Indonesia: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 4: How Geography Can Contribute to Eradicating Justice Issues in Indonesia

In the other blogs in this series I have looked at the environmental justice issues surrounding the production of palm oil in Indonesia and the effect it has had on the global environment, forests, animals and indigenous peoples. However, as a Geographer there are many ways in which the discipline can help to eradicate these justice issues in the nation and this blog will outline some of the ways that the subject can contribute to minimising the major environmental costs that are associated with oil palm plantations

The first way in which Geographers can add to this area of work is by our study and gaining of specific knowledge of spaces. By analysing the different land users of an area, we can find, use and collect specific data about climate impacts, species distribution and people’s cultural practices, norms and societal distributions which would be of great value to all of the key players surrounding the palm oil debates in Indonesia.

Moreover, Geographers also have the capability to use Geographical information systems (GIS) attaching information to satellite images to further increase understanding of the space in question. These satellite images can also provide clear direction as to the land use of a space, whether forested, cleared, plantations or human occupancy so can manage needs by consulting this GIS software, helping to reduce the impacts of planned plantations on animals and people.

Additionally, Geographers can also bring their knowledge of key concepts to areas. The concept that stands out in oil palm production is sustainability. We can work with local people to promote the sustainable development of communities, assuring that such communities can meet their own needs and those of future generations, possibly by promoting the sustainable use of wood and its replanting, or by promoting the efficiency of production of the palm oil crops to help prevent degrading of the local environment.

Geographers also have the capability to raise awareness about sensitive issues. By having the skills to write and present, we can use our particular knowledge to affect a wide audience about issues on both global and local scales, whether this is by writing scholarly articles and presenting at formal conferences or in less academic ways, for example: by writing and publicising blogs like this one, via social networking sites or just talking about the issues with other interested parties. Throughout my blogs I have used these resources to keep me informed.

Furthermore, Geographers can contribute by starting to think about solutions to the costs incurred. By using the particular skills that Geographers have accumulated after their years of study, and the detailed knowledge they have gathered about a place, its people, its characteristics and its culture, we can suggest practical solutions to problems that aim to satisfy as many interested parties as possible.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I intend to continue blogging on environmental issues as frequently as possible.


Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 3: Indigenous peoples

In previous blogs I have outlined the justice issues surrounding Indonesian palm oil production. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity have been the two directions I have taken in describing and explaining the negative impacts of the product. However, the costs aren’t only to the environment or animals. People are also affected by the oil palm plantations associated with deforestation and have been marginalised in the push for economic gain.

Indonesia is one of the flashpoints in the world where indigenous peoples are fighting to defend their land and livelihoods (The Guardian, 2009). As palm oil companies extend their reach into the rainforests, more and more indigenous tribes are being uncovered and displaced as they fail to defend their lands. Many indigenous tribes all over Indonesia are at risk of losing their land and the possibility of extinction hangs over them due to the pressure imposed on them by state owned oil palm companies. One example of this is the indigenous tribe, the Pompang of the Sanggau region, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Pompang tribe are a small tribe in comparison to many other indigenous peoples in the Diyak Bidayuh district of the Sanggau region. The Malay is the largest ethnic group that line the Kapuas River (Sirait, 2009). However, due to their comparative size and the position their lands fall in the area, the palm oil companies have pressured the tribe in to surrendering their lands in a most unjust manner.

In 1974, the state owned palm oil company PTPN XIII collaborated with police and the military to pressurize the Pompang tribe to release their indigenous lands for oil palm plantations. If the tribe had have rejected this proposal they would have been accused of rejecting the governments program and obstructing development (Sirait, 2009). Two years later, in 1976, each household outlined their land and what they wanted to be excluded from the oil palm plantations. Mostly, this included the rubber gardens and the village settlement. However, their ancestral land, including forest and rubber gardens that were far away from the settlement, was cleared for the plantations, even though they were explicit areas that the indigenous tribe wanted excluded.

If that wasn’t enough of an injustice, the proposed compensation ranging from $2.50-$27.50 per hectare was not administered after the clearing. The Pompang had no means to generate income, little to cultivate to feed their families and had lost their cultural relationship with the forested area that was cleared (Sirait, 2009).

