Sunday, December 09, 2007

From Kyoto to Kuta

This week, the smarting eyes of the world have been focused on Bali as world leaders, environment ministers and a smattering of celebrities gather to talk hot air about hot air. Arnie the Governator, Big Al Gore and Leo DiCaprio are among the more famous names that will be huffing and puffing sweatily around the Island of the Gods on bicycles that have been provided for the delegates. Although in fact, according to this week's Jakarta Post, only 200 out of 700 bicycles have actually materialized in an all too familiar type of Indo.cock up.

We'll see if any good comes of the whole event. I'm sure that pledges will be made and soundbites will issue forth from the lips of politicians with earnest expressions on their faces but when it's all over... Well, maybe the spirit of altruism and environmental solidarity will melt away once again when Western politicians are confronted with the immovable fact that cleaning up the planet and living sustainably is going to require a cut in the richest nations' living standards. This is, of course, a hard sell when placed in the context of our current, naturalized ideology of freewheeling, free market capitalism in which the accumulation of shiny things has become so central to our lives.

I do think though, that the usual niceties of international diplomacy and summits should be swept aside on this occasion. Specifically, Bali is far too pleasant a place in which to be chewing over prophecies of impending global doom. Our great leaders are no doubt currently experiencing palm fringed paddy fields, colorful Batik shirts, sunbathing on the beach and vodka martinis. Such classic Balinese holiday motifs may unfortunately serve to neutralize the urgency of the environmental message that the conference purports to be exploring.

Indonesia is on the front line of the environmental war, what with its rapidly vanishing forests and population pressures and this should be reflected in the choice of conference venue. Therefore, I'd like to propose the visceral reality of Jakarta as a location for a future environmental summit. If we could get that unctious, salad dodging, Nobel laureate Al Gore on a bicycle and send him off wobbling through Mampang, or get Schwarzenegger squashed into a Bajaj, sucking down exhaust fumes with his knees around his buzz cut, then perhaps a greater sense of urgency would be impressed upon the delegates.

Meetings and debate could be interspersed with field trips to watch local garbage collectors burning mountains of plastic, policemen coughing up black lumpy things into their pollution masks, street urchins with interesting skin conditions playing football in raw sewage and floodwater lapping around shanty dwellers nipples. I don't know who would crack first. Arnie would probably demand a chemical suit and an AK-47. On the other hand though, Big Al may possibly develop a taste for Soto Ayam and Nasi Goreng and move his whole Inconvenient Truth operation here, thus reinvigorating the Indonesian environmental movement.

Ah well, why bother hey? Maybe the psychoanalysts are right about there being a death wish deep within the human psyche. In more nihilistic moments I look forward to the end of this whole sad, pathetic human drama with open arms. Embrace extinction and prepare to join the other 95% of species that have ever roamed this Earth in their total non existence. As I said before, maybe any planet that can't sustain its population above the level of 15th century peasantry doesn't deserve to survive. Gosh I am in a good mood this week aren't I? It must have been running into that ex girlfriend of mine last weekend and realizing that she has all the sincerity and sensitivity of Tony Blair doing Christmas pantomime that's made me like this. Still, I digress.

Perhaps Indonesia could give something back to the world in order to atone for all of the rainforest destruction. How about sealing Jakarta inside a huge transparent, geodesic dome; just like they do to Springfield in the recent Simpsons movie? The world's environmental scientists could then conduct experiments on us. They could reduce the water supply for example, or artificially increase air pollution levels in order to see what happens. We would be like 10 million lab rats in amongst the real rats, providing crucial population/ environmental crisis data that could later be used to save the world.

In my paranoid mind though, it sometimes seems as if this has already happened. WALHI, the Indonesian Forum for the environment, has some very interesting stuff on their web site about our urban surroundings. Apparently, 13% of Jakarta's water is contaminated by mercury and 73% by ammonia. Well, the ammonia statistic should come as no surprise to anyone who has had an eye wateringly pungent ride on Jakarta's boatway. I also read that 2.2 million tonnes of toxic waste are discharged into Jakarta's rivers annually and that Jakarta's water table is dropping at such an alarming rate that people now have to drill up to 80 m down in order to strike H2O.

On the traffic front, I learned on my Web browsing that not only are very few cars in Jakarta fitted with catalytic converters, but that those drivers who do have the converters fitted are often persuaded to have them removed by unscrupulous mechanics looking to earn a few extra Rupiah. Apparently, the mechanics mischievously tell them that their cars performance will improve without the converters, which is not even true. However, maybe this information was conveyed to the mechanics by environmental scientists with clipboards outside the dome. Oh the paranoia of it all! I must find something to dispel the gloom of this winter of discontent. Anyone up for Christmas in Bali?