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Each year, fires are lit to burn off vast expanses of Indonesia’s forests. The burning destroys the pristine rainforests, thereby endangering Indonesia’s orangutan population and contributing to climate change. “The Burning Season” is the story of one man’s quest to find a solution.
‘Burning Season’ is the phrase used to refer to the land-clearing techniques used by farmers in Indonesia. In 2007, Greenpeace announced that Indonesia had achieved the world’s highest rate of deforestation. Across the archipelago, 72% of forest has been lost due to legal and illegal clearing, and agriculture-related arson. The use of fire as an expedient means of forest clearing has been devastating for not only the forest themselves, but also devastating for the orangutan population that call the forest their home. A 2007 assessment by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) predicts that orangutans will be eliminated in the wild within twenty years if current deforestation trends continue.
It has also had a negative impact upon climate change, with Indonesia now soaring to third on the charts of the world’s largest emitters of carbon behind USA and China with the factoring in of carbon emissions represented by environmental degradation and deforestation. Tropical deforestation contributes between 10 and 30% of international carbon emissions, and rising CO2 levels have been implicated as the primary cause of global warming.
In “The Burning Season”, a young Australian entrepeneur, Dorjee Sun, confronts the challenge posed by deforestation and poses a practical solution. Sun believes that there’s money to be made from protecting rainforests in Indonesia, saving the orangutan from extinction and making a real impact on climate change.
He argues that carbon trading is one of the solutions that may help reverse the global trend of deforestation. Given that forests absorb and store carbon, forests have acquired a new value in the new world market where carbon is being increasingly traded because of climate change: big carbon producers can buy carbon ‘credits’ to offset their emissions. However, since Indonesian farmers are heavily reliant on deforestation as their main source of income, the challenge is to find alternative incomes for those who depend upon the forests for their livelihood. In this way, director Cathy Henkel prevents the film from descending into an outright criticism of Indonesian farmers, by providing us with their side of the story, as seen through the eyes of Achimadi, a local farmer.
Armed with a briefcase, a laptop, and an idea, Sun sets out across the globe to find investors in his carbon-trading scheme. His quest to build a better future quickly becomes a battle against time, as the forests and orangutan populations are destroyed. Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008, “The Burning Season” is an environmental call to action that implores us to confront the challenge of climate change and the threat human actions pose to a vulnerable species.
Written by Tara Janus