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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Beware of the Palm

As you may know, our trip in Indonesia began in and around the beautiful jungles of Sumatra. Sadly, all of the jungles in Indonesia are shrinking day by day. In fact our group may be some of the last people to visit the unique place that the locals call the hutan.
This is due to the vast deforestation that is happening to make way for palm oil plantations. Not only is this proof of a booming economy attempting to catch up with wealthier countries through any form necessary, but it is also proof of corruption within many levels of the government. Some local officials have created schemes to hide the fact that they are selling protected lands to palm oil companies. It is saddening that some of the people here in Indonesia are choosing to make an easy profit over protecting the lives of the indigenous people and the amazing biodiversity of the jungle.

Yes, this in itself is terribly upsetting, but to make it worse, the clearing of the land to make way for these plantations is extremely bad for the world at large. Jungles, when untouched, are some of the best consumers of the excess carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but when the vegetation and undergrowth are burned, it releases massive amounts of these gases that have been collected into the peat soil that the jungle sits on back into the air. Unfortunately, due to the large scale deforestation and burning of jungle to clear for the palm oil plantations, Indonesia has now reached nearly the top of the list of countries that are causing climate change.

Climate change is a very serious thing to me as an individual. Not only because I am in the generation that will be seeing the most change in the world throughout our lifetimes, but also because of my passion for certain weather patterns. I feel the happiest after a big snow when I am able to go up to the ski mountain 45 minutes from my house and get in some great skiing. It is scary for me to think that my children may never have the chance to have that feeling if the way we operate as inhabitants on this unique planet continues.

There is currently work being done to make the world more aware of the dangers of deforestation. Journalism projects like Life Mosaic and the Gecko Project are making videos to show the impacts that it is having on the world and on the local jungle communities. But I believe that each and every one of us can help the cause. That DOES NOT mean that you have to drastically change your way of life to never using electricity or never eating foods that contain palm oil. But rather that you yourself should become aware of where our planet is headed and help to inform others as well. On this specific topic you may even help save the lives of the orangutan communities living wild in the jungles or the those of the near extinct Samatran Tigers, Rhinos and Elephants that our group was sadly not lucky enough to see. Maybe, just maybe, if we help to save the Indonesian jungles one day a group of student like us could see them in abundance.