#Bali goes ‘Clean and Green’, but hang on isn’t it supposed to be a green #paradise already?

In October, the Jakarta Post carried a story announcing Bali’s commitment to go green. The “Bali Clean and Green” program, is to involve all levels of government in Bali, provincial, regency and city, with additional support from the private sector and local residents. So, Bali is to become Indonesia’s first green province.

But wait a moment isn’t Bali already a green paradise? Certainly all the travel brochures and guides say it is. Films such as ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ make their own particular contribution to this verdant vision. So why the concern about a Green Bali? For the casual observer this sudden desire to ensure a green Bali might come as somewhat of a surprise, after all, there are pictures to prove it.

Rice terraces, Gunung Kawi, Tampaksiring, Bali, January, 2011.

So, what’s the reality. Well, Bali is certainly deserving of the global attention it receives. It remains a place of great beauty, but there is more to it than this. Delving a little deeper into the matter reveals a traditional culture rich with references and practices design to bring about harmony between humans and nature, one another and with God, sadly there is much taking place in Bali that’s systematically disrupting this fundamental principle of equilibrium. Indeed, a more complete answer would proffer the suggestion that if this basic Balinese philospphy of Tri Hita Karana were allowed free rein, as it was in the past, then the romantic constructions of the tourism copywriters and films could well be true. Unfortunately Bali has been moving steadily towards chaos in development.

Involution and equilibrium
Traditionally understandings of the environment were pre-scientific, representing a merging of the observed and the received knowledge, acknowledging the mysteries of dynamic environmental equilibrium and expressing them in symbolic and religious terms. What science might describe as the recycling of energy in the biosphere, Balinese tradition ascribed to Bhoma, half god half creature of the earth, having attributes that connect him with both Hindu god and earth. Bhoma’s face appears on the Kori Agung gateway between the middle and inner precinct of Balinese temples.

Bhoma carving from Puri Saren Agung, Ubud, Bali

The gateway symbolises the lower slopes of the holy mountain, Mahameru, which is covered with large trees. In simple terms Bhoma is a symbol of Bali’s trees and plants, but the entrance to the inner courtyard of a temple is also a place of transformations, a material space but also the place where people pray and have their most direct contact with the gods.

Almost everything used in traditional Balinese villages was biodegradable, it could be easily recycled after use. People conserved their resources and worked to keep their environment in balance. Transport was largely local and motor vehicles have only begun to appear in large numbers, over the past 30 years.

As a god of transformations Bhoma was central to this balance and harmony. In traditional Balinese society there was no need to understand the micro-ecological processes involved in the decay of leaves and food scraps, or the way soils are formed. These things were Niskala, all part of the unseen and magical work of the gods, a mystery. As the god of recycling this was primarily Bhoma’s responsiblty. Provided humans played their part, acting in harmony with nature, then natural processes remained intact and unimpeded, so all remained in equilibrium and Bhoma was free to carry out his work skimming across the earth and transforming rubbish into the food of life. Within this world, technology, the arts, architecture and building, agriculture, metal working and all of the other elements of everyday life developed through a process of involution, within the constraints that nature and tradition offered.

Bhoma confronts the new
Throughout history, Bali has been by no means isolated or completely insular. Balinese culture has Indic roots, with influences from Orissa and beyond. Other cultural influences have percolated into the island from SE Asia and China. Java’s Hindu Buddhist dynasties also played a major role.

In the first half of the 19th century change became quite rapid. Bali was occupied first by the Dutch and then by the Japanese. Following the war of independence, it became part of the Republic of Indonesia. Since the 1920s it has grown from a tourist playground, serving the rich and famous, to one of the world’s most popular mass tourist destinations. Tourism has become a compelling force for change, but not the only force for change.

