Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Showing a Bit of Carbon Fibre

Carbon seems to be the global buzzword at the moment. Last week, The Stern Report was published in my native Britain and very stern it is too. The basic thesis of the paper is that if we don't stop driving to the supermarket in four-wheel-drive tanks, flying to Greek islands every two months and forgetting to turn off our bedroom lights, then we're all sure to perish from the effects of rising sea levels and temperatures. In this sense, 2006 is a rerun of 1906: the calm before the century's coming storm.

European countries (and yes, even America, at a State level) for so long in denial over climate change, are slowly starting to think seriously about their energy consumption patterns and how much of a, "Carbon footprint," that they leave on our scarred planet. The utopian 60s idealism of hippies who used to weave their own yoghurt and grow their own underpants is slowly being replaced by a harder-nosed, more realistic reappraisal of the energy gobbling, money obsessed systems that we live under.

Unfortunately, we've been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the first hairy but bright spark discovered the secret of fire as a way to tame and control his hostile world. Fast forward from the Stone Age to 2006 and in terms of burning things, little has changed. We still consume oil without a second thought in order to fuel a capitalist system predicated on infinite expansion and not on finite resources. To live sustainably at the level of consumption that we have currently reached would apparently require one and a half Earths. In the absence of this missing extra half materializing, we are all going to have to make do with the one that we have. Nevertheless, at least these issues seem to be gathering momentum and traction in the developed world. The airline industry is the current bĂȘte noire of the environmental lobby and I'll probably have to cycle home via Iran the next time I return to the UK.

Here of course, it's a different story. Countries such as Indonesia, India and China have only just started to arrive at the top table of global wealth and prosperity, only to be told that it's last orders and that the bar is closing. Perhaps they have a right to be a touch annoyed by the West's sudden (hypocritical?) environmental attack of conscience. Indonesia though, really could try harder to be a tad more eco-friendly. In Jakarta, a carbon footprint is a literal description rather than a clever metaphor. As an ex-motorcycle rider I know that if you don't cover your face with a Hezbollah style bandana as you burn up Jl. Sudirman you will end up looking as if a coal miner has been trampling over your face. Jakarta has about 20 days of breathable air every year according to a recent study. Combine that with the 20 Gudang Garams a day that many local males spark up and perhaps it's hardly surprising that there is a lack of clearheaded leadership in this country.

At a national level, we have learned this week that Indonesia ranks third in the world in greenhouse gas emissions. This is principally due to the largely preventable slash and burn forest/peat fires that we've been hearing about every year for the last goddamn decade. Not an environmental record to be proud of really. A thorough debate of these issues remains a distant prospect here though. Politicians remain addicted to their own venal, money grubbing ways and I’ve never heard any Muslim leader say a single word on the issue of climate change. Clerics such as the buck toothed, sexually repressed misogynist Abu Bakar Basir seem to think ladies thighs a more pressing threat to global stability.

Recycling? It's another nonstarter in the R of I. Admittedly some recycling does occur at the huge rubbish dumps that handle the thousands of tonnes of garbage that Jakarta and other cities toss out every day. At these dumps, instead of going to school, young kids wade knee deep in rotting banana skins, used tampons and instant noodle packets in order to collect empty aqua bottles for which they get paid about Rp.10 for every 10,000 collected. This doesn't represent a particularly humane recycling drive or an efficient use of human resources in my humble opinion.

But hey, who am I to talk? How green am I? This planet's low carbon future is going to require each and every one of us to change our habits. I guess my own green credentials mainly revolve around what I don't do as opposed to any pro-active campaigning on my part (I'm nothing if not a lazy SOB). Most pertinently, I have no car or children, which probably cuts down on the old emissions a bit. It's a lifestyle that comes easily enough to me although it's currently not suited to many Indonesians. The poor here will have their eight children and the rich will insist on their eight cars.

Ah well, there will be new busways after Christmas. Perhaps the city administration should issue a box of Durex to every passenger and really try and attack the problem from both sides. Greenhouse emissions? Nocturnal emissions? We've all got to tighten our belts.

Simon Pitchforth