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Jakarta Post

Ecocriticism and the haze crisis

  • Donny Syofyan

    The Jakarta Post

Padang, West Sumatra   /   Thu, September 17, 2015   /  03:40 pm

The wildfires and consequential haze crisis in Sumatra and Kalimantan have caused the air pollution index in various places to reach alarming levels.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police have deployed more than 1,000 officers to the two regions to put out the fires, estimating that they will be extinguished within the next two weeks.

Life-threatening smoke from the forest and wildfires has even reached neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

This crisis should not only be viewed from a reactionary security approach, naming suspects for allegedly burning forests and land.

Scholarly and literary approaches could also play a momentous role by providing simple but serious frameworks for establishing a harmonious relationship between nature and humans.

Literary criticism of the relationship between nature and humans is called ecocriticism '€” an earth-centered approach to literary studies.

Ecocriticism focuses on the strong connection between preservation and wilderness. It emphasizes that preservation means wilderness.

A real effort to respect and preserve nature is to let it grow so wild and uncultivated that there is no trace of human invasion and modern civilization; no roads, power lines or pipelines.

The growing population, increasing number of settlements and soaring volume of needs to be met for human survival are not an excuse for bulldozing forests to make way for mono-crop plantations.

Deforestation in Indonesia, to a large extent, is closely linked to the absence of wilderness-based problem solving.

Regardless of the existence of industrial timber plantations, allowing the palm oil industry to swallow up millions of hectares of forest to make space for palm plantations runs contrary to the concept of wilderness.

Concerning the haze crisis in Sumatra, law enforcers have found that certain companies engaging in logging and other industrial processes are notorious for their cooperation with parties involved in illegal land clearing and logging.

Deforestation in the form of illegal logging, land clearing and other industrial processes will not come to an end without a paradigm shift in terms of how we view forest preservation.

Underpinned by the idea of wilderness, which is the key to ecocriticism, forest preservation should take a more go-green approach. It should, for instance, encourage the use of soybean derivatives as a substitute for palm oil.

Not only will simply eating soybeans reduce the risk of certain health problems but also, no expansion of soybean-growing land is needed, unlike palm oil, the plantations for which eat up land.

In the context of national self-reliance, farmers should be enthusiastic about involvement in the soybean business because whatever quantity of soybeans is produced, it will be sold at a high, mutually agreed price.

The government would not need to push farmers to plant soybeans or to expand their farmland. The government needs only to supply seedlings and guarantee a definite market and a high sale value.

A push for soybean self-sufficiency should not be framed as becoming an inferior nation, despite Indonesia'€™s first president Sukarno'€™s fiery speech in 1963 that associated tempeh '€” made from soybeans '€” with weakness, suffering and oppression.

With tempeh being no longer abundant as 80 percent of soybeans are now imported, it is high time that the government protected farmers and the nation'€™s food security, climb out of its imports-dependency trap and did away with illegal land clearing and deforestation.

The wilderness may also benefit from a go-green approach to tourism. Edward Abbey (1927-1989), an advocate of ecocriticism in his literary work, emphasized that the key to going green in tourism was sustainability, not accessibility.

People should free themselves from paved roads and venture further to explore hiking trails and paths. That way, there will be much more space for everyone, as once people start walking instead of driving they occupy much less space.

 Let adventurers and other tourists walk to enjoy natural tourist attractions in the jungle. Bikes, horses and mules need to be encouraged instead of free shuttle buses to campgrounds.

Go-green tourism subscribes to the principle that people who venture on foot into the wilderness would be rewarded by nature'€™s beauty and purity.

Effortless automobile tourism, which enables to see so much in a single day, can never replace or simulate the feeling of being in the wilderness, being a part of it, having relied only one'€™s own abilities to get there.

In truth, sustainability as opposed to accessibility in go-green tourism is inherently compatible with the noble notion of showing respect for sanctums of our culture.

If we agree not to drive our automobiles into mosques, cathedrals, concert halls and art museums, why don'€™t we treat our vast forests with the same deference? They too are holy places.

Ecocriticsm reminds humans that voluntary, simple intimacy with the environment should become a way of life for civilized people.

The deforestation that leads to our annual haze crisis will decrease so long as small, brave steps are taken regularly and performed in an honorable manner for a life-defending cause.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University, Padang.

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