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Jakarta Post

Gray sky, black sea, plastic land: It’s time to leave behind expansive, extractive industry

  • Andi Misbahul Pratiwi and Dewi Setya

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Jakarta   /   Mon, August 19, 2019   /   04:38 pm
Gray sky, black sea, plastic land: It’s time to leave behind expansive, extractive industry Hardly visible: Smog blankets Jakarta’s skyscrapers on Tuesday. Air pollution in the city is among the worst in the world. (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama )

Today, people wear masks in cities and orangutans and elephants must flee from their habitats or die in forest fires. A recently published study reveals that Indonesia is facing an imminent water crisis. While the government is promoting more fish consumption, micro plastics and crude oil are contaminating the oceans.

Rachel Carson in Silent Spring said that the most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment was the contamination of air, earth, rivers and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. Man-made pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; starting an irreversible chain of evil that penetrates not only the environment but living tissue as well.

Ulrich Beck in Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity reminds us that the ecological crisis is not a natural disaster, but rather a consequence of excessive industrialization, simply called social hazards.

Two environmental tragedies that have dominated the country’s headlines, air pollution in Jakarta and the oil spill in the north of Karawang, West Java, are examples of these consequences. While discussing the incidents, we should not be satisfied with explanations related to the dry season or transportation system, but look at the bigger picture. For one, how many coal-fired power plants are located around Jakarta? Why do we still rely heavily on fossil fuel rather than renewable energy? Why are we building new cement factories on the site of a community farm when we have surplus cement production? Why do we damage limestone mountains when it is a habitat for bats and dragonflies and also a source of water? Why do we destroy our forests to make room for oil palms?

Climate change affects everyone differently. The difference is rooted in unequal power relations and harmful gender norms. Given existing gender inequalities and development gaps, climate change ultimately places a greater burden on women. In rural areas, women are the primary food producers and providers of water. Women have greater responsibility for family and community welfare. Data and research show climate change has more impact on women and girls, not only on their sexual and reproductive health and rights but also on their roles in society.

Many commitments have been made on a global scale to respond to climate change. The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the most popular. The UN agency in 2016 changed the concept of development, from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals to add environmental sustainability aspects. Many activists promote these commitments, including youth representatives – especially the very vocal Greta Thunberg. On a national scale, we also see environmental activism growing significantly. People have started to realize that their daily lifestyle harms the earth. Small efforts to drink without straws, shop without plastic bags, replace menstruation pads with menstruation cups, are being intensified as a form of environmental campaign in Indonesia.

That middle class awareness certainly needs to be respected and promoted but this respect does not come without critical analysis. Such campaigns are occasionally simply advertising opportunities for capitalist activities. Many multinational companies also promote environmental activism through their products, which adds value to their commodities. Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies often promote their activism campaigns through their advertising. Unilever, for instance, promotes the importance of sustainable tea sourcing.

There has been an emergence of new actors in the international community. New bodies dealing with corporations and certification are being found everywhere, with the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Fairtrade International, USDA Organic as a few examples.

FMCG companies such as Unilever are willing to spend a hefty budget to obtain the Rainforest Alliance label. Indonesian suppliers of agricultural commodities must do this as well to meet the standards required by their clients in Europe. By buying products with eco-friendly labels, the middle class often feel satisfied and think that they have been progressive enough as a consumer, without really knowing what goes on behind the shelves.

Kathryn Sikkink and Jackie Smith in their book Infrastructures for Change: Transnational Organization 1953-93 note the various issues that have become the focus of a number of transnational organizations, and environmental issues have seen the most dramatic growth. In 1953, only two organizations worked to demand change. However, this number increased after the implementation of the Human Environment Conference in Stockholm. In 1993, environmental issues were ranked as the second-most popular after humanitarian issues.

And yet, despite all this, climate change is now worse than ever.

We sometimes forget that environmental regimes are not linear with trade regimes, either at the international or regional level. The principle of business is making commodities exchange faster and faster, and our basic recipe for economic growth includes boosting production in various industries, which translates to more waste and pollution on earth.

Thus, it is urgent to rethink our perspectives on trade and the economy. How do we design a development strategy outside of expansive global trade, while at the same time sustaining our modern way of life?

The Indonesian government is resolved on moving the capital to Kalimantan, leaving behind the land subsidence and air pollution of Jakarta. But what we really need to leave behind is the expansive and extractive industry that brings about the environmental destruction in the first place.

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Andi Misbahul Pratiwi is an editor and researcher at Jurnal Perempuan. Dewi Setya is a lecturer assistant at the Department of International Relations, Muhammadiyah University Yogyakarta.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.