"An archipelago comprising thousands of islands ... Indonesia has an estimated population of over 255 million people and is the world's fourth-most-populous country and the most-populous Muslim-majority country." (See the Wiki entry for more and a map.) And the country is on fire - literally burning - producing contaminants, destroying wildlife habitats, and posing a public health threat. All this is on a scale almost unimaginable. And there is no light at the end of a very smoggy tunnel.
A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century – so far.
What I’m discussing is a barbecue on a different scale. Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page. 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.
But that doesn’t really capture it. This catastrophe cannot be measured only in parts per million. The fires are destroying treasures as precious and irreplaceable as the archaeological remains being levelled by Isis. Orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears, gibbons, the Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran tiger, these are among the threatened species being driven from much of their range by the flames. But there are thousands, perhaps millions, more.
It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries.
Now go on and read Monbiot's article in full. You will discover the governmental, commercial, and even journalistic forces arrayed against just the mere exposure of this catastrophe.
To solve a problem you first must admit that it exists. In the case of the reality show we might call Indonesia Burning, we have yet to get even that far.
h/t Charles Pierce writing at esquire.com