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Palm oil: What the haze in Malaysia and Singapore reveals

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Written By Frank Tate
Friday, 21 June 2013

Singapore urged Indonesia on Monday to take "urgent measures" to tackle its forest fires as severe air pollution blown from Sumatra choked the island where pollution levels have reached life threatening proportions for the ill and elderly..
Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index soared to 400 at 1300 GMT Monday, well past the officially designated "unhealthy" threshold of 100, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.
Parts of Malaysia were also suffering from the smoky haze, a recurring problem for close to 2 decades that Southeast Asian governments have failed to solve despite repeated calls for action. 195 schools have been closed and drugstores have run out of facemasks.
However, the occurrence of this annual event also demonstrates and proves certain things. First, this is an annual event as Indonesia has a culture of slash and burn for land clearing. It has been practiced from time immemorial!
Secondly, Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of CO2 not due to palm oil cultivation on peat soil as green NGOs such as the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and others of their ilk are fond of repeating, but due to this culture of slashing and burning! It is patently obvious to even the most casual observer. For no CO2 released by palm oil cultivation on peat soil can represent even an iota of the apocalyptic CO2 released by this annual orgy of slash and burn such as currently occurring in the Indonesian province of Riau in Sumatra!
The distance of Singapore from Riau, Sumatra is a massive 251.31 KM whilst Kuala Lumpur is a massive 289 KM from the center of the burning. Yet the choking haze envelopes both cities in Singapore and Malaysia reducing visibility and choking eyes and throats of its citizens.
Thirdly, Malaysia is the world's second largest palm oil producer and yet the problem of slash and burn does not exist there.
It is thus important to have some discernment when reading the communiques of green groups like RAN and the WWF who have a penchant for exaggerating figures and citing sources from the now discredited 2007 UNEP report. See:
The report claims that in SE Asia alone, the equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour for palm oil plantations, a claim that has been exposed as a significant distortion of facts by the FAO's recent "State of the Forests 2011" report which observed that whilst rates of deforestation between 1990-2000 were high at a time of significant development in SE Asia, the trend had reversed dramatically between 2000-2010. Deforestation rates during this latter period "more than halved, making the NGO claims of rampant expansion entirely false!
One hack interviewing an environmental photographer wrote: "Mark Glenn Harmony's introduction to northern Sumatra was awfully vivid - a horrific scene of palm oil and rubber tree plantations overtaking more than 80% of the jungle!" see:
However, a look at the facts reveals a totally different picture. In an extensive mapping of forest cover loss for 2000–2008 using multi-resolution remote sensing data from the Landsat enhanced thematic mapper plus (ETM+) and moderate resolution imaging pectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors over Sumatra by a team of research scientists led by Broich et al from S Dakota University and World Resouces Institute, the total forest cover loss for Sumatera and Kalimantan 2000–2008 was 5.39 Mha, which represents 5.3% of the land area and 9.2% of the year 2000 forest cover of these two islands.  In fact, the researchers found that Forest cover loss on Sumatra increased until 2005 and decreased thereafter, certainly nowhere near the apocalyptic 80% forest cover loss cited by Mark. (see: 2011 Environ. Res. Lett. 6 014010 and at THE END
MPAnderson  22. June 2013 at 10:11 am

Yes this article makes sense! The reason that Indonesia is the third largest emitter in the world is NOT due to palm oil cultivation on peat soil but due to its culture of slash and burning. Malaysia doesn't have this culture of slashing and burning for land clearing. Rather the haze emanates from indonesia!

Wendy Kool  25. June 2013 at 08:26 pm

Yes, discernment called fo when reading the stories spun by the green NGOs on palm oil.

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