Some 18 years ago, tourism to Bali was already strong, tourist arrivals in Indonesia exceeded 3 million per year and the overwhelming majority visited Bali. At that time the Indonesian Department of Tourism, Post and Telecommunications projected that visitor arrivals would increase to 5.4 million by 2000. Despite the set backs of Krismon and the Bali bombings, in bound tourism to Indonesia is still strong. If fewer Australians than expected are visiting Bali these days, in absolute terms the numbers are strong with over half a million visiting in 2010. If Australians are somewhat less enthusiastic about visiting Bali these days, their relative reluctance as tourists is being met by new arrivals from places such as Taiwan, Russia and a variety of European destinations. According to the Jakarta Post of 10 January, in Indonesia as a whole, “Foreign tourist arrivals are expected to show a remarkable 18.5 percent rise to 7.56 million for full year 2010, according to a recent report by Business Monitor International. The government also increased its forecast for arrivals from Europe for the year from 700,000 to 1 million, after an impressive first half, and with flights between Amsterdam and Jakarta by Indonesian flag carrier Garuda having recommenced in June.”

In Bali, along with tourism there has been a rapid development of industries like jewellery, clothing and woodcarving as well as a huge influx of Indonesians from places like East Java and Lombok.

New high yielding rice varieties combined with chemical fertilisers and new chemical pesticides have made it possible for farmers to grow three rice crops a year instead of two.

All of this has contributed to a very marked increase in wealth. This new wealth has added a whole range of new things to Bali’s environment. Cars and motor bikes now dominate many roads, plastic and aluminium are common place and the new agricultural chemicals flow through Bali’s intricate irrigation system.

Unfortunately Bhoma is not very good at recycling plastic, aluminium or the cocktail of chemicals that encountered in the waterways. For many traditional Balinese people these new products are outside their usual way of dealing with waste products.

Bali’s environmental challenges
The environmental challenges in Bali are:

* depletion of fresh water resources including the lowering of water tables;
* continuing pollution of water courses culverts and storm water drains with a variety of PVCs, principally plastic bags, disrupting infiltration of water,
interfering with flows and providing an unsightly litter;
* greatly increased volumes of vehicular traffic, leading to chronic traffic jams;
* alienation of agricultural lands, both sawah and ladang, with the construction of increasing numbers of hotels, guesthouses and bungalows; and,
* increasing use of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain yields in the face of shrinking rice lands and increasing demands for food from tourism.

Many, Balinese and foreigners alike are asking, how has this happened and what can we do about it?

Bali Clean and Green
The “Bali Clean and Green” program is part of the solution. In October the Jakarta Post reported that after declaring its commitment to “go green”, Bali is now aiming higher — it wants recognition as Indonesia’s first green province.

Anak Agung Gede Alit Sastrawan, the local environment office chief said a series of “road maps” and associated activities to help reach the goal are currently being prepared. The strategies aim at to making Bali clean, healthy and green by targeting three main themes — green culture, green economy and green environment, he said.

The program is to include initiatives for

* popularising organic farming;
* effective plastic waste disposal; and,
* environment-friendly investment policies.

“A draft detailing activities and targets will be included in the road map, which we are currently preparing,” Sastrawan said.

According to the Jakarta Post, Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika hopes the road map would serve as another pillar of Bali’s future development, one that would prioritize environmental preservation and help make Bali Indonesia’s first green province.


This is just the first of several posts.

When first published, this post inadvertently quoted the Jakarta Post, without attribution. This was a mistake, the article formed part of my research notes and should not have been published. I sincerely apologise for this.

It’s always been my aim to write original material in these post and accompanying stories.

Subsequent posts will address these areas of environmental challenge, facing Bali:
* water resources;
* solid waste management;
* vehicular traffic;
* alienation of agricultural lands, both sawah and ladang; and,
* contemporary agricultural practices

This work is intended as a supportive comment. It arises from the observations of a frequent visitor to Bali, one who loves the island’s beauty, respects its people and their culture and has formed sound friendships with Balinese people, through both the good and the bad times, over many years.

I invite and welcome responses from my Balinese friends, or any Indonesian or Balinese readers, in particular. Such comment will be invaluable.

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