretty much looking away (except when those people land on their doorstep).

People in Syria are running away from terrorism, mainly supported with Saudi money, and you know where those dollars come from. Saying that they're running away from their own government is as true as US equipping and supplying the Free Syrian Army for the cost of a few mils - all five of them.

Except it's not really "their own government" the people of Syria are running away.

anytime i see shit like this, all i can think is: fuck the industry and the market, fuck commerce, mass production, mass consumption. fuck socialism, communist and capitalism. fuck "democracy" and the fact that it never existed in the first place. and most important of all, fuck class warfare and everything it represents!

this week is Indonesia fires, last week was china insane pollution from gadget manufacturing. next week will be something else. we wont ever be free while all the above exists..

Regardless of the political implications, this is an extremely sad situation that will surely be felt for many years to come...

So I believe that it's covering about 2% of Indonesia's total arable landmass? Can someone cross check this for me?

"What I’m discussing is a barbecue on a different scale. Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia."

Satellite images might be useful to get a sense of the scale.

If only they had oil...

Do they have oil?

Palm oil, yes.

The following example has little to do with the current, reported, fire situation reported in the article, but may, by example, provide some insight into why this situation in Indonesia hasn't been widely decried, and also, to the political climate that can lead to such extreme situations without global outcry.

"The Grasberg Mine is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world. It is located in the province of Papua in Indonesia near Puncak Jaya, the highest mountain in Papua, and it has 19,500 employees."[1]

I first heard of this mine when, 20 years ago, a friend of mine and I thought it would be "fun" to climb the highest mountain "on the continent of Australia" [2]

We rapidly realised that this would be near impossible due to political, and at the time (and indeed now), logistical reasons.

A few years later I read Tim Flannery's "Throwim way leg" [3] which discussed the development of the mine, the road that accesses the mine, the conflicts that surrounded the mine, and the secrecy that enshrouds the mine.

To this day it's very difficult to access Puncak Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid), mainly due to the fact that the mine operators don't want people in the area. Historically it was the local tribes that presented the problem, these days it's Freeport-McMoRan et al who present the problem.

The mine itself has been the subject of contentious investigation:

"In 1995, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) revoked Freeport's insurance policy for environmental violations of a sort that would not be allowed in the US. It was the first action of this sort by OPIC, and Freeport responded with a lawsuit against them. Freeport states that this revocation was based on a misunderstanding, the result of a single 1994 visit to Grasberg; the company later underwent an independent environmental audit by Dames & Moore, and passed."

Dames & Moore are a story unto themselves. Lookup https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URS_Corporation for more information, but they aren't / weren't the most unbiased group to be doing environmental audits.

Suffice to say, this particular mine has a very secretive and questionable history.

This is but one operation, in one sector of industry.

The resources sector of Indonesia has been mired by corruption, and worse, government complicity for decades. This has been pushed and sustained by Australian, US, UK, and European interests and has largely been ignored by the greater global community.

To see this latest environmental disaster receive so little press isn't surprising at all considering the recent history of the area. This isn't something that can be solely pinned on the Indonesian government, this is a horribly perfect example of international capitalism gone awry. The companies involved in profiting from these areas need to feel "somewhat responsible" (a slight understatement) for what's happening here.

Sorry people, rant over.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grasberg_mine

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puncak_Jaya

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Throwim_Way_Leg

This will be hugely unpopular, but maybe Indonesia would be a little better managed if it were still the Dutch East Indies?

Colonialism is bad, sure, we all have to believe that. But an overwhelming percentage of the hot-spots and problem areas in the world are in places where old European colonial administrations were driven out by nationalists precipitously. In some places, it's taken these countries fifty years to develop institutions that are in the ball-park of the old colonial administrations, and some of them are still corrupt and evil enough to put Leopold II to shame.

Please be a troll. I know people all over the world still have thoughts like this, but I thought people on hacker news are smarter than that.

#1: Things weren't "better" in colonial times anymore than they were better in Apartheid-era South Africa or Jim Crow-era America. Hell, we can even go back to Slavery-era America. Sure, things were more peaceful and ordered. At the expense of the subjugation of a significant percentage of the population.

