Last year’s appalling haze crisis in Indonesia and its neighbours in Southeast Asia was the result of around two million hectares of land in flames in order to clear land for palm oil plantations and pulpwood production. A stark example of the environmental impact of this regular land clearing is that one century ago, there were approximately 315,000 Sumatran orangutans but today there are less than 60,600. But not only has the rich biodiversity of Indonesia been adversely impacted, the fires also exposed 50,000 Indonesian citizens to air pollutants that caused respiratory illnesses. Let alone the damage to the economy caused by disruption to business and services in Indonesia and neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. And while the worst of the effects of the haze have subsided, the underlying problem has not been solved. An annual event since the 1980s, the haze has progressively worsened as the demand for products containing palm oil has increased.
I was inspired to look at the deeper causes of the haze, and my research made me realise that essentially, we as consumers are responsible for the haze, as our demand for products containing palm oil continues to grow. I think that it is necessary for us to act, and so I have launched the SOS campaign to educate people about the causes of the haze, and help them find ways to reduce their usage of products from unsustainable sources.
The blog I launched contains information on the causes of haze, links to information on sustainable palm oil and paper products, and alternatives. There is a ‘pledge page’ where to date 232 people have committed to using sustainable palm oil products. In invite you to join us by pledging to address the root cause of the haze by taking action to change your consumption.
I also looked around our campuses. A popular snack in the canteen, Two-Bite Brownies, contained palm oil from unsustainable sources. I lobbied the manufacturer with assistance from Sodexo, and we received an assurance from Give&Go that they will shift to using certified sustainably-produced palm oil in all their products from 2016. I also spoke in the grade-level Middle School assemblies to create awareness about products to purchase.
My research encourages use of sustainable paper, because the haze also occurs when farmers burn down trees for pulpwood production and paper manufacturing. I have identified alternatives in Singapore that are from certified sources. I looked at the different papers used at school and found that all the A4 paper used is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). However, we are unsure about large formatted paper like A3 and coloured paper; at the time of writing I have contacted our suppliers regarding their certifications, and am awaiting their response!
The haze is our problem to solve too. Although the haze is temporarily absent, we can’t wait for governments to take action, or for someone else to make the change. All of us need to pitch in to work towards sustainability, by addressing the crux of the matter. By changing the products we use, and switching to sustainable palm oil products certified by the Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and by using paper certified by the FSC, we can get one step closer to our ultimate goal: sustainability. The more I learn, the more passionate I become, the more ideas I have for my project. I invite the UWCSEA community to come together to help end Southeast Asia’s most pressing humanitarian and environmental issue.
I would like to thank Mr Hunt, Mr Hirons, Mrs Araneta, teachers, friends and Sodexo, for supporting me with this campaign, and all who have signed the pledge. Join me on my campaign at my blogsite and take the pledge.