The Guardian reports that “Raging forest fires across Indonesia are thought to be responsible for up to half a million cases of respiratory infections, with the resultant haze covering parts of Malaysia and Singapore now being described as a “crime against humanity”
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and fires are frequently intentionally lit to clear the land with the resulting haze an annual headache.
But this year a prolonged dry season and the impact of El Niño have made the situation far worse, with one estimate that daily emissions from the fires have surpassed the average daily emissions of the entire US economy.
In the worst hit areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where levels of the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) have pushed toward 2,000. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous.”
Steve Mollman writes “Tropical peatland fires are not like regular forest fires. They generate enormous amounts of smoke and are fiendishly difficult to extinguish. Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the institute, peat fires can emit up to 10 times more methane—a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide—than fires occurring on other types of land. Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming can be more than 200 times greater than fires on other lands.”
This problem is a two edged sword. Not only does the land clearing pump massive amounts of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, it also adds to the gradual degradation of the forest sinks that absorb carbon.
There were arguments advanced at the Paris conference that Third World countries would need permission to pollute to drag their people out of poverty. It’s a difficult argument to refute if your first world economy.
But the situation in Indonesia typifies the reality of this argument. If the world’s nations are serious about limiting climate change, they will need to negotiate with the Indonesians to stop land clearing for palm oil production.