Zulkifli Hasan, Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry, made the headlines last week when he said he was “shocked” by 71-year-old actor Harrison Ford’s questions about deforestation. Perhaps Zulkifli had forgotten the scale of the problem in Indonesia.
Ford was in Indonesia filming an episode of Years of Living Dangerously, a series about climate change to be broadcast next year on the US TV network Showtime. The series will feature a range of stars including Matt Damon, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ian Somerhalder.
Here’s Zulkifli’s reaction to Ford’s interview, as reported by the Jakarta Post:
“I can understand that this is the first time for this American to come here and see Tesso Nilo [National Park in Riau]. And it seems that what he wants to see is any perpetrators involved in the damage immediately arrested.”
“He was emotional. During the interview, his emotions ran high. I can understand his love for animals, the environment and rain forests, however.”
“The interview time was very limited. I was given a chance to make only one or two comments.”
Andi Arief, a presidential advisor, accused Ford of “harassing a state institution” and said he could be deported as a result.
[Zulkifli was] “shocked that as soon as his (Ford’s) crew came in, they started filming and interviewing him… and attacking him with questions”.
“There’s no privilege for him although he is a great a actor. His crew and those who were helping him in Indonesia must be questioned to find out their motives for harassing a state institution.”
“If necessary, we will deport him.”
Ford visited the Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra. In June 2013, WWF released a report titled, “Palming Off a National Park: Tracking Illegal Oil Palm Fruit in Riau, Sumatra,” about the encroachment of oil palm plantations in the Tesso Nilo Forest Complex. By 2012, more than 52,000 hectares of forest in the Tesso Nilo Forest Complex had been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. Of this, an area of more than 15,000 hectares is inside the national park.
WWF sent a draft of the report to the Ministry of Forestry and according to WWF’s report, “in February 2013, the Minister of Forestry announced that it is committed to relocate encroachers and would provide financial support to tackle the encroachment problem”.
Ford is to be congratulated for raising the issue of ongoing deforestation in Tesso Nilo with the Minister of Forestry. But he probably didn’t go far enough. He could also have mentioned the recent fires in Sumatra that left Singapore choking on the smoke, or the impact that the MIFEE mega-plantation development is having on local communities and their forests in Papua, or the billions that are lost to corruption in Indonesia’s forestry sector.
Of course Indonesia should address deforestation and the impacts it has on indigenous peoples and local communities. But questions remain about Ford’s visit to Indonesia.
Jeff Horowitz is the Associate Producer and Story Consultant for the parts of the Years of Living Dangerously series that deal with deforestation. Horowitz is co-founder of Avoided Deforestation Partners, which has, since its creation in 2007, promoted carbon trading as a way of saving the world’s rainforests.
REDD-Monitor interviewed Horowitz in 2010. He described forest conservation as one of the “low-hanging fruit solutions” we should use to address climate change. (Anyone who still believes that REDD is “low-hanging fruit” hasn’t been paying attention.) In the interview, Horowitz failed to explain why he is in favour of a carbon trading mechanism, given the fact that carbon offsets do not reduce emissions.
New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman is also working on Years of Living Dangerously. In 2009, Conservation International invited Friedman to go to Brazil. The resulting article was a Friedman classic. “To save an ecosystem of nature,” he wrote, “you need an ecosystem of markets and governance.” Whatever that means.
Thomas Friedman’s wife Ann is on the board of Conservation International. Harrison Ford is also linked with Conservation International. He is the Vice Chair of the board.
Conservation International is in bed with some of the most polluting companies on the world. Conservation International is one of several big US-based NGOs that has millions of dollars invested, but no policy in place to make sure this money is not invested in fossil fuel companies.
Conservation International proposes a carbon trading mechanism to save the world’s forests and has set up several REDD-type projects. One of these projects, the Alto Mayo REDD project in Peru illustrates one the difficulties associated with REDD as a carbon trading mechanism – that of trying to guess what would happen in the absence of the REDD project. If deforestation remains low without the project, then the project will generate fewer carbon credits. In its Alto Mayo project, Conservation International dramatically increased the deforestation rate that they anticipated without their project. Earlier this year, Disney stepped forward and bought US$3.5 million worth of these “Mickey Mouse credits”.
Meanwhile, Harrison Ford’s lifestyle is hardly that of a green activist. He owns a US$12 million mansion in Los Angeles. He also owns six aeroplanes and a helicopter. “I only fly one of them at a time,” he says and promises to walk everywhere when environmentalists do the same.
“Learning to fly was a work of art. I’m so passionate about flying I often fly up the coast for a cheeseburger. Flying is like good music; it elevates the spirit and it’s an exhilarating freedom.”