Rainforests are both biophysically and iconically vital to the health of the entire planet. When I went to school we were taught about virgin rainforests,. Then we were taught that rainforest dwellers practised a form of shifting cultivation, cycling through various parts of the forest ‘slashing and burning’, cropping and then abandoning their cleared spreads and moving on, only to return some years later when the forest had regenerated. Later I realised that this was a generalisation and an over simplification.
What I came to understand was that much of what we thought of as random collections of species, climaxing and surviving according to the principles of natural change, was often an established equatorial garden created by forest people over many years.
Through the string of islands to the north of Australia lie some of the world’s most remarkable rainforests. Beginning as far back 40 000 years ago a process of incremental transformation has unfolded through these island chains. Such sustainable change is all but invisible yet the very language and culture of the forest peoples of this region is enmeshed and entwined in the process. Outwardly the illusion of the virgin forest remains yet the primal expression of culture is undeniable. These notions crystallised for me years ago when I visited Kalimantan, the Mentawai Islands and West papua (follow the links to my articles).
When I reflect on the position of traditional rainforest peoples it’s with these understandings in mind.
Forest peoples have a truly global significance, exemplifying sustainable practices within the rainforest ecosystem and all too often standing as tragic examples of the loss that confronts humanity and the planet when their sustainable practices are supplanted by unsustainable practices, all too often logging and mining.
When I first encountered notions of emissions trading schemes and carbon credits it seemed like a workable plan. Carbon credits are regarded as one of the ways of offsetting unsustainable use of fossil fuels. Certainly, using carbon-based fuels is essential while the world transitions to non-carbon energy alternatives.
Yes, I understand that these schemes are open to manipulation, to approaches that still consider clear felling a rainforest and planting oil palms is making a useful effort in sequestering carbon dioxide, but there seemed to be a way through this. So, it was with no small measure of irony in mind that I read yesterday’s Jakarta Globe.
Green Activists Seeing REDD Over Program’s Effect on Forest Tribes, by Tunggadewa Mattangkilang. It concerned the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes in the Kayan Mentarang National Park, which straddles the districts of Nunukan, Malinau and West Kutai in East Kalimantan. This area is to be used as a REDD scheme pilot project for offsetting carbon emissions. Unfortunately there are an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Dayak people living in the 1.3-million-hectare park, sitting on the border with Malaysia.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has warned that the way of these forest dwellers will be threatened
“Such programs will further marginalize the indigenous people in the forest to the extent that they won’t be able to continue with their way of life. That’s because one of the conditions of these programs is a prohibition on any human activity in the forest, which is the same as throwing these people out.”
I’d welcome comments on this situation and thank the Jakarta Globe for the feed.