Best of our wild blogs: 11 Sep 16

Butterfly of the Month - September 2016
Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

Saving a planet under attack

THOMAS FRIEDMAN Today Online 8 Sep 16;

Robert Macfarlane, in his book Landmarks, about the connection between words and landscapes, tells a revealing but stunning story about how recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary (aimed at seven-year-olds) dropped certain “nature words” that its editors deemed less relevant to the lives of modern children.

These included “acorn”, “dandelion”, “fern”, “nectar”, “otter”, “pasture” and “willow”. The terms introduced in their place, he noted, included “broadband”, “blog”, “cut-and-paste”, “MP3 player” and “voice-mail”.

While this news was first disclosed in 2015, reading it in Mr Macfarlane’s book still shocks me for what it signifies. But who can blame the Oxford editors for dumping Amazon words for ones?

Our natural world is rapidly disappearing. Just how fast was the major topic here last week at the global conference held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which I participated in along with some 8,000 scientists, nature reserve specialists and environmentalists.

The dominant theme running through the IUCN’s seminars was the fact that we are bumping up against and piercing planetary boundaries — on forests, oceans, ice melt, species extinctions and temperature — from which Mother Nature will not be able to recover. When the coral and elephants are all gone, no 3D printer will be able to recreate them.

In short, we and our kids are rapidly becoming the Noah generation, charged with saving the last pairs. (This is no time to be electing a climate-change denier such as Mr Donald Trump for President.)

The renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle put it well to a sustainability conference hosted in the United States by the East-West Center alongside the IUCN meetings. In her lifetime, she said, she has felt as if she has been “witness to the greatest era of discovery and the greatest era of loss” in our planet’s history.

So now, she said, “We are at a crossroads. What we do right now or fail to do will determine the future — not just for us, but for all life on Earth”.

Those really are the stakes — there is a reason nature words are being removed from children’s dictionaries.

Last week, for instance, The New York Times reported on a study that revealed how “the African elephant population is in drastic decline, having shrunk about 30 per cent from 2007 to 2014. ... The deterioration is accelerating: Largely because of poaching, the population is dropping 8 per cent a year, according to the Great Elephant Census. ... Patricia Awori, an official with the African Elephant Coalition, said, ‘These numbers are shocking’.”

Ok, so you do not care that your kids may never see an elephant in the wild, only in a zoo. That is not all. The species extinction rate is now about “1,000 times faster than before the global spread of humanity”, explained the great biodiversity expert E O Wilson, another speaker at the event.

“Half of the species described today will be gone by the end of the century, unless we take drastic action.”

These species, he noted, evolved over 3.5 billion years “to create an exquisite and careful balance of interconnected resilience”. These plants and animals, and their ecosystems, sustain the foundations of life on which we depend.

When we lose the trees that maintain watersheds, the coastal mangroves that protect against storm surges, the glaciers that store fresh water and the coral reefs that feed fish, we humans become less resilient. Indeed, strip them all away, said Dr Wilson, “and the world as we know it will unravel”.

The magazine, Discover, just noted that we have been tracking the average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces since 1880 — or for 1,639 months. Due to global warming, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July 2016 was the hottest “of all 1,639 months on record”.

That is why actress Alison Sudol, an IUCN goodwill ambassador, opened the plenary by observing that our planet is now “under attack”.

“Our vast oceans, full of mysteries and wonders, are thick with plastic and mercury,” she noted. “Rainforests — abundant sources of oxygen and medicine; land of ancient lore and tradition; home to thousands of species of wildlife, many as yet unknown to us — are being ploughed down before we have a chance to properly discover what it is we are losing.

“These are the lungs of the Earth, the oceans and the forests, and we are destroying them. Deeply, desperately, we are hoping someone will do something before it is too late. That someone we are hoping for is you.”

So do we have a plan? Dr Wilson has one — a big, audacious plan. It’s the title of his latest book Half-Earth, a call to action to commit half of the planet’s surface — land and oceans — to protected zones.

Right now, the IUCN says, close to 15 per cent of the Earth’s land and 10 per cent of its territorial waters are covered by national parks and protected areas. If we protect half the global surface, Dr Wilson argues, the fraction of species protected will be about 85 per cent, which would keep life on Earth, including the human species, in a safe zone.

Naive, you say? Not so. Naive is thinking we humans will survive without the healthy natural systems that got us here. Naivete is the new realism — or else we, the human species, will become just another bad biological experiment. THE NEW YORK TIMES


Thomas Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at The New York Times.

Read more!