You can absolutely attain peace and prosperity at the expense of the freedom of your citizens. We call that Fascism.

#2: Most of the problems that occur in post-colonial hot-spots are not there because the European colonial administrations left. They are there because THEY WERE THERE IN THE FIRST place. The Europeans: * Deliberately destablized peaceful areas so that they would be the one to introduce order * Divided and conquered previously peaceful tribes by boosting support for one in order to attain power (see: Rwanda) * Toppled democratically elected governments because of fear of communistic populistic ideas that threatened wealthy western industrialists * Created borders abstractly - merging peoples that did not want to be together and dividing those that did.

Western countries would not be this far ahead of the rest of the world without decades if not centuries of exploitation. And maybe, just maybe, if progress happened at a more natural rate we would have been able to learn some more sustainable practices. Maybe we wouldn't have the internet or smart phones for another century, but maybe we wouldn't have been responsible for The Sixth Extinction.

What's a "natural rate of progress"? I think that's a strawman. Massive deforestation is not a new thing, nor is hunting and destroying the habitats of species to extinction. Nor does it necessarily have anything to do with Western civilization.

Like I said, obviously, colonialism is bad, m'kay. But, if you're going to impose a colonial administration, you can't just pull up stakes and remove the bulk of the machinery and personnel of the old administration, and expect things to work out well. I think we have at this point plenty of evidence that turning the keys over to a former colonial population that hasn't nurtured parliamentary ideals and institutions is as likely to end in warlordism, genocide, rampant corruption and repression, as a functioning, liberal state.

Also, the administration of V.O.C. and subsequent Dutch colony had as long a continuous existence as any of the petty sultanates and warlords that exploited the area before them. It's not like it was a bed of roses for the common man or woman living under the rule of the pre-colonial native kingdoms.

I agree with everything but the blanket use of fascism: I wouldn't say pre-civil war america was fascist because of slavery (nor I'm saying slavery is good for modern democratic countries of course)

That is true, and I should clarify: The only way to achieve the same peace and stability that existed in past societies with socially accepted discrimination TODAY is through fascism.

If you look at the history of Indonesia, in 1965 there was a military coup which largely exterminated the local popular based party, the PKK in an enormous massacre. At least a million people were killed. It was received mainly with applause in the west. Thereafter Indonesian was opened up to western international corporations - essentially neo-colonialisation.

I hope you're just trolling.

One of the problems is that Indonesia should have been either a number of independent states or a United States of Indonesia model, but turned into a kind of copy of the Dutch East Indies, except with Jakarta taking the place of the Dutch. In many ways, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Irian Jaya are Javanese colonies and treated that way.

The Dutch East India Company also had an economic application of fire, namely in burning down any production of spices they did not control. I don't know about better management.


"This" is not necessarily unpopular but almost certainly pretty irrelevant. This kind of semi philosophical reasoning result in neither intellectual insight nor does it help to solve a single problem.

It is very simple: If the people of Indonesia are unhappy with their situation, they have to actively change it. It is my impression, that power is very uneven distributed in this country and it doesn't seem like the ruling elite is going share it voluntary. You always have to fight for power, there is no way around.

Putting Leopold II to shame is hard. He ranks right up there with Hitler, Stalin and Mao in his willingness to cause misery. He's an extreme example of why these countries are not better off under colonialism (they were robbed of all their riches under colonialism), as well as a big part of why so many former colonies are now such a mess: our ancestors fucked them up and put power in the hands of the wrong people when we left.

Considering its history, Indonesia is actually not doing all that badly. I mean, yes, the leadership is corrupt and only really cares about Java, and the economic inequality is insane, but at least it's not at the Robert Mugabe/Idi Amin level. Not anymore, at least.

Post-Colonial Institutions are the perfect successor of Colonial Administrations.

The nature of the beast is often misunderstood.

The main horror of colonialism was not foreign control. The main horror of colonialism was its absolute authoritarianism and the administrative rule that was used to enforce it.

It's really odd to think any human being with that level of absolute authority could be somehow begnin.

