Agung Wardana: We have to change our tourism model into a more ecofriendly one.
With a continuing increase in weather-related catastrophes and the failure to deliver a binding climate deal in Copenhagen, activists around the globe are rising up to demand real action on climate change. Agung Wardana, executive director of the Bali office of Friends of the Earth Indonesia (Walhi), spoke with Carla Albertí de la Rosa about how Indonesia’s leading environmental group is playing its part.
What sparked your interest and concern for the environment?
It started after my experience working in Aceh, after the 2004 tsunami killed more than 200,000 people. I realised the power of Mother Nature to destroy our lives.
How did Walhi come about?
Walhi was founded in 1980 in Jakarta. There were many environmental problems at that time, during Suharto’s regime. Now Walhi has around 480 organisations that are members. We have offices in every region. Our environmental actions have grown significantly and so has our membership.
How do you see the internet as a tool for conveying environmental messages to the public and as a way of enabling change?
The internet is very useful for our movement. Back in the 80s the internet didn’t exist, so people gathered in meetings, face to face. Now we can organise demonstrations, invite people to join us and convey our message through the net. It’s a quick and easy way of communicating, learning about environmental issues and reaching a large number of people.
Many people are conscious that we need to do something about environmental problems, but feel helpless because of the political and economic interests that get in the way of a successful resolution. Do you think there’s hope for individual action?
I don’t believe one person alone can change anything. One person can influence others, but in order to make a real change we must work together.
There is increasing interest in leading a “green lifestyle.” Is this encouraging environmentalism action or is it just a trend?
It’s a fashion nowadays. But at the same time it’s helping the environment by transmitting a message.
Are there too many people on the planet?
No. I don’t believe in Malthus’ theory. I do believe in what Gandhi said: “There is enough on Earth for everybody’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
Why is climate change taking place and is it the same as global warming?
Climate change is the result of global warming. Our consumption, starting from the Industrial Revolution, is what is causing global warming. Since then, the Earth’s temperature has increased 0.8C. If we don’t stop consuming and change our way of life now, the temperature will increase up to 5C. How will human beings survive the heat?
What value does the Balinese community place on the environment and how should they address climate change?
There’s a day every year, Nyepi, in which everyone tries to reduce greenhouse emissions. There’s no traffic anywhere and people are conveying a message: We have to give the Earth a break. We’re trying to promote this good example to the world. But of course, one day isn’t enough.
They should stop using plastic bags and create a good public transport infrastructure. We propose it to the government constantly, but they say they will need to invest a great amount of money. The government should increase car taxes and use that to build infrastructure.
If you look around, Balinese people are not environmentally conscious at all: They throw rubbish out of their cars and there are heaps of rubbish all over the island. What can be done to change this?
Balinese people should learn how to manage rubbish and start recycling. We have an open dumping system, and this is very harmful for the environment because methane is being released.
There are ceremonies celebrated to respect the environment. But the problem is that Balinese people are trapped under a ritual and they don’t see the message lying beneath.
There are different levels and ways of protecting the environment. At an individual level it’s important to live in an ecofriendly way: Trying to recycle, using public transport and spreading the message.
At a national level, we need to push our government to build public transportation, promote renewable energies and work together towards change.
In what ways is tourism threatening Bali’s natural environment?
Bali is a small island of around 5,000 square kilometres. Three million tourists visit the island every year. The government and the tourism industry provide resources for them – buildings, hotels, villas and golf courses. Golf courses are the greatest consumers of water in Bali. If we consider the three million litres of water consumed by a golf course each day, we can see how terrible this is for our natural resources.
So would you say Bali’s tourism industry – its hotels – is destroying the island?
Yes, and that’s why we have to change our tourism model into a more ecofriendly one. The government should also limit the amount of tourists that come to the island. It’s a small island and its natural resources are limited.
Critics of the Copenhagen climate conference say it was a “disaster.” Is this your view?
It was a complete failure. It didn’t convey a strong or legally binding commitment.
Some, however, do see Copenhagen’s non-binding deal as a first step in tackling climate change. Do you see it as an opportunity to change the course of our planet?
Not at all. The Kyoto Protocol was legally binding, but there were still no results. So what can we expect from an agreement that is not even legally binding?
Why, in your opinion, did the summit conclude without a global agreement on climate change?
Politicians see economic growth as a priority. It’s all about economic interests.
Some were optimistic in Copenhagen about Indonesia’s role in bridging the gap between developed and developing countries. How do you think President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono performed in this regard at the conference?
Our president was a hypocrite. The result of the 2007 United Nations Climate Conference in Bali required the next commitment to be legally binding. Our government should have pushed for that that in Copenhagen.
Do you think we will ever be able to control our climate?
We can’t stop climate change but we can moderate its effects – limiting the rise of temperatures to make it tolerable. There are ways to moderate change, but not to stop it.
What do you think it takes for real change to happen?
We need to put pressure and show the government alternatives that will be less harmful for our environment.
Is there any hope for the coming generations?
There’s hope. But there will be no future if we fail to act now.