I come back from a weekend away to find myself choking on smoke and acrid air in Singapore. I start to ask everyone around me what is going on. I’ve been here a full calendar year now exactly, I thought the surprises were over.
Sadly, this is what it took for me to care about the deforestation of Sumatra. OK, the words “to care” are not exactly right. “Be aware” is more appropriate. With so many things going on in the world, how do we just pick one cause? We usually get cause fatigue and sink back into our slumpy little holes of wine and cheese or working out or television or whatever else we can find to hide away in and feel better. I’m not judging. These are my drugs too.
But when it’s in your face, in the air you breathe, I suppose you can’t ignore things anymore.
If this is the future, it’s scary and awful, y’all and I don’t know what to do about it. Think I’m being melodramatic? Check out this photo taken atop the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands.
Permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains of Indonesia’s rainforest into palm or acacia plantations. This smoke covering Singapore comes from the clearing of those lands by fire. Visit Sumatra and Borneo now because in 20 years the forests there will be gone. Accompanying the eviction of animals and plants from their land is violence. Communities that had lost their traditional forest fought multinational companies and security forces in more than 600 major land conflicts last year. All according to the Guardian.
This isn’t some far away place anymore. This is Singapore’s backyard. This is MY backyard.
What can be done about it? Well I guess we can stop buying palm oil for a start, but it seems like we just consume and replace one thing with something else- another cash crop perhaps? I’m not putting down the palm oil ban idea. It could be a temporary Bandaid. The rainforest might really appreciate a Bandaid.
The mantra “Live simply so that others may simply live” sounds really groovy until you realize it’s being spouted by one of the world’s wealthiest and most privileged. Before you start asking me for a loan thinking I have some CEO type gig or inheritance, consider that 80 percent of the world live on under $10 a day. If you are reading this, I am pretty sure that you too are among the world’s most wealthy.
So tonight I eat vegan – it requires less land mass to raise grain and vegetable than animals. Besides, we are all headed there anyway eventually. I contemplate growing a garden and whether its responsible to have children, how many, and what resources one should give them. I self congratulate myself for driving a scooter instead of a minivan. Then I think about how many shoes I really need to own and my love for travelling on airplanes. I think about emerging economies and their rights to own shoes and travel on airplanes. Or even sometimes their right to just try and feed their families.
I think – does it really matter what I do? “I’m one person and even if I manage to figure out something, the rest of the world is not going to come with me,” says a small voice. Regular interactions on Facebook have schooled me on this one. “Are you kidding me??” was the response to my suggestion to reduce carbon footprint if you didn’t have cash to give to a charitable organization.
“We think it’s so cute that you care about people,” was a response from a good friend who doesn’t see eye to eye and married a man who doesn’t believe in global warming.
“OK,” I mumble to keep the peace. “I guess the jury’s still out?”
Now I’m cynical and sad. And I crawl into bed doomed by this whole new problem of unsafe air, deforestation and homeless orangutans when the other day my biggest problem was whether or not the cab driver was ripping me off $5 and having an annoying heat rash. (BTW, heat rashes are super annoying.)
I’m grateful for the perspective but not very happy about the rest of it. I snap out of my wallowing.
Who’s got time to be butt hurt over stupid things when THE RAINFOREST IS BURNING. The one next to my house, not the one on the other side of the world anymore.
As for raising awareness, the smoke seems to be doing it, you see. It’s got my attention and my lungs.