How can we revise the mechanics of globalization (friction) in a way that helps conserve forests and mitigate environmental injustice in Southeast Asia?

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Introduction

Hello, I am Cherie Jiraphnaphong, and for this project, I really want to focus on how, as a society, we allowed our process towards “modernism” to take advantage of the indigenous communities’ lack of information and capitalize on the natural resources they used for survival. This can be seen in the exploitation of the Indonesian rainforest during the last decades of the twentieth century. In this particular regard, exploitation refers to the act of supremacy government bodies or large private corporations embody that allows them to turn natural, communal resources into capital. Particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, the Indonesian government permitted Japanese logging companies to burn, erode, and clear the country’s own forest since the Japanese companies held financial capital that the government officials desired (Tsing 2). Consequently, the indigenous Indonesian citizens lack the means or resources to constitute their livelihood, but the momentary gains the Indonesian government official receivers were split among those private individuals rather than distributed to the public, which promoted further economic divide and institution suppression (Tsing 3). And while globalization can definitely, promote communal growth through the sharing of resources and information across nation-states, this example illustrates the mismanagement of globalization that caused a net negative impact on the environment and the people. 

Thus, in this project, I will examine how environmental exploitation happens and how it further accentuates global inequality that thrives on segregating opportunities and capital between the richest and the poorest. To me, this understanding is integral to how we understand and see our world that is becoming more globalized, interconnected, and polluted–for if we understand the core of the problem, we will be able to create an effective, practical solution that could better society as a whole. 

Why Southeast Asia? 

Southeast Asia is a region that, while is considered an emerging market, must also face a dual challenge of adapting to climate change and alter development strengths that, currently, are contributing to climate change (IMF). Since Southeast Asia is mostly islands and coastal lands, it is also one of the regions that are most impacted by weather-related disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, flooding, and drought (IMF). But it is not just the geography and economy that puts Southeast Asia in a high-stakes position when dealing with climate change; it is this region that faced years of oppression under Western colonialism rule, making it even harder for the countries to fix existing problems and create suitable development plans (Indianfolk). 

Since this research project particularly highlights deforestation, I want to note that deforestation is one of the main problems Southeast Asian countries are constantly dealing with. Forestlands are the largest in Malaysia and Indonesia, which is also a hub for the illegal logging industry to grow, and excessive extraction of pulp, paper, and palm oil is taking place for export revenue (IMF). The deforestation situation in many countries is in such a dire state that, in Indonesia alone, deforestation accounts for 50% of its emissions (more than fossil fuels) (IMF). Cutting down trees in peatlands and peat swamps are mostly caused by the rapid economic growth and urbanization that stems from the region’s dependence on its tourism sector, which attracts migrants who are seeking work in the cities, contributes to coastal erosion that makes the area more vulnerable to storm surges, increases pollution and heatwaves, and blocks waterways with new construction (IMF). According to Marcel Marchand, a Hanoi-based expert in flood risk management, “you have to unravel the impact of climate change, which is certainly there, and economic development and growth. The impact of a flood or storm is now generally more than in the past; This is not only because there are more hazards, or because hazards are more severe, but also because there are more people, and cities are becoming bigger.” (IMF) 

The map of Southeast Asia in 1895, showcasing the different colonies of Western Countries that occupied the region. The combination of increased European political power, commerce, and Asian culture during “The Great Game” is what sets up the contemporary free-market economy and initiates globalization. However, it is important to note that during the rapid expansion of land and resources for the West, many indigenous people were faced with scrutiny, racism, exoticism, and systematic oppression.
This figure, published in 2013 by using remote sensing in national forest monitor, shows the changes in the forest cover and its uses in Southeast Asia. Although the majority of the forests in the region still exist, significant proportions of forestry land have been converted to commercial use, suggesting a trend for the following years. (PC: Ake Rosenqvist)

Idea of Friction

In many aspects, I think it is the principle of “friction” that drives the process of globalization. The term “friction,” according to Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, equates to the word “clash” or “interaction.” (1) For it is through these clashes or interactions that allow physical materials, culture, and philosophical views to spread, making up our contemporary world. Metaphorically, friction can be assimilated to rubbing two sticks together in order to produce heat and light where the sticks are individual, and the heat and light are the newfound, exchanged ideas/culture (Tsing 5). 

