Haze! Haze! Haze! Stop the Fires!

on Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Blue skies, I'm wishing for blue skies....". At the moment, my lament comes not from many days of dreary grey skies of a British winter but weeks of choking haze in tropical Malaysia. It is the Haze Season again and I have been coughing for days. The Haze Season. Years ago, there was no such thing as haze blighting the populations and countries of South East Asia. Then we had a serious incidence in 1998-1999. We blamed the El Nino, for the fires in Sumatra and Borneo that produced the acrid choking smoke and the fine particulates that make up the haze. Yet the problem persisted in non El Nino years and has now become a regular annual occurance.

The picture above is that of the beautiful island of Borneo in a shroud of acrid smoke. What has happened? Fires are set deliberately. Some point fingers at large companies clearing forests by fire for oil palm and forest plantations. Others point to the subsistence farmers who practice "shifting cultivation" which has also been called "slash and burn". Others point to arson from unresolved conflicts and land issues. Who is really to blame? All of us, if we cannot collectively get past the finger pointing and take positive actions to stop the fires when faced with an ecological and environmental catastrophe of our own making.

To the companies that insist that burning is the only economically sound way of clearing the forests, I ask them to consider what is the value of the profit margin when placed alongside the suffering of the old and the young, the increased morbidity and mortality among the susceptible and the weak, and the long term legacy of illness that may be there for even those yet unborn. A good leader takes care of his community. He provides for his people, yes, but without taking away the essentials of living.

If we compare the two squirrels, Spikey and Speedy; Spikey represents the caring leader who is willing to share his expertise and his loot of nuts with the other squirrels in his immediate community. Speedy is clearly the stronger individual who always bullies Spikey and the other squirrels and as such is the dominant squirrel but he seeks the nuts and food only for himself. Regretably, our human society increasingly puts self-serving characters and corporations like Speedy on the pedestal to be praised and emulated. This is a tragedy of placing the individual above the community. The individual is important but must also find touch points within the community.

Today, we celebrate the festival of Diwali (or Deepavali as we used to call it in my youth). It is the day Hindus celebrate the triumph of good over evil; the Festival of Lights. Sadly, the lights are dimmed by the gloom of the haze and one cannot help feeling that evil is having the upper hand. The evil that dwells in the heart of men pursuing the God of money and profits.

I hope we can really prove that humans are smart enough to know that stopping those fires from starting is good for all of us including our smaller animal friends that share this world with us. I am fed up with coughing and shortening my life span. Despite the picture below, I do not feel like laughing till I see blue skies again.

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