Hot, Hazy, and Heavy Affairs in Between

Sorry, boys, not a column about sex. Carrie Bradshaw does that. It’s about how God-awful hot it’s been in months for all of us, and how inhumanely hazy it’s been in weeks for some of us.

Let’s start with the facts first. July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, yet the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces of July 2015 at 16.61C (61.89F) was the highest monthly temperature since 1880, 0.08C higher than the previous warmest July in 1998 and 0.81C hotter than the average for the entire 20th century.

The globally-averaged land and ocean numbers don’t register with your personal scale? In early July London hit 37C (98F) and Paris 39C (102F), while thousands in Pakistan had died of heatwave weeks before July even knocked in. If you still don’t buy into global warming by now, frankly you deserve a trip to Sahara desert with no more than a water bottle and the company of Republican presidential candidates.

In tropical Indonesia dry season usually means forest and peatlands burn, either because it’s just so scorching the leaves self-incinerate or because humans, private and corporate, ignite the fire for various reasons. Comes almost like a clockwork and has gone on longer than we care to remember, yet hasn’t been resolved effectively regardless who runs the government (thus, unfair to squarely blame Jokowi on this). Every year Sumatera and Kalimantan get covered in hazardous smoke, Singapore and Malaysia get mad at us, we get the blame game going until raining season thunders in and everyone moves on to brace for the next disaster.

Thanks to this year’s exceptionally warm temperature the fire rages longer and wilder, churning out haze and smoke that are practically engulfing two of our main islands and closest neighbors. Airports open and close, businesses get disrupted, respiratory illnesses arising, and schools on indefinite recess—though it pays to note that Malaysia ordered their schoolchildren to stay home long before our authorities eventually took the initiative.

The current administration is gung-ho about penalizing the culprits, deploying military to go after big plantations. I’m all about upholding law to the fullest extent, but this is where it gets hazier if you pardon the pun. A handful of studies came to my attention lately, in which they explained how not only many types of perpetrators were responsible for land burning in Indonesia, the biggest offender were actually smaller plantations and individual landowners in rural areas.

I incline to believe those studies. Just look at your own neighborhood, I bet there’s at least one trash burning or the residue of it. Indonesians love to burn garbage for the simplistic reasons of practicality and ‘purity’, even if the impure smoke chokes their own lungs during the process. Done nonchalantly, trained to housemaids religiously and passed down to grown kids like Grandma’s precious chinaware. Not just ignorant kampong dwellers, mind you, but also around upscale neighborhoods of Kebayoran, Pluit or Menteng, not very far from Presidential Palace. The ride may have been upgraded to Mercedes and Alphard, the trash handling largely remains stuck on trailer park. Anyone sane enough to forbid it is typically met with shrugs or social backlash. Such callous attitude toward burning trash individually, no wonder not many bat an eye in burning lands commercially.

Dragging in a few fat cats will get the public cheering, but changing people’s basic mindset is what brings lasting change of affairs. People need to fathom that public burning of any kind is hazardous to the ecosystem, including humans in the vicinity, hence the legal punishment for doing so. Children need to have this ingrained in their knowledge and consciousness so as adults they won’t sanction land clearing by fire, or imperturbably pocketing a small fee from plantations to burn a peatland or two. Yet, is the government ballsy enough to go after the heavy affairs of regular folks burning trash and small businesses burning their way to clear land?

Many exasperated citizens in Sumatera and Kalimantan have lamented that as long as the smoke doesn’t debilitate the capital the government won’t get their act together, and I’m tempted to get that cynical now. Either haze paralyzes Jakarta or shames it by wrecking a high-profile event in a neighboring country that Jakarta has no choice but pull out all stops.

As I write this Singapore’s star-studded F1 races and outdoor concerts are still on the go despite the haze, and by the time you’re reading this we’ll know if the sarcastic ‘Thank you Indonesia’ social media campaign originated in Singapore and Malaysia last week will have reached the momentum of blistering hatefest against Indonesia as audience, flocking from the region, are forced to enjoy Maroon5 and Bon Jovi, the latter whom ironically had just played a sold-out concert in Jakarta, with N95 masks on.

Hot, check. Heavy, always. Monstrous and poisonous haze, maybe it’s time you swirl above Jakarta now.

As published:  

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