There is a catastrophic event happening in one of the world’s more populous nations which is receiving very little attention from the media. Indonesia is burning and no one is paying attention.
George Monbiot said this in the Guardian on the subject:
A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century – so far.
And the media? It’s talking about the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?
What I’m discussing is a barbecue on a different scale. Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany.
Not only is the disaster bad news for CO2 output it is also ravaging large tracts of land and fragile habitats and threatening species. The smoke is a major health threat to the population and things are that bad that in the Parliament of Kalimantan Parliamentarians are having to wear face masks during debates.
Much of the forest is on peat and peat fires which release methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and ammonium cyanide can smoulder for months.
The causes include illegal deforesting, fragmentation of the forest by development, draining of peat swamps and the use of fire to clear forested areas for farming as well as the production of palm oil. This fascinating interactive graphic from the Guardian suggests that the financial benefits of clearing rainforest for plantations are less than those when the forest is retained in its original condition.
Monbiot’s conclusions are a reflection of the crisis the main stream media finds itself in.
Governments ignore issues when the media ignores them. And the media ignores them because … well, there’s a question with a thousand answers, many of which involve power. But one reason is the complete failure of perspective in a de-skilled industry dominated by corporate press releases, photo ops and fashion shoots, where everyone seems to be waiting for everyone else to take a lead. The media makes a collective non-decision to treat this catastrophe as a non-issue, and we all carry on as if it’s not happening.
At the climate summit in Paris in December the media, trapped within the intergovernmental bubble of abstract diplomacy and manufactured drama, will cover the negotiations almost without reference to what is happening elsewhere. The talks will be removed to a realm with which we have no moral contact. And, when the circus moves on, the silence will resume. Is there any other industry that serves its customers so badly?