Deliberate forest fires cause choking haze in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has been suffering through hellish smog over the last few weeks thanks to Indonesian farmers and owners of timber and palm-oil plantations who have set massive fires to clear land. Slash-and-burn practices are illegal in Indonesia, but nonetheless take place every year and rarely result in punishment. This year, the air quality is particularly bad, triggering health problems, causing traffic accidents, forcing children to stay indoors, and putting a damper on outdoor recreation and tourism. James Hosking, a Brit vacationing in Singapore, complained, “I’m supposed to be brown. I told my friends I’d be lazing out by the pool sunbathing. I’ve been here nine days and I haven’t seen an hour of sun.” With visibility as low as 650 feet in certain areas, the thick smoke has shut down some airports. The haze — which experts fear could last until late November — could cost the region more than $9 billion. Ironically, some of the palm oil that will come from newly cleared plantation land will be used to make “eco-friendly” biodiesel.