Singapore Haze

The three-hour PSI is at an unhealthy level of 170 as I write this. For weeks now the streets have been shrouded in grey smoke, a mistiness that smells of burning and make people’s throats and eyes burn.

Between the forests and the peat in the ground, the fires in Sumatra continue to burn and smoulder, which means that we are far from done with the nasty smog that is blanketing our city. Rumors have been flying that this could last till the start of the new year.  I truly hope that is not that case,  and Singapore is not the only one suffering: parts of Indonesia and Malaysia are also covered with haze of varying degrees of awfulness.

And humans are not the only ones impacted by this problem. A large proportion of palm oil expansion occurs at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystems. Currently, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered as a consequence of this unsustainable development that is rapidly encroaching on their habitat.

One animal of particular importance according to conservationists is the orangutan, which has become a charismatic icon for deforestation in Borneo and Sumatra. Over 90% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years, and as such, is considered “a conservation emergency” by the UN. An estimated 1000-5000 orangutans are killed each year for this development. The orangutan is a keystone species and plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem. An example of this being the spread of rainforest seeds in Indonesia, many of which can only germinate once passed through the gut of an orangutan, hence this primate is essential for the existence of the forest. But the orangutan is not the only species affected by palm oil development; their situation represents the story of thousands of other species facing the same fate in South-East Asia.

This haze is not a new problem, nor is it the fault of Indonesia alone. The global demand for palm oil and paper products have driven deforestation and both legal and illegal burning, leading to air pollution in the region. So in my opinion this is something that needs to be addressed by the planet as a whole but I need to start with me.  By educating myself about what products contain palm oil, as a consumer I can chose with my wallet to make a statement (even if it is ever so small).

What I have learned so far is pretty alarming...The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that:

Over 50% of all packaged goods on our supermarket shelves have palm oil in them .

I for one have made some big changes in the items I purchase and I hope you will consider this as well.

A few of the islands in Indonesia are usually visible from the Central Business District in Singapore...but the photo below shows the dramatic change in view since the haze arrived.

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