The cost of this forced removal and deforestation was the loss the Pompang’s identity, livelihood and heritage. Some may say that with the 26 tribes in the Sanggau region of Sumatra,that this was just collateral damage in reaching development. But the way the Pompang tribe were treated in the forced capture of their cultural heritage is a worrying fact for human rights activists and other campaigners against the palm oil companies. However, as Geographers, we have the capacity to change this injustice, and this is what I will be discussing in my next blog.


Sirait, M.T. (2009) ‘Indigenous Peoples and Oil Palm Plantation Expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia,’ Indonesia Country Report, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Law Faculty

Anon. (2009) ‘Flashpoints where indigenous people are fighting to defend their lands’ The Guardian [online] (last updated 10.12 am on Monday 15 June 2009) Available at: <; [Accessed 6 May 2012]

Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 2: Endangerment of Endemic Species

Environmental injustice as a result of the expanding palm oil industry in Indonesia is rife. In my first blog I spoke about the justice issues surrounding the clear felling of Indonesian rainforest in terms of its contribution to global warming. … Continue reading

Indonesian Oil Palm: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 1: Deforestation

Irvin Callicut (2012) Oil palm Plantation

Oil palm in Indonesia is a rapidly expanding industry for many agricultural smallholders. Since 1961, the area of agricultural landdedicated to oil palm plantations has increased from 3.6 million hectares to 8.1 million hectares (Rist et al., 2010), with many companies and members of the population realising the potential profits that can be gained from the product’s high demand. Both state and private companies are investing in oil palm plantations, as well as local farmers who set up small holdings of the crop.The associated costs of palm oil production have huge negative implications on the environment, biodiversity and for indigenous peoples, and all of these costs manifest themselves in the plantations of Indonesia. Here, the driver that links all of these affected areas is deforestation. Indonesia and Malaysia contain 80% of Southeast Asian forest (Fitzherbert et al., 2008). and 11% of the World’s tropical rainforest (Koh & Wilcove, 2008) but, as demand for palm oil continues to grow the amount of forest is decreasing. In Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 forest area declined by 28,072,000 hectares and 56% of this decline was the clearing of forests for conversion to oil palm plantations (Koh & Wilcove, 2008). This deforestation is a concern not only to the population of the country, but to a worldwide audience who are increasingly concerned about climate change issues and biodiversity decline.

Deforestation in Riau Province for Oil Palm Plantation

With the clearing of tropical rainforests for the creation of oil palm plantations, comes a loss of a vital carbon sink. Tropical rainforests are responsible for storing 235 tons of Carbon per hectare, one of the most important carbon stores on the planet, whereas the palm oil plantations only amass 48 tons of carbon per hectare, a net loss of 187 tons of carbon per hectare which makes its way into the atmosphere accelerating the greenhouse effect (Reijnders & Huijbregts, 2008). Not only is the clearing affecting atmospheric carbon concentrations in this way, but the slash and burn techniques to clear the tropical forests also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. By burning the felled areas, high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane are emitted. A study of these techniques in Brazil revealed an estimated 1,700 megatons of Carbon dioxide and 10 megatons of methane released into the atmosphere in 1987 alone (Tinker et al., 1996). These are alarming figures considering the increase of oil palm production in Indonesia and a concern for the global population. Moreover, Indonesia is one of the most vulnerable countries to the associated outcomes of global climatic change: sea level rise could affect 94 million people by 2100; delayed monsoon could increase the frequency of drought in the country and with rising temperatures increases the amount of vector-borne diseases that could increasingly affect the Indonesian population (Case et al., 2010).

However, as the global demand for the product increases, Indonesia maintains the clearing of its forests to supply a global demand vital to boosting the country’s economy. As the associated costs grow, it is here that justice is not being done, as I will explore in later blogs.


