Category Archives: palm oil plantations

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc00059.jpg

 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5843.jpg

Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_6216-1.jpg

Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fern-169.jpg

Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_6918.jpg

Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2013-03-15-the-free-horse_0409.jpg

Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

Indonesian Borneo is Finished: They Also Rape Orangutans

How destructive can man get, how ruthless, in his quest to secure maximum profit, even as he endangers the very survival of our planet?

The tropical forests of Kalimantan (known as Borneo in Malaysia), the third largest island in the world, have almost totally disappeared. Coal mines are savagely scarring the hills; the rivers are polluted, and countless species are endangered or already extinct.

It is all a terrible sight, whether you see it from the air or when driving (or walking) through the devastation that is taking place on the ground. The soil is black; it is often saturated with chemicals. Dead stubs of trees are accusatively pointing towards the sky. Many wonderful creatures, big and small, who used to proudly inhabit this tropical paradise, are now hiding in the depth of what remains of one of the largest tropical jungles on earth.

Engines are instantly roaring everywhere; huge equipment is continually cutting through something pure, or digging and finally transporting what has already been extracted, killed, or taken down mercilessly.

Ms. Mira Lubis, Senior Lecturer at Tanjungpura University, Pontianak in Western Kalimantan, summarizes the situation honestly but brutally:

I think we, the people of Borneo, have lost our sovereignty over our own space and resources, under the pressure of global capitalism… Apparently, we just became poor despite all the wealth that we have.

*****

One morning I looked from my hotel window in the city of Samarinda (East Kalimantan), spotting an enormous coal barge. It was sitting right in front of me, stubbornly, under the bridge (one of only two bridges connecting two shores of this steamy city of 850,000). The barge was too big to move, as the current appeared to be too strong. One push boat and one tugboat were trying to move it against the torrent, in vain.

Everything that can be extracted is taken away

I went downstairs and encountered a frustrated Mr. Jailani, a shipping manager employed by a coal company. “They were supposed to use a pilot boat, but there is none in sight,” he lamented. “This happens so often. Coal barges already hit this bridge on at least three occasions.”

Coal mines were exactly what I was looking for, but he dismissed my questions with a polite but firm answer:

You can never make it to the mines. They are off-limits. Guards are everywhere, and you’d have to have special permit to enter the area. And there is not much to see, anyway. Our company was recently awarded a prize for environmental consciousness.

I decided to ignore his words and polite warning. I went to Sambutan, a mining town a 40-minute drive from Samarinda. At some point, continuous and depressing urban sprawl gave way to a fully devastated landscape. Some images were striking: a man, alone, with a metal bar, single-handedly crumbling the entire side of a mountain, supposedly in order to sell stone for a local construction site.

Nearby, in a makeshift stall, a couple and a child were selling fruits. I asked them about the mountain and the man, and they replied with a certain amount of admiration:

We are selling coconuts here for almost two years. For as long as we are here, he has been here as well. He is a real daredevil. What he is doing is so dangerous, but he never stumbles, never falls.

Before Makroman town, we turn left, soon leaving the main road behind. Wherever one looks, the entire landscape is ruined: mountains mutilated beyond recognition, forests gone, and huge tracts of land “cleared.”

Despite what I already witnessed in all corners of Indonesia for years, I’m still not prepared for what soon opens in front of my eyes: the endless and horrifying sprawl of natural calamity: dozens of square kilometers of dust, noise, and mud.

I try to avoid 100-ton trucks, which almost run my car off the path. They are transporting coal. I see filthy processing plants. I see old, rusty equipment scattered all around the area.

Suddenly I realize that I’m “there,” in the middle of the notorious ‘PT CEM’ (Cahaya Energi Mandiri), a giant Indonesian-South Korean coalmining joint venture.

I’m not supposed to be here, and to see all this with my own eyes. But I’m entering the mining area with a car equipped with local license plates. It is right before 1pm – the end of lunch hour. Checkpoints are unattended. I step on the gas, and dash in. Guards will soon return, but it will be too late to stop me. My rented car is already cutting through dirt and dust, progressing towards its goal.

Moonscape of PT CEM

PT CEM has operated in this area since 2008, and it counts on mining concessions covering approximately 1,600 hectares, in the area of Sungai Siring, Samarinda.

In Indonesia, the images of natural disasters like this one are hardly ever publicized. Mining in Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and elsewhere brings in billions of dollars annually, into both government coffers and into the deep pockets of corrupt individuals. This country, with the fourth-largest population on earth, is producing very little, but is extracting in an unbridled manner all that is still available above and below the ground. National mass media is fully subservient to both local and foreign business interests.

*****

The native population is stuck with low-paying jobs and almost no benefits. The environment is “changing,” pollution is reaching epic proportions, but there is very little awareness, even among the poorest of the poor, of the dreadfulness of the situation.

On the way out from the mining site, three men (sub-contractors of PT CEM) are trying to fix their broken truck. They speak, first reluctantly, then more and more openly:

The pay here is very low. Our basic salary consists of US$115 per month, which is below official minimum wage. We have no health insurance, and no housing allowances.

In nearby Makroman, Ms. Suwarti, a housewife married to a farmer, explains:

We have two lots, each with 200 square meters, producing bananas and other crops, but the mining company wanted to use it. They offered compensation of only US$110. If we’d refuse, the company would still grab and use the land, but would give us no compensation. After all, coal that was extracted from our plot, they filled the pit but now nothing can grow there, anymore. The land is ruined. We were very angry, but what could small people like us do?

It is like this all over the area, all over Kalimantan, all over the entire Indonesian archipelago.

