The Serpent in paradise

(Expedisi Kulamba, Universiti Malaysia Sabah)

Beautiful, isn’t it? And remember, you can click on these photos if you want a better look.

The third photo shows the kind of village you will see in this area. And the photo after that shows the local shop in one village. The only shop.

When I first came to Malaysia, Borneo was forested from coast to coast. Now much of it is eroded wasteland, self-seeded with those rampant weeds, Australian acacias. It seems incredible that we have swapped the unique biodiversity granted us for imported rubbish!

And has Borneo benefitted from all that cutting down of forest? Not nearly as much as it should have. Spend a week with a boatman on the rivers of the Lower Kinabatangan and find out. The average family income is 250 MYR. That’s about $USD 70. A month. Plus all the fish they can eat.

Most of the logged forest – perhaps more than 90% of the biomass, was burned or otherwise wasted in the grabbing of the commercial timber. We gave up clean water and clean air and pristine oceans for that. I guess the timber taukehs and others who grabbed their cut think it was a good deal.

I think it was a short-sighted waste of one of the world’s most valuable resources that could have benefitted the population for untold generations. Instead it made a handful rich in one generation and left behind a wasteland suitable only for monoculture –with no thought given to protecting water resources, connectivity of habitat, wildlife, medicinal plants, or in fact any kind of overall planning. Sure, oil palm plantations have there place. But this wasn’t the way to do it. We squandered the future of our children.

In effect:

Never has so much
been so wantonly destroyed
in so short a time
for the benefit
of so few.


The Serpent in paradise — 5 Comments

  1. I was feeling depressed before this. Now I feel like murdering the greedy destructive b*stards.

    Is there any up-side of hope for what’s left, or is it all gloom and doom now? 😮

  2. So what exactly is driving all this development? I ask because I have seen suggestions that it is to feed the West’s increased demand for diesel fuel, so that us car drivers can feel we are being more environmentally friendly.

  3. Oh lord, Cheryl, it would take me pages to answer that question. Short answer: greed. Loggers in the tropics get quick profits from timber. And they (and the people they own) are prepared to lie to do it, or to steal. For example, it is a well known fact that a famous logger was involved in the illegal logging of a gazetted park some years ago – and that he remains unpunished.

    Near where we were staying in the camp, there was an area cleared supposedly for the planting of rubber, but the estate is neglected. Obvious that they just wanted to clear fell to get the timber and weren’t in the least interested in the further development of the land. And that’s the short answer.

    Long answer: oil palm and political/economic need to have a steady easy income earner. Much more instantly and reliably profitable than sustainable logging would be, even though the latter could be forever.

    I am not against oil palm, merely against the ignoring of other needs – e.g. adequately large protected and interconnected reserves, protection of watersheds etc.

    Palm oil is viewed as a future source of fuel, and yes, it will earn carbon credits because it will be sustainable.

    Another reason why such destruction is necessary concerns the lack of a real population control policy, in a society where “God will provide” if you go ahead and have umpteen kids (even though there’s ample proof that He doesn’t!!).

    And then there’s there’s a racial component, where everyone wants their ethnic group to come out on top in the numbers stakes because of the political/religious implications.

    And all that is just a start…This is a complicated country.

  4. Sustainable is good, but in the UK it is all getting presented (by the nuclear lobby and by the “let’s all go back to the stone age” brand of environmentalist) as an example of how renewable energy ruins the environment.

    Racial component huh? I presume you have seen the current issue of The Economist.

  5. Actually I hadn’t, Cheryl, but I have now. True enough. Mind you, everything always has revolved around racial issues – it’s just that tolerance is flying out the window now. Strange, isn’t it – the older generation (my husband’s in fact) were much more tolerant than the present one. Abdullah Badawi is himself a deeply religious but very tolerant man – but he has a hard job trying to control religious bigotry. My (relatively uniformed) guess is that he would actually be happy to see an inter-faith council, but knows it would be political suicide for him to promote it. And so on.

    Racial and religious issues here make UK’s and USA’s similar issues look simplistic, mere minor glitches.

    Malaysia’s are worthy of a twelve part fantasy – which would probably then be dismissed as unrealistic world-building! Nothing can be quite this insane…can it?

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