Monday, 25 February 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green: Things That We Can Do

It's Not Easy Being Green: Things That We Can Do

Source: The Jakarta Post - February 19, 2008
By Jonathan Wootliff

Indonesia is sick. This nation has one of the richest ecosystems in the world but its environmental health is hanging in the balance.

In a bid to achieve economic growth, it seems that looking after the environment is all too often ignored. Putting profit before the planet is a mistake. There is no doubt that economic development is vital for Indonesia. But surely not at any cost?

Without fresh air and clean water, money is useless. And yet the drive for prosperity is all too often being done without due care for our fragile natural surroundings.The surge in green consciousness during the UN climate change conference in Bali last December could have led the optimist to believe that respect for nature was on the rise.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono led the call for Indonesians to understand the importance of nurturing the country's natural resources. Government ministers were talking passionately about the need and the importance of conservation. But the enthusiasm seems to have been short lived.

Sadly, the good intentions appear to have evaporated and Indonesia has returned to business as usual. Jakarta has among the most polluted air of any city in the world. The lack of a decent sewage system is constantly contaminating the city's water. And the recent bout of flooding has once again wreaked havoc and destroyed lives.

Not a month goes by without some terrible natural disaster -- mudslides, fires and the like.The much respected environment minister, Rachmat Witoelar, is on record saying these catastrophes are the consequence of neglect. He has called for greater responsibility and accountability among those leading the country's economic development and has accused construction companies of ignoring the ecological impacts of their projects.

Environmental degradation, which is rife in this country, is endangering far more than the orangutan and the tiger. It is threatening the human race. Public awareness is an essential part of the effort to address Indonesia's environmental problems, from disaster risks to biodiversity conservation. Informed and aware citizens can take action to address environmental issues, and can form constituencies for improved efforts at the political and local government level. But at the broader level, environmental values have yet to become embedded in society. This leads to the undervaluation of natural resources and environmental services. Public participation in decision making is essential. Recent environmental disasters may have stimulated greater environmental concern, but not enough.

The voices of concerned Indonesians must become louder.Our politicians are more often followers than leaders. They have short-term goals directly connected with concern for winning votes. We need to give them the confidence to put environmental protection high on their list of priorities. How much more irreversible damage to Indonesia's natural resources be tolerated?

How much worse must basic qualities of life get? How many more lives must be put at risk through environmental neglect?Of course, people's own attitudes and practices need to change. We must learn about what we can do as individuals to protect our surroundings. There's much we can all do to make a difference.

But the government needs to receive a strong message that the people of Indonesia really care about the environment and demand action. Many difficult challenges face this vast country.

Economic growth is without doubt of real importance. But there has to be a balance between wealth creation and ecological protection.At the Bali climate conference, I was privileged to meet Gro Harlem Brundtland, who established the World Commission on Environment and Development.

The work of this former Norwegian prime minister led to the publication of the well-known report, Our Common Future, back in 1987.This UN-sponsored report first introduced the concept of sustainable development to the world, making the compelling case that development should meet the needs of today's generation without compromising those of future generations.

Brundtland was ahead of her time. She articulated the need to balance economic and environmental imperatives. Some 20 years on we are still struggling to achieve this.Establishing priorities in Indonesia is not easy, either for individuals of the government. Getting through each day can be tough.

Poverty and general social problems have to be tackled. Providing for people's basic needs is an ongoing challenge. But we cannot afford to ignore the health of our planet. There is much that both government and individuals can do to improve the quality of our lives and protect our future.

We can and must become more environmentally aware and responsible.It was Kermit the frog who said that "it's not easy being green". Over the weeks and months ahead, Green-Watch will provide ideas about what can be done to protect and enhance the ecological health of this great country.Jonathan Wootliff is an independent sustainable development consultant specializing in the building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at