People are often confused; only few of them are fully aware of the situation.

Ms. Ruswidah owns a store near Muara Badak. She appears to be content with the increasing number of palm oil plantations:

I think it is good that there are palm oil plantations here because there are many people out of jobs after an oil company VICO closed down its operation here. Business is very bad for me now. Now, at least there is something replacing VICO.

Then she continues:

Palm oil plantation is good for the environment around here. Why? Because after they set up this plantation here, there are no more forest fires here. I have already seen three big forest fires in my life, and I’m only 36 years old. Before, bad people would just burn the forest down, but now at palm oil plantations, they have guards.

What Ms. Ruswidah doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know, is that most of the forest fires in the area were triggered in order to “clear” the land for either palm oil plantations or for mining operations.

Broken infrastructure and kids begging

Few kilometers further down the road, I speak to Ms. Nurliah, who used to work for PT. Kelapa Taruk, a palm oil plantation owned by Korean. Now she is considered an “outsource worker”:

They used to pay me Rp. 76,300/day (US$5.7). But now, they pay us according to our performance. They pay us Rp. 200,000 per hectare, and Rp. 100,000 for chemical spraying per hectare.

The Korean company is using the customary lands that belongs to the village. Usually they negotiate a 25-year contract. And there is always some profit sharing scheme with the village, but I don’t know the details. They don’t share this information with us, laborers.

Recently, the Korean company hired a Javanese manager. Since he is in charge, the conditions of our jobs here are becoming worse and worse. Now for the whole month we probably get paid only about Rp. 1,5 million (US$112). They don’t construct school and don’t provide health insurance. I don’t think we get any benefits from having palm oil plantations here.

*****

Mr. Yhenda Permana, director of LNG-producing company PT Badak NGL, which is based in Kalimantan, says:

I’m very sad to see destruction of Kalimantan. If we look from above, the island is already ‘bald,’ dotted with black toxic lakes. They burn the forest with, even with orangutans still living there. Local people do it, but who is behind them? Protected forests are also logged out and burned. Afterwards, in most of cases, palm oil is planted.

One of the national forests I visited, symbolically named ‘Bukit Soeharto’ (Suharto’s Hill) is almost gone. I ask an old local lady, Ms. Halbi, who is selling basic goods at the side of the road, whether there is any respect for native protected forests on this island:

We are allowed to grow some plants here. Even I do. Pepper and dragon fruit. It is not our land, but nobody does anything to stop us.

Stubs and stubs, everywhere, ‘replacing’ magnificent trees, in what used to be one of the greatest areas, often described as “the lungs of the planet Earth.”

Ms. Windrati Kaliman, former lecturer at INSTIPER (Plantation Technology Institute) Yogyakarta, has her theory on the matter:

Massive deforestation accelerated after ‘de-centralization.’ Now local governments are free to give permits for logging. Rainforest is being converted into palm oil plantations and mines. In theory, protected forests and parks cannot be used for logging, but in reality they are: In Kalimantan, but also in Aceh, Riau, and many other parts of the country.

It is not only trees that are disappearing, and not only people who are living in increasing misery.

The legendary Borneo orangutan is almost extinct. And so are bears, countless species of birds, and insects.

Family of orangutans now in safety

In Samboja Orangutan Sanctuary & Rehabilitation Center, Mr. Andreas (a caretaker), can barely hide his outrage:

You cannot imagine what is being done to these intelligent and fascinating apes. This one – we rescued him from a timber plant. Just for fun they had him chained under the generator, for years. As a result, he lost his hearing and suffers from brain damage. It is very common in Kalimantan to hunt for female orangutans, shave them and sell them for sex to desperate forestry workers. It is like rape, like horrible slavery. Remember, these apes have 97% same DNA as humans, and as humans, they have 4 types of blood.

I walk around the Center, observing from the distance these fascinating, melancholic creatures. So many awful stories and fates! This used to be a paradise on Earth: for apes, for other mammals, for butterflies, plants and hundreds of different trees. This used to be “the end of the world” and the beginning. Oh Borneo, what is left of you now?

Instead of tropical forests palm oil plantations everywhere

I traveled through several parts of Indonesian Kalimantan, around Samarinda and Balikpapan, as well as Pontianak. I testify that I saw those “black lakes and rivers,” as well as countless open pits, and palm oil plantations, almost everywhere. I flew over hundreds of kilometers of hellish wastelands. I listened to people suffering from cancer, from respiratory diseases, but above all, from hopelessness.

Ms. Mira Lubis confirmed what I discovered:

Now the Kapuas River and its tributaries are increasingly polluted by all types of waste, ranging from household waste, pesticides, fertilizers to mercury, which is mainly dispersed because of mining activities and large scale palm oil plantations. This creates a serious threat to the survival of communities along the river network…

As Mr. Yhenda Permana concluded:

Can you imagine, this once stunningly beautiful island with deep native forests and thousands of living creatures, is now converted and ‘dedicated’ to only one crop: palm oil?

The tragedy is not only devastating Kalimantan, but almost the whole of Indonesia. This is what has been happening to this country with a deep and ancient culture, and enormous natural beauty, ever since the 1965 US-sponsored coup, and re-introduction of savage capitalism, feudalism, and unrestrained corruption.

Pertamina oil rigs at sunset

Not much is left. Who knows whether anything at all will remain here in one or two decades from now? If not, then what will happen? But the savage capitalism does not bother to ask such questions. It consumes, it plunders everything, while it can. In Indonesia, it seems that there is absolutely nothing that can stop it!

• Original, shorter version, first published by RT

• All photos by Andre Vltchek