There’s no doubt that ongoing forest fires are a crisis for Indonesia. The first step towards a solution is the acceptance of responsibility by palm oil and pulp and paper corporations
When choking yellow haze from Indonesia’s ongoing forest fires made Singapore’s air quality dangerous, Singapore began legal action against companies it felt to be responsible for the polluting fires. Singapore was trying to do what Indonesia has failed to: put enough economic pressure on paper and palm oil industries to stop the age-old practices of slash-and-burn agriculture and land clearing that contribute to the fires. But a lack of completely reliable data has always made pinpointing the exact causes of individual fires difficult.
Some studies have pinned the blame for fires not as much on large corporations as on small farm holders, who produce around 40% of Indonesia’s palm oil. The Indonesian government has actually said that it wants big palm oil companies to go back on their “no deforestation” pledges because it purportedly hurts these small farm holders who can’t afford sustainable forestry practices.
Yet Doug Boucher, director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC, says two studies, one published by Conservation Letters in 2013 and the other published by Environmental Research Letters in 2011, found that big companies are on balance causing the lion’s share of deforestation because they prefer to develop...