The fire that’s polluting more than all of the U.S.
Daily emissions from Indonesia’s forest fires surpass the entirety of the U.S. economy.
For months, forest fires have been raging in Indonesia, destroying a rainforest already critically threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture. Not only are burning trees sending millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, perhaps even worse are the flames consuming peatland, a rich soil-like earth made up of decomposing organic material that can store as much as 3,300 tons of carbon per hectare. Peat can continue to smolder under the surface for months at a time.
The human suffering caused by the fires is heavy, as toxic clouds of smog envelope Indonesia, as well as its neighboring nations in Southeast Asia. For the many endangered species that live in Indonesia’s rainforests, their home is shrinking all the more rapidly.
Understanding how fires impact global climate change is equally heartbreaking. But one figure hit home to me more than any other: daily emissions from fires are more than the daily emissions of the entire U.S. economy.
According to data from the World Resources Institute (as you can see in the chart below), the fires alone emitted more CO2 than the average daily emissions of the U.S. for most of the days in October, as well as a nearly half of days in September.
Daily emissions from Indonesia's forest fires compared to the average U.S. daily emissions of the U.S. economy. World Resources Institute/via
WRI says that Indonesia’s annual emissions have now surpassed those of Russia, making it the fourth biggest emitter in the world, following the U.S., China and India.
These statistics, particularly for anyone who follows the science on climate change closely, can feel overwhelming and leave one feeling helpless as the best chances for extinguishing the fires is the rainfall the country is finally receiving this week.
However, there are things that can be done to help prevent forest fires, and that goes back to problem of slash-and-burn agriculture. As giant chunks of Indonesia’s forests are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, the government and the businesses that operate in Indonesia need to move as fast as possible to sustainable production methods, as well as make sure that rights over the forest are legally and transparently established.
If you’re interested in more details of what that could look like, check out this article by Dr. Nirarta Samadhi, director of WRI Indonesia.