Better yet, put them under Belgian control. They have an unmatched history of managing colonies. /s

If you want to be imperial, just offer them huge payments to keep the fires out.

I'm sure it would be cheaper than colonization.

staying in singapore

the haze is bad, the highest i've ever seen. first time i ever cough due to haze

"Starbucks, PepsiCo and Kraft Heinz are examples. Don’t buy their products until you see results."

I don't see how taking money away from these companies and then telling them to do something more expensive by enforcing more responsible ways of making palm oil is an answer.

It seems that if you take away money from these companies, you'd inspire them to cut corners to turn profits. Their shareholders dictate profitability.

If you want to encourage good behavior, you should just contact them and tell them you are concerned and ask what they are doing about it to end this problem in a short timeframe. Ask them what you can do to help stop it. They will probably appreciate the help. If they don't respond, write another letter and give them a timeline, like the end of 2016, and tell them if they cannot make a change in the local behavior there by then, you will start a lifetime ban on their products in your family and tell your friends, social media, and the press about your decision.

In general though, banning products hurts workers and shareholders. It doesn't enact the change you want.

I really am not sure if you are trying to be humorous or just naive. Perhaps you could set up a Facebook action page and we can all click "Like" so that we can all feel better about continuing to buy their products.

How about this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-griffith/who-the-chick-fil...

Or this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lynda-bekore/why-calls-for-boy...

People should help, but it is unbelievable to me with such smart people here we can't come up with a more realistic way to solve the problem than a boycott.

I think those articles just show the authors didn't want to think a bit about all the direct effects.

Sure, by boycotting a business, the workers of that business (may) see their paychecks lowered. But the workers of the competing businesses where you'll be eating/staying instead will have more customers.

In fact, by going to that business instead of the one you'd go if you were boycotting the first, you are in fact doing the same to the later business as the boycotters are doing to the former.

So I can see how the boycott might be bad for the workers of the boycotted business, but it's neutral to workers in general.

I want to hurt the shareholders of companies that cause environmental destructions.

Everything causes environmental destruction. The problem with the will to hurt shareholders is that the alternatives - companies that get more business after international corporations have been hurt by a boycott - are worse.

Don't be fooled into thinking that Starbucks, Pepsi, Nestle and Monsanto are the ethically worst companies in world. Personally, I buy Nestle and Monsanto whenever in doubt, just because so much of the activism is misguided.

Huge-scale environmental damage was caused by state-controlled companies extracting natural resources in the USSR, for instance, but it could be that things like small-scale organic farming or little coal-burning cooking stoves in Africa are even worse (in terms of comparing environmental damage to utility for mankind.)

You've got a source for that?

We also have to get out of the idea that utility for mankind overall is something to optimize for. It surely doesn't matter that Indonesian have miserable lives - there are 7B+ people in the world and a few less Indonesians are no big deal. However, the Sumatran forest, with all its endangered animals, is a very big deal.

Well if X people are no big deal, why not start with you and your family? I mean... its good for the Earth and all, I'd wager Indonesians have a smaller carbon footprint than you do.

Yeah, but if you get people like me out first who is going to advocate for exterminating the others? ;)

A lot of these companies are probably packaged into ETFs or mutual funds, which are then purchased by investors without significant review of each component in the fund. Most investors probably have no idea that this is even going on in the world, let alone which companies are benefiting and if those companies are in their funds. It seems unfair to want to target people who simply are ignorant.

The majority of shareholders have no influence over the decisions made. The companies can work to be more responsible, but if you boycott, you'll give them even more incentive to cut corners, and you'll be hurting low-level workers and many others that have no influence over the decisions that are being made.

It is fine to be angry about it and want to help, but choose a path that will work.

They still profit from it, and they are ultimately (legally) the owners and controllers of the company. It is ridiculous to say that just because the responsibility is diffused we don't need to think about shareholder responsibility at all.

The way to help is to make companies that source palm oil from these terrible places to go bankrupt. That way, we clamp on demand for palm oil.

> Their shareholders dictate profitability

No, the market does.

in your opinion

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