Indonesians Told ‘Inconvenient Truth’ of Climate Change

By Samantha Brown
Agence France-Presse

JAKARTA ~ In a darkened auditorium on a weekday afternoon, Indonesians are warned that floods in their capital will become more catastrophic and the haze-inducing fires blazing through their forests are partly to blame. A message from Al Gore has arrived.

For the first time in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation and its third largest carbon emitter, a tailored version of the climate change slideshow delivered by former US vice president Gore and featured in the smash documentary An Inconvenient Truth is underway.

Emerald Starr, an American environmental engineer based in Bali, was one of 200 people trained directly by Gore last year to spread his environmental message around the world.

While Starr has presented the results of his week-long training several times in Bali, this is the first show to include detailed Indonesian data provided by environmental group WWF, so the impact is strong.

Graphs with soaring and plunging lines are interspersed with startling images of devastation: drought-scarred landscapes in Australia, the wreckage of a typhoon in the Philippines, flood victims in India.

The several-hundred strong audience gasps at photographs of polar bears and penguins perched on melting chunks of ice, as statistic after statistic shows that humans must take responsibility – immediately – for climate change.

Some 60,000 species have disappeared in the past 100 years; 30 new diseases have emerged since 1976. And if current trends continue, a map of Indonesia bleeding blue shows what will happen as a result of rising sea levels by 2070.

“Two islands off Madura (an island off the north coast of Java) are gone and Jakarta – you can imagine the devastation,” Starr says.

Indonesia’s main contribution to global warming is through the burning of its forests. Companies typically have concessions of 200,000 hectares – three times the size of Jakarta – and some as many as a million, or twice the size of Bali, Starr says.

While the wood is used for pulp, palm oil plantations soon follow, though the companies are supposed to replace the trees with acacia.

“Actually Indonesia has very good environmental policies, but they need to be enforced,” Starr explains.

The audience is receptive, but they want to know whether the talk will be repeated elsewhere in Indonesian, rather than English.

“Somebody in the audience is training tonight and if anyone here tonight is interested in that, please come and see me,” replies Starr, who may deliver his presentation to a UN conference on climate change in Bali in December.

They are also thirsty for more knowledge on what they can do practically. Starr tells them to recycle, carpool, change their lightbulbs.

“Never underestimate the power of individual citizens taking steps individually,” says Starr, who is not paid for his time here. “Everything you do matters. Nothing is frivolous at this point.”

Arif Hasyim, a 35-year-old director of a biogas company, is taken aback by the Indonesian data and tells AFP that people must get organized.

“I myself was quite shocked with what’s happening in Indonesia. It actually had more of an effect on us, because when you’re talking about climate change, (you think of it) happening somewhere else, but not to us,” Hasyim says.

“But what about the follow up? What do we have to do? All of us have a mission to gather people together again to move on, from just getting information to the action.”

Eric Natanael, a 33-year-old environmental engineer, says the show was “like half of a complete presentation. The other half is what you can do, really, in real terms.”

Hundreds of businesspeople are expected to attend Starr’s evening session, but some are here now, including Suzy Hutomo, the CEO of the Body Shop Indonesia.

“I see now that the impact for Indonesia is very real,” she says.

“The Body Shop has been ‘green’ but personally now I intend to spread the message to people I know, to my customers.”

After meeting with audience members, Starr is pleased with the reaction.

“People were so enthusiastic,” he says. “I believe people are going to go out and do something and start making some changes in their lives from this. That’s the most exciting part.”

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