NASA image: Illegal fires set in Indonesia cause smog problem

August 27, 2013
Widespread wildfires are lighting up Indonesia, but these fires were not started accidentally. These fires were set deliberately to clear land for palm oil companies. Credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC.

Widespread wildfires are lighting up Indonesia, but these fires were not started accidentally. These fires were set deliberately to clear land for palm oil companies. This type of "slash-and-burn" agricultural has been used for centuries to clear land for new planting, however, the setting of such fires is now illegal in Indonesia. That doesn't seem to be stopping plantation owners from continuing this practice. The Huffington Post reports that Laurel Sutherlin of the Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental organization sent the paper an email stating, "Widespread, illegal burning to clear rainforests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion is unfortunately a well-established yearly ritual in Sumatra."

The worst by-product of this practice is the deliterious smog produced by the fires. Smog so lethal that a record high of 401 pollution index was recorded in the city-state at noon on Friday (Aug. 16), according to UK's The Independent. A measurement over 400 is said to be life-threatening to sick and elderly people, the paper notes. Of course, deforestation is also a negative by-product of this practice as well.

A staple for cooking throughout Southeast Asia and elsewhere, is the single largest traded vegetable oil commodity in the world, and global demand is rising rapidly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. The oil is increasingly used in the manufacture of cosmetics, soaps, pharmaceuticals and industrial products. It is also used to make biodiesel fuel.

Explore further: Singapore pollution reaches hazardous levels

Related Stories

Singapore pollution reaches hazardous levels

June 21, 2013

This week Singapore's pollution standards index (PSI) reached 400, breaking all previous records and prompting government health warnings. A PSI reading above 200 indicates "very unhealthy" air, while a PSI score above 300 ...

Palm oil companies behind Singapore smog, Greenpeace says

June 22, 2013

Forest fires in Indonesia, which have cloaked Singapore in record-breaking smog, are raging on palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies, environmental group Greenpeace said Saturday.

ASEAN urges Indonesia to ratify haze pact

June 30, 2013

Southeast Asian nations urged Indonesia Sunday quickly to ratify a treaty aimed at preventing fires in its giant rainforests that regularly inflict choking smog on its neighbours.

Slash-and-burn a way of life on Indonesia's Sumatra

July 4, 2013

The ground was still hot and smoke hung in the air when Saparina set out to plant her spinach in the ashen remains of rainforest on Indonesia's Sumatra island, where raging fires triggered Southeast Asia's worst smog crisis ...

Land-clearing Blazes in Indonesia

July 22, 2013

In Indonesia, land-clearing blazes dot the countryside. Fires for clearing land have been outlowed for all but the smallest landowners, but the "slash-and-burn" practice still persists despite cloaking Southeast Asia in toxic ...

Haze returns to Indonesia as fires rage

August 27, 2013

Fires cloaked parts of Indonesia's Sumatra in thick smog Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of flights, two months after blazes on the island sparked Southeast Asia's worst haze crisis for years.

Recommended for you

Don't forget plankton in climate change models, says study

November 26, 2015

A new study from the University of Exeter, published in the journal Ecology Letters, found that phytoplankton - microscopic water-borne plants - can rapidly evolve tolerance to elevated water temperatures. Globally, phytoplankton ...

Can Paris pledges avert severe climate change?

November 26, 2015

More than 190 countries are meeting in Paris next week to create a durable framework for addressing climate change and to implement a process to reduce greenhouse gases over time. A key part of this agreement would be the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.