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The Sumatran fire crisis – new CIFOR maps light a path toward solution
The Sumatran fire crisis – new CIFOR maps light a path toward solution
News Jul 23, 2014

New research suggests real cause of forest fires in Sumatra, by Scott Poynton.

As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.


A new blog post published this week by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlights scientific analysis of fires in Sumatra. After years of collective blaming and shaming that has achieved four fifths of very little, CIFOR’s analysis could be an opportunity, if we’re prepared to seize it, to take a first tentative step toward solving what really is a very wicked problem.

We all like a headline and a good story; most of all we like a villain. We’re all quick to point fingers of blame when something goes wrong, if not to absolve ourselves, then at least to givesomeone grief. By lashing out, don’t we make ourselves feel better?

Blame can be therapeutic but usually only for a short while. Blame achieves little if it doesn’t lead to a problem being solved. It only creates longer term grief for many if it prolongs the problem solving process by muddying the water of what is truly happening, obscuring complex cause-effect intricacies that can only be understood and then acted on if we sit down with folk to chat and understand their thinking.

Unfortunately, blame and attack usually diminishes our chances of sitting down together because we hurt people and push them away. “Why would I chat with that bloke? He doesn’t listen he just points fingers. I’d be wasting my time”. So it prolongs. We can’t solve it if we don’t understand it and we can only understand a complex, wicked problem if we really get some of what’s causing it, if we’re prepared to get that it’s actually too complex and entwined with wicked cause-effect loops to be solvable with a single “A leads to B” analysis. In life, things are usually much more complex than they first appear and working our way out of the haze takes time, and partnership.

So it has been with the annual event of the Sumatran fires over the last years. “It’s the big concession companies!” cries one lot. “It’s the communities!” cries another. “You’re all to blame!” cries the choking citizen. “It’s not us, that’s for sure,” cries the government. “Someone, somewhere must do something!” our collective hand wringing getting us nowhere, fast. Sadly, we’ve all been driving each other away from any opportunity to find a real, long lasting solution to the fire and haze problem because we’ve all been beating up on each other, pushing people further away from the “discussion table” each time we lash out to protect ourselves or to attack those we perceive as being at fault. Perceptions aren’t always right and CIFOR’s blog post is a great case of how looking a tad more deeply at a problem, without prejudice, can help us to begin the process of unpicking the entwined crisis so that we might better solve it.

Simple analyses lead to simple outcomes – blame, shame, counter-argument and fighting. Complex, wicked problems remain unsolved; nothing changes, people, forests and animals continue to choke.

So when I read CIFOR’s short blog post I truly felt like shouting “Hooray!” I do congratulate CIFOR’s scientists for highlighting that this really is a more complex situation.

Right! It’s a LOT more complex. Thank you, I mean really, thank you so much. If we can finally get that, if we can finally accept that it’s more complex, then might we not, please, if we’re human, sit down with everyone involved in the mess and start pondering what we might do?

We need to find out why folk are lighting these fires and what might be done as an alternative. Throwing folk in jail isn’t the answer but nor is prosecuting and fining companies who aren’t responsible in the first place. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you sit down, without prejudice, finger pointing and preconceived notions of who is and isn’t evil, and chat with folk. I recommend that the Indonesian and Singaporean governments, the companies involved, NGOs, experts like CIFOR and most importantly community representatives all sit down together, start a chat and see where it goes. Heaven forbid we might make at least some progress.

Once again, our thanks should go to the CIFOR scientists who have shone a deeper light on the situation in Sumatra. Let’s hope it kicks off a different fire, one that burns brightly toward a lasting solution.

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Healthy forests

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