Scholars once treated such cultures as exemplars of the self-generating nature of culture itself. However, it has become increasingly clear that all human cultures are shaped and transformed in long histories of regions-to-global networks of power, trade, and meaning. With new evidence of these histories entering the academy from every direction, it has become possible for schools to accept the idea that powerless minorities have accommodated themselves to global forces. But to turn that statement around to argue that global forces are themselves congeries of local/global interaction has been rather challenging. (Tsing 3, Friction 2011) 

As billions upon billions of ideologies and imagination exchanged throughout history, the one that especially caused the global phenomena is productivity and efficiency. And while the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s spread this ideology, the way friction “modernized” society’s lifestyle actually started when humans of different tribes, communities, or even genetic pools first interact (Giddens and Sutton 20). And while these interactions aid the formation of symbiotic relationships among some communities in order to experience communal growth, it is also through friction that the system of colonization was in place through the 18th and 19th centuries. For it is the introduction of raw materials by the natives within tropical countries that served as fuel to the West’s desire for absolute power and control, aiding exploitation (Kwame Nkrumah). Therefore, it is the increased amount of raw materials that allowed the Western world to delve into the first Industrial Revolution, which came from the agricultural revolution that increased the number of produced food and allowed for more workers to enter the industrialized cities (History Crunch). A particular invention that truly facilitates contemporary globalization is the development of telecommunication devices (History Crunch). With an increase in communications pathways, private corporations can expand their market beyond their national boundaries and establish international competitions (History Crunch). And, thus, to remain competitive in a global market, the shift of focus for these corporations is tied to the idea of increasing revenue and decreasing cost, maximizing profits (Michalowska and Danielak). As a consequence of this mindset and the skyrocketed mass consumerism habits, corporations now source their materials from low-income countries and establish supply lines in places with minimum labor costs. This then forces raw/natural materials to be reincarnated as capital rather than staying as a sustainable resource for people’s livelihood (Tsing, 2). 

Therefore, a combination of lower empathy for nature and heightened consumer desire, pollution, resource depletion, and extinction plague our world. And while it is friction that allows society to benefit from nature’s materials, it is also friction that destroys it through globalization. Thus, in order to decrease the negative consequences of globalization and friction, since neither are practically able to be eradicated, I think it is best if we change our paradigm of what constitutes “capital.” Capital should not only suggest an immediate influx of cash nor the total asset an individual/corporate owns, but instead something that benefits society as a whole and brings benefit in the long run. Because friction is only a mechanic to aid human values and beliefs, it should start with a change in societal values and merit-awarding system for a change. For if friction could expand the notion of productivity, which is a mask of human greed, friction could also spread human empathy for each other and mother nature. 

Globalization (Background vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com)

Interlinks between Deforestation and Climate injustice:

While the sequential connection between deforestation and climate injustice, particularly in Southeast Asia, is a subset of the mechanics of friction, I think it is vital to just this place to speak of this relationship in detail to understand how nature is integral to human physical well being, and society’s development. 

Currently, the world is losing more than 8,000 square meters of trees per second, which, in 2020, is equivalent to 25.8 million hectares and responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions (Bloomberg). And within those lost trees, around 50% are from the tropics, which is the place that is most biologically diverse and crucial in providing natural resources for the people in the region (Bloomberg). For example, in Brazil and Thailand, farmers burn down forests to expand plantations for cash crops (sugarcane, soybeans, corn, Casazza, etc.) and farming areas for commercial animals (cows, chickens, pigs, salmon, etc.) (Gorte and Sheikh). While, in Russia, Canada, and the US, deforestation is attributed to wood extraction, agricultural expansion, as well as the development of infrastructures like road-building and urbanization (Gorte and Sheikh). Other causes of deforestation, which were driven by friction, are palm oil cultivation, dam construction, mining, fire-related incidents, illegal logging, and poor forest management (Gorte and Sheikh). And it is through these actions that 46% of trees fell since humans started cutting down forests, in which 20% are irrevocably degraded to the level that they can no longer provide benefits to the climate and humanity (Bloomberg). 

