Professional arsonists in Indonesia are poisoning the air breathed by their fellow countrymen and those in neighboring countries, including Malaysia and Singapore.
The arsonists are lighting illegal fires to make land suitable for the pulp and paper, and palm oil industries. This is reminiscent of what is happening in the Amazon where rainforests are being burnt down to make way for ranch land.
Guido van der Werf from VU University Amsterdam says dry weather conditions are fueling the fires, which are producing an unusually intense, long-lasting “smoke-out”.
He says over the last few months, the Indonesian fires have produced more pollution than Germany does in a year. In one period between Sept. 1 and October 14, scientists measured daily emissions which passed those of the entire U.S. They calculated the 100,000 illegal fires detected in Indonesia this year have produced 1,102 ton of carbon dioxide emissions. On Oct. 14 alone there were 4,700 fire alerts.
Van der Werf says peatland fires differ from regular forest fires because they produce enormous amounts of smoke and are "fiendishly difficult to extinguish". They also emit ten times more methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent and dangerous than carbon dioxide.
According to the World Resources Institute, peat fires impact global warming more than 200 times greater than other fires, and that combined with the draining that occurs after burn-offs, agricultural expansion into these areas leads to huge ongoing spikes in greenhouse gas emissions.
Van der Werf says Indonesia and Malaysia, which control 85% of the world’s palm oil production, have announced plans to establish a palm oil cartel to control the oils’ production to hopefully protect the environment, preserve wildlife habitat, and make breathing easier for millions of people in the region.