On the island of Padang, in the heart of Indonesia’s industrial logging country, a group of teenagers pointed to the charred remains of sago palm trees – the remnants of the fires that have scorched the archipelago nation’s lush forests for two decades.
“There’s a sense of anger,” said Alvin, 15, who grew up in the village of Bagan Melibur. “The effects of forest burning and deforestation are enormous” for both humans and animals, he said.
In 2015, the fires were so intense across the island chain that a bitter haze blanketed much of Indonesia and drifted as far as Thailand. Airline flights were grounded. Children wore protective masks to school. Studies linked smog levels to at least 19 deaths and respiratory problems in as many as half a million people. Indonesia’s meteorology agency called the unbreathable murk “a crime against humanity.”
The fires that produced the smog were a result of a prolonged dry season and slash-and-burn practices used to clear Indonesia’s lush peatland forests to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. In the fires’ wake, environmental groups lashed out at the industrial players involved in clearing Indonesia’s forests, including Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd., also known as April, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper producers.