It took eight hours to drive to Ketambe, a small village in Sumatra, from the airport. My fog-clouded mind, still numb from waking up at 4am, could barely take in the sights and sounds that accompanied us as we traveled. We drove through small cities covered in light and smoke that clung to my hair and tickled my throat. Each breath was harder to catch and it felt like tar was starting to form in my lungs. The pollution settled in me and made a home in my heart. I was fantasizing and longing for the moment that we would break through and make it out into the wild and I could finally take a proper breath.
What I was greeted with instead were man-made plantations. Gone was the lush forest that once stood and in its place were fields upon fields of cocoa, banana, and palm oil. And where there weren’t plantations there were fields of clear cut and burnt land. The straight and organised rows stood out as you looked around and noticed small untouched patches of forest dispersed between the plantations – a sad reminder of the proud forest that once stood there.
Sumatra has been the victim of clear cutting and deforestation for approximately 21 years. The WWF estimates that Sumatra has lost around half of its forest cover since 1985. The forest cover has gone from 50 percent to 25 percent. The intense clear cutting in the area has led to almost complete deforestation, which in turn has displaced thousands of native species of plants and animals, leading several to become endangered.
In the last century, Indonesia has lost at least 15.79 million hectares of forest land, according to a study by the University of Maryland and the World Resource Institute. Deforestation in Indonesia, and particularly in Borneo and Sumatra, has had devastating effects on the ecosystem, its inhabitants, and even the global climate. According to Michael Daley, an associate professor of environmental science at Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, the biggest problem caused by deforestation is the impact on the global carbon cycle. Gas molecules that absorb thermal infrared radiation are called greenhouse gases. If greenhouse gases are in large enough quantity, they can force climate change. Deforestation has also decreased global vapor flows from land by 4 percent, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences and even this slight change in vapor flows can disrupt natural weather patterns and change current climate models.
Another effect of deforestation is the loss of species. With 50-90% of the world’s plants and animals depending on rainforests these large amounts of deforestation can lead to mass species extinction. It also affects the people in the area who rely on these animals and plants for their survival. Deforestation is a problem that affects everyone both locally and globally.
It sounds hopeless at times, especially when you hear all the facts and statistics. When you think about how much trouble the world is in a feeling of dread comes over and it leaves us paralyzed sometimes. What can we do? It’s actually pretty simple: you as a consumer and as a person have power. Be conscious of the products that have conflict palm oil in them. Educate yourself on the companies and brands that use it and cut down on consumption of those particular products. It may not sound like much but when we as people agree to stand up for these issues we can make a change. So start today, because you can make a difference.
Written by Aleria Mačiulytė