Indonesia: Bank Mandiri Denies Link to Companies Blamed for Forest Fires

Dion Bisara & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 10 Sep 16;

Jakarta. Bank Mandiri, Indonesia’s largest lender by assets, has reiterated its support for good corporate governance and environment conservation, in response to a report that claimed it is one of the largest financiers for companies linked to forest degradation in Southeast Asia.

According to the "Forest & Finance" report from Rainforest Action Network, Bank Mandiri disbursed more than $1 billion in loan or underwriting for clients which have been accused of destroying forests in Indonesia, including the Rajawali Group, Salim Group and Sampoerna Agro, between 2010 and 2015.

Bank Mandiri corporate secretary Rohan Hafas, however, said that Bank Mandiri had always set stringent requirements for their clients, scrutinizing administrative legality and good corporate governance of each prospective client.

"We would only finance corporations that have met our requirements and licensing regulations," Rohan said in a text message to The Jakarta Globe on Friday (09/09).

"We only give loans to plantation firms that have met all the requirements and permits as demanded by the relevant authorities, such as environmental impact assessment (Amdal) and other related permits," Rohan said.

According to Rohan, the bank is fully aware of sensitive environmental issues — one of the major risks in their financial portfolio. "Legality is always a major concern before we decide to disburse a loan," he said.

Adelaide Glover, report program coordinator and researcher at Rainforest Action Network (RAN), said while Mandiri may have enviromentally-friendly policies, the lender had failed to be more transparent regarding the issue.

One of Bank Mandiri clients, Sampoerna Agro, was found guilty of neglect last month in relation to forest fires on a 3,000-hectare concession land in Riau in 2014. The company was ordered to pay more than Rp 1 trillion in fines, the largest ever handed down for causing a forest fire in Indonesia. A report showed Bank Mandiri disbursed a total of $22 million in loans to Sampoerna Agro in 2010 and 2012.

"We looked at Mandiri's publicly available information on [environmental, social and governance] risks and found no information that answers satisfactorily our set of 15 questions [on policy assessment]," Glover said.

The assessments include finding out whether the bank has a publicly available forestry sector-specific safeguard policy, whether it requires clients to undergo regular independent assessment and whether such safeguard policy is applied to all clients within the same business group.

RAN said it will correct its report should the lender identifies errors in the assessment.

Read more!

Indonesia: RAPP given slap on wrist for breaking moratorium rule

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 10 Sep 16;

The government has given the country’s leading pulp and paper company PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) a slap on the wrist even though it has violated President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s peatland moratorium policy.

Jokowi issued the policy in 2015 after massive land and forest fires that claimed the lives of 10 people and caused approximately 500,000 cases of respiratory tract infections.

The President ordered that even with licenses, all peatland was prohibited from being cleared until the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) finished mapping the location to see which areas were in protected or production zones. Peatland clearing is a major cause of forest fires.

On Friday, PT RAPP admitted that an operation to convert the peatland into a currently ongoing acacia plantation had occurred on their concession on Padang Island, Meranti Islands regency, Riau.

Despite violating Jokowi’s moratorium policy, RAPP president director Tony Wenas claimed that the company’s operations in the area was legal because it adhered to the company’s working plan (RKU), which had been approved by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in 2013. “We always follow the rules and all the actions we take are in accordance to the decree that we received from the [ministry],” he said after a closed meeting with the ministry and the BRG in Jakarta.

Tony added that the operation to convert the peatland had been ongoing since the end of 2014.

The company disclosed the peatland conversion operation after an impromptu visit on Monday by BRG head Nazir Foead, who discovered the area had freshly been planted with acacia seedlings.

Nazir decided to pay the visit after receiving a report about the company planting in the area, which has been disputed over by locals for years.

Since RAPP started its operation in Pulau Padang in 2011, residents have been protesting the company’s presence, resulting in the ministry issuing a decree that returns 7,000 hectares of land that were initially in the company’s concession area to three villages: Bagan Melibur, Mengkirau and part of Lukit. However, the decree has failed to ease tensions, which are still ongoing.

During the visit, Nazir also discovered that the company had built a canal over 3 kilometers long in the middle of the acacia plantation, suspected to be used to dry out the peatland to make way for the acacia seedlings to grow.

Tony said the canals were constructed to save water following forest fires last year, not to dry out the peatland.

BRG’s education, participation and partnership division deputy Myrna A. Safitri said the agency could not accept the company’s excuses as building a canal was also forbidden in peatland areas.

Despite the violation, the ministry decided to only give a verbal warning to the company. “There’s no sanction so far,” ministry’s secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono said.

Nazir said the ministry had only given the verbal warning to the company during their meeting.

For now, the government has ordered RAPP to halt all operations in the area while it continues to investigate the company’s claims, as well as to resolve the dispute between the company and locals.

Read more!