And while it is clear that forests are crucial carbon sinks that can mitigate climate change since, according to one estimate, tropical trees alone can mitigate 23% of current GHGs levels, forests, in itself, are crucial elements that contribute to humanity’s survival (Gibbs, Harris, and Seymour). Firstly, human health is a dimension of tropical deforestation that caused widespread effects, most evidently in Southeast Asia. Because deforestation drives climate change, it is through climate change’s positive feedback loop (a naturally occurring process when an initial trigger causes the ecosystem to move further away from its initial equilibrium point) that affects rainfall regimes, length of dry seasons, and creating more frequent and destructive natural disasters (hurricanes, flooding, drought, forest fires, etc.) (Viana). Thus, it is through these events that account for increased human fatalities. According to WHO, 91% of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality levels are within the unhealthy range or worst (Viana). And through increased global air pollution, 4.2 million people die from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease (Viana). These numbers are even more staggering within indigenous groups of people who, although contributed very little to climate change, are facing the most severe consequences of climate change (Baird). From a Cambridge University study, more than 380 igneous groups of people are facing health problems associated with forest fire pollution, famine from lower amounts of natural resources, and exponentially increased heat (Baird). 

However, the exacerbated impacts of climate change do more than just deteriorate human health; it is also one of the leading causes of conflict. The positive correlation between deforestation and conflict is evident by the findings of ScienceDirect publication that show overlapping of locations facing deforestation and forest conflict (Yudego and Gritten). Because in Southeast Asia, the forest is home to 120-150 million indigenous people who rely on the forest resource for their survival and see the forest as a part of their identity, inseparable from their beliefs, culture, and traditions (Dhiaulhaq). But because natural resources are seen as capital material for private corporations or government, frequent conflicts about logging, plantation, and littered waste arise (Dhiaulhaq). Like in Cambodia and Indonesia, where governmental bodies desire a boost in economic development, government officials conceded significant tracts of land to private companies to expand their large-scale plantations and agriculture expansion, which often leads to forest degradation and violation of rights of local communities (Dhiaulhaq). Additionally, efforts to curb deforestation in Southeast Asia, like the establishment of national parts, also led to conflict since, while the intention is to prevent further exploration and occupation, it neglects local communities that have lived in the area for centuries (Dhiaulhaq). 

Deforestation-related conflict hotspot (denoted by the red dots). Since many arisen conflicts took place in Southeast Asia, the region that is known to have lush forests with a high number of naturally occurring raw materials, this map proves the positive correlation between the existence of productive forests and conflict (usually between locals, government bodies, private companies, NGOs). (PC: Blas Mola-Yudego, David Gritten,
Determining forest conflict hotspots according to academic and environmental groups; pages 575-580; ISSN 1389-9341, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forpol.2010.07.004.

One particular example is the sinking problem of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. The problem started in the 1600s when the Dutch colonized Indonesia and segregated the ingenious people from the newly established Dutch settlers (Tulika). And it is this separation that led to an unequal and unjust water piping system that excluded Indigenous Jakartans, forcing them to draw drinking water from underground aquifers (Tulika). This problem, combined with the fact that the urbanization and population growth in Jakarta increased the demand for groundwater and reliance, as well as the accelerated sea-level rise in extreme weather events that break embankments and cause severe flooding to low-income areas that are already prone to flooding (Tulika). Thus, many climate injustices are not just immediate consequences to human-related climate change, but also years of colonialism where settlers/colonizers destroy the colonized land by extracting their resources and then leaving them to deal with the problem alone after the signing of independence. 

“A women and her daughter stand in highly polluted seawater in the Muara Angke slum, north Jakarta. This district, one of the poorest in the city, is home to fishing families whose shacks stand on garbage and sewage arriving from Jakarta’s waterways. Direct, current impact of the mismanagement of Dutch colonization and its pipelines.” (PC: Elisabetta Zavoli)

However, to go back to the concept of friction and how it relates to all these problems, I think it is worth reiterating that the harmful impacts of climate change are inexorably linked to historical neglect, colonialism, and racism (Cho). Mary Annalise Hegler, a climate change essayist and former writer at the Earth Institute, wrote in one of her commentaries that “[climate injustice] started with conquest, genocide, slavery, and colonialism. That is the moment when White men’s relationship with living things became extractive and disharmonious. Everything was for the taking; everything was for sale. The possible fuel industry was literally built on the backs and over the graves of indigenous people around the globe, as they were forced off their land and either slaughtered or subjected–from the Arab world to Africa, from Asia to the Americas. Again, it was no accident.” (Cho) And, thus, it is these built-up segregations between the privileged and the underprivileged that intensify climate injustice (Cho). From the removal act, like the Indian Removal Act in 1830, that forces indigenous tribes to move to lower-income and higher polluted areas to the lack of management and care in indigenous areas, poverty-stricken people in Southeast Asia have little opportunity to better their livelihood and help mitigate climate change and deforestation (Cho). 