Case, M., Ardiansyah, F. and Spector, E. (2010) ‘Climate Change in Indonesia: Implications for Humans and Nature,’ WWF [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 20 March 2012]

Fitzherbert, E., Struebig, M., Morel, A., Danielsen, F., Bruhl, C., Donald,P. and Phalan, B. (2008) ‘How will oil palm expansion affect biodiversity?’ Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23 (10), 538-545

Irvin, Callicut (2012) ‘Oil Palm Plantation’ [electronic print] Available at: <>

Koh, L.P. and Wilcove, D.S. (2008) ‘Is oil palm agriculture really dest

roying tropical biodiversity?’ Conservation Letters 1 (2), 60-64

Reijnders, L. and Huijbregts, M.A.J. (2008) ‘Palm oil and the emission of carbon based greenhouse gases’ Journal of Cleaner Production 16, 477-482

Riau Palm Oil 2007, [electronic print] Available at: <>

Rist, L., Feintrenie, L. and Levang, P. (2010) ‘The livelihood impacts of oil palm: smallholders in Indonesia,’ Biodiversity and Conservation 19, 1009-1024

Tinker, P., Ingram, J. and Struwe, S. (1996) ‘Effects of slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation on climate change,’ Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 58, 13-22]

Wangaari Maathai: The visionary who brought environmental justice to the global population

Wangari Maathai

Wangaari Maathai’s passing in September 2011 was met with great sadness. This Nobel Prize winning activist set up the Green Belt Movement in 1977 empowering Kenyan women in the community, educating many about the importance of sustainable forestry and helping to secure a future for generations to come of impoverished African families. She rose to fame in the 80’s campaigning heavily against forest clearance proposed by the government and was arrested and vilified several times by the government of President Daniel Arap Moi. However, her legacy remains. The Green Belt movement is having a positive effect on the people who take part in the schemes and her vision is something that world leaders are calling for to combat global climatic change.

Kenya’s forests had been ravaged by government supported forest clearance The Green Belt movement was promoted by Maathai to engage women in planting trees to help meet their needs for fuel wood, building materials, and soil conservation. The project took into account traditional gender roles of men and women in Kenya, that differ so greatly from the gender roles in the UK today, reiterating the accepted roles of women in Kenya’s culture as home keepers, mothers and community organizers, whilst allowing men to get involved as agriculture is a unisex activity, avoiding as much internal conflict as possible. Although originally met with scepticism, the women who began the project had helped to plant over 30 million trees in Kenya by 2003 and now with Government backing, the Green Belt movement in the confidence of the government have looked to engage its 35000 schools, 16350 youth groups and 4300 women’s groups to target planting 1 billion trees a year as part of their official climate response strategy (Vidal, 2011). In November 2011 the government announced that the first 450 million had been planted, that’s just 419 million more than the UK planted this year.

Maathai’s vision to counter the drought, land degradation and water shortages in Kenya has lead to not only the ability for the indigenous communities to meet their own needs, and the empowerment of women in a male dominated cultural society, but has lead to the continued reforestation and climatic response that the world’s most economic countries need to engage with. Barrack Obama’s singular contribution to the Durban climate negotiations was to pay tribute to the work of Maathai and press the need for other countries to conserve their forests to help slow the effects of a steadily warming planet.

Kenya’s reforestation project is doing justice and improving the environment not only for their population, but is a beacon to all other nations showing how such a simple, inexpensive project can bring environmental justice to the global population.


Boyer-Rechlin, B. (2010) ‘Women in Forestry: A study of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and Nepal’s Community Forestry Programme,’ Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 25 (9), 69-72

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Kenya – Ensuring Wangari Maathai’s Legacy Branches Out,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 11.22am Thursday 24th November) Available at: <; [Accessed 13th March 2012]

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Barack Obama urges nations to follow lead of Wangari Maathai,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 04.46 pm Wednesday 7th December) Available at: <; [Accessed 13thMarch 2012]

China’s Industrial pollution: Is it just to label them environmental deviants?

Chinese industrial pollution

China’s industrialisation has been exceptionally fast, exceptionally productive (for the country’s financial centres), and exceptionally damaging in its contribution to global environmental issue. In this blog I’ll attempt to gauge whether China’s massive pollution is doing an injustice to all … Continue reading

So what exactly is Environmental Justice?

Before I blog about the issues theory and policy surrounding environmental justice that titles this webpage, I want to explain the process I took in defining environmental justice itself and then to examine what scholars had written about the concept/movement. I felt that comprehending environmental justice was of the utmost importance as by understanding it I can apply not only the aspects of Environmental justice underlined by scholars, but my own ideas, to any contemporary examples of environmental conflicts, protests, policies and degradation. Environmental justice has been defined most simply as “Fair access to a clean, healthy environment, regardless of class, race, or income level, or other status” ( However, by breaking the