NatureSo Europeans are buying Indonesian palm oil as a “sustainable” biofuel, but it isn’t sustainable, as we’ve noted before. The tragedy continues:

Palm oil companies are burning peat forests to clear land for plantations in Indonesia’s Riau province, despite government pledges to end forest fires … Blazes have started flaring again since the end of June with the start of the dry season.

How a big deal is this? As The New York Times put it earlier this year, “Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the world’s third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists believe are responsible for global warming.” [Note to NYT: you can drop the “scientists believe” crap. Carbon emissions cause global warming — deal with it, MSM!]

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The emissions from the 1997 fires alone are staggering, as Nature reported in 2002 (sub. req’d):

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… we estimate that between 0.81 and 2.57 Gt of carbon were released to the atmosphere in 1997 as a result of burning peat and vegetation in Indonesia. This is equivalent to 13-40% of the mean annual global carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and contributed greatly to the largest annual increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration detected since records began in 1957.

In that article, several scientists warned five years ago:

The extensive fire damage caused in 1997 has accelerated changes already being caused in tropical peatlands by forest clearance and drainage. We found, by assessing logging activity in Landsat images for our 2.5-Mha study area for 1997 and 2000, that logging had increased by 44% during this period, thus making the remaining forests more susceptible to fire in the future. This is a matter of concern because natural, undamaged PSF [peat swamp forest] is essential to maintain high water levels, protect the peat carbon store and facilitate future carbon sequestration from the atmosphere. If more PSF is destroyed by logging, development and fire, there will be a continued release of carbon through decomposition of the exposed peat surfaces that, in turn, will place this large carbon store at further risk. Tropical peatlands will make a significant contribution to global carbon emissions for some time to come unless major mitigation, restoration and rehabilitation programmes are undertaken.

The warning has, tragically, gone unheeded.

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This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.