Potential Responses:

In many ways, it is impossible to reverse the progression of either modernism or friction mechanics. However, it is even more unjust and irresponsible if we acknowledge humanity’s past mistakes (colonialism, racism, segregation) and feel powerless, withholding actions. Even though the process of fixing systematic issues that promoted inequality would be slow and tedious, I believe that it is through these actions that one can help drive long-lasting change that will benefit society and Mother Nature. Some of the responses that we can all take part in are:  

  1. Publicize the value of forests and other natural materials as a conservation force rather than just economic trading products. Natural resources are not supposed to be capitalized or belong to a certain group of people, but rather sustained to help maintain the livelihood of millions of people and promote their self-reliance to decrease the need for government support. This would increase the government budget to solve other social problems and decrease inequality that currently resides in many countries’ societies. 
  2. Within our contemporary world, people who vary in background, culture, and ideas are likely to meet one another and interact. This exchange of varied social interactions is what defines “friction” as something that promotes globalization and connection between two cultures and also, on the contrary, increases culture clash and disagreements. In Sennett’s Creating Human Cities, he describes how building designs created disengagement and annihilated human complexities due to the divide between the subjective experience, how people feel living in that place, and the worldly experience, the physicality of the place itself. This divide, according to Sennett, is triggered by people’s fear of exposure, which is a synonym of friction. Because rather than taking the risk of interacting with people who are different and grow from that stimulus, people are more focused on the risk of being hurt and engaging in “unwanted” disagreements (Guardian). The absence of friction is what drives urbanistic alienation, focusing on individualism rather than the larger society (Guardian).
  3. Support and urge the government and private businesses to adopt energy-efficient technologies. Currently, in Thailand and Malaysia, low-carbon technologies are declining in cost like solar and wind energy, which boost investment in local manufacturing. Even larger global companies from China, the US, and the European Union are seeking to invest in clean technology and solar panels that help generate renewable energy. However, incentives like tax breaks, duty-free imports, and preferential loans, and easier access to financing and funding will need to be implemented to raise the number and support for energy-efficient technologies (Dhiaulhaq). 
  4. Similar to the first solution, we must support laws that hold governments and corporations accountable for their actions that would further damage the environment (Dhiaulhaq). Acts of government transparency must be put in place for the people to understand and vote. This would give indigenous people more political voices and truly reflect the type of development the citizens want to see and protect their natural resources from international exploitations. 
  5. It is important to identify and address the overarching issues to prevent and mitigate future deforestation conflicts with intermediaries organizations like REDD+ and RECOFTC (Dhiaulhaq). This would help develop a predictive framework that sets the rules for forest access and use, benefit distribution, competing dependencies, participation, communication, and legal and policy frameworks.  
  6. In terms of international conflict with rivers and natural resources, it is vital to create an equitable system for decision-making that optimizes benefit for every group (Dhiaulhaq). This would allow the people who live and rely on the debated natural resource to influence the decision and help identity government officers who are lobbied and corrupted by economic desires. 
  7. Increased climate training to help locals become aware of climate change and take action to protect their homes. Such organizations like Climate Reality Project can help with such actions. This would also extend to co-contributions with universities to conduct studies and research to identify and solve climate change-related issues (ex. Water management, soil fertility, etc.). 
  8. Because we are all consumers, it would benefit all if we are conscious consumers. This means that with monetary power, we can choose and support products that are environmentally friendly and do environmental justice. Not only would this help us become more conscious of our own decisions and reduce spending on non-sustainable waste, but it would also help guide companies’ focus and incentives businesses to strive for sustainability. Because it is consumers who drive trends and influence companies since those companies want to gain capital from consumers.  
People caring about the world and the environment (Background vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com)

Works Cited 

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3 Comments

3 comments

  1. Hi Cherie,
         I think the one thing about Climate Change is that it’s not a local issue. This is the number one global threat and your project is strong evidence of that. You are talking about Southeast Asis but this could be the water shortage in Chile or the deforestation in Brazil. I like how you prove, with strong and clear evidence, that Climate Change generates Climate Injustice and Climate Inequality.

  2. Hi! I thought that your project was both engaging and informative. You did a really great job of explaining everything in detail, your presentation was incredibly educational. Great job!!

  3. Hi Cherie! I liked your project! I think that Climate Change is a big issue that everyone needs to come to terms with. Once we do that then we have better chances of working together to stop this global threat. I like how you focused on one area (Southeast Asia) but tied that to the whole world. Doing something like this draws in more attention.

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