One of the reasons we decided to quit our jobs and go for a sabbatical was to show the world to our kids. And not just “the world” but rather “the world as it is now”. To be honest it is quite likely it will not be like this anymore when they grow up. So far our route is a roadtrip through volcanoes, mountains and national parks and our focus is to watch nature. When I look at what is left on our agenda, it will stay like that for most of the time. We do not feel well in cities and Asian cities we visited are all-too-often overwhelming with their noise, crowd and piles of rubbish here and there (Singapore being a nice exception).
So far, despite beautiful landscapes, great photos and memories, this has been a very sad journey as one can clearly see that this pristine world is in retreat and, lets be honest… dying. As Maja already wrote, seeing so much plastic being washed ashore on Bunaken every day and watching pointless efforts of the staff at our place to clean up their part of the beach is a best lesson on ecology one could have. Even if they clean it up, what they can do with it? Bring back to the mainland with their boats? And then what? There is hardly any infrastructure to manage this, so it will most likely be back in the sea on the next day. Sukamade was the same. Bali was the same (yes this Bali which everyone pictures as a paradise). Every single city in Indonesia was the same.
Indonesia has 240 million citizens. Indonesian shops and convenience stores sell only packaged goods. Literally no fresh stuff unless you go to a bazaar or a larger supermarket which is an effort compared to a 5 minutes walk to the next 7eleven. And then they wrap each item in a plastic bag and then all this together in one more bag. They do not even have a word for “bag”, they just say “plastic”. To buy something that is fresh or does not contain sugar is mission impossible. One has to specifically ask for “no sugar” and hope they got the point. Then there is food. Sweet bread, sweet ketchup, sweet chilli, meat… Typical breakfast is a sweet-toast with jam or rice + chicken.
This creates demand for palm oil and here the next story starts. The way most of us picture Borneo is a jungle. Primary forest. Impassable. All kinds of wild creatures living there. This is a nice TV story while in fact Borneo, the 3rd biggest island on Earth – more than twice as big as Poland, is in most part one big palm oil plantation. There are a few reserves where the remnants of wild animals dwell but the rest is a palm oil production factory. As one can imagine, the biodiversity is reduced to minimum and the remaining animals often do not have food nor habitat to survive while chemicals used on plantations kill them a little more every day. Many of the people we met had a choice “work on plantation” or do not work at all because growth of plantations erased all traditional farming and fishing – and with that erased their source of food and replaced with packaged stuff. Our visits to Kinabagantan, Kinabalu Park, Niah caves and Bako possibly were a last chance to see wildlife. These places may not exist in 10 years or if they do, there will be hardly anything to see. Our diving adventures bring similar stories which start like “we used to see [name the creature] here but since few years they have disappeared.
Both Indonesia and Malaysia are quickly growing now, moving from rural societies into strong industry-based economies. No wonder they face all problems such countries usually face – the biggest one: “growth is king”, “industrialization is king”, “adopting western lifestyle is king”. There are places with hardly any elecricity but one can be sure, there is a shop selling mobile phones. Internet and media connect people but they also create aspirations, which many societies want to pursue… blindly (Poland is no exception though). So we have this shopping mall culture and malls tend to become tourist attractions on their own. Shopping is a way to spend family time as we are told and the more we believe in it, the more we spend. This however, in my opinion, does not make the world a better place.
There is some good news though. Looking at Europe, especially former Eastern-bloc countries shows how much has been done in this matter for the last 20 years. Poland used to be like this but it is getting better (except actions of the current government). The cities are cleaner, the water in tap is potable and the awareness of the issue is growing.
This month brought us this reading. There are positive signs that humanity was able to deal with some problems. Yet at the same time other issues grew bigger and if this continues (very likely), Earth will be a tough place to live for our kids.
Climate change is in fact not an issue of world getting hotter as long as we have A/C right? 🙂 Food industry is where the problem is. Many of current food production zones on Earth will be too hot or to dry to further produce food unless more water will be used to sustain production. Oceans are already supplying less food despite increased resources to harvest while the quality of food is decreasing (there is no fish without plastic now, sorry guys). Farming areas are also likely to decrease due to rising temperatures. At the same time growing population will further increase demand for food as well as for water. This will inevitably lead to conflicts on local and possibly global scale (think resources in Arctic, control over major water reservoirs like the river Nile, Amazon etc.). This is not distant future but rather in time before we retire and our kids will start their own families.
– Have not more than 2 kids
– Stop eating meat – this has the biggest impact on climate warming (still working on that one, quite impossible in Asia but making good progress while in Poland)
– Consume less. You do not need 70% of the shit you think you need, i.e. your car probably costs more than public transport, taxis and occassional renting a car for holidays. Save not spend – you will need cash for when you get old because pension systems will not sustain society aging and population growth. Or you end up a poor old fuck with no money to treat your cancer. (in progress)
– Minimize plastic use. You do not need your every tomato in a separate bag. And tomatoes can touch apples. And if your shop does not like weighing every tomato separately, well…it is their problem. You also do not need plastic bags to pack your shopping. And straws. And plastic cups at the office. And plastic water bottles if your tap water is ok. And every shop clerk in Indonesia is stunned when you reject the bag, the straw and the bag for the straw.