The Price of Paradox

INDONESIA

Seen from afar, the excavators look like ships landed on a hostile planet. The land is full of coal, and the Caterpillar 320D knows it. There is a burning smell where there once was a lush forest. Children play in the Kahayan River, ignoring that there is more sulfuric acid than fish. They also use that water for drinking.

You will never read about it, but the Dayaks, the natives of Indonesian Borneo, are robbed of their lands and deprived of livelihood. The growing demand for biofuels has led companies to acquire large-scale land in Indonesia, and it’s easy for the government to expropriate Dayaks, who boast only a mere customary right on the areas they cultivate. In the past few years, 14 million hectares were sold to palm oil, logging, and extraction companies.

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The natives ecosystem is destroyed to make way for intensive cultivation, and the company’s waste fluids, thrown directly into the natural waterways, are polluting the sources of supply. Whole villages do not have access to drinking water and are deprived of their only source of food and work. Their lands play a central role and are also the fulcrum of their social and spiritual life. This explains why the deprivation and devastation of their ancestral territories are causing an inevitable and worrying cultural uprooting.

Hidden in their ethnocide lies a paradox. Much closer to us than we could ever expect.

Companies are producing biofuel (in the name of a fight against Climate Change), destroying peatlands that are a natural carbon sink. That contributed, in a year, to the most significant global increase in carbon emissions in the past two millennia. The logic of this program is more or less that of tearing the lungs of a patient to save his heart. Besides, as documented in a report of the WWF Italy on 31 March 2020, the destruction of the entire ecosystem and of the communities who protect it, is one of the direct causes of the spreading of viruses that are transmitted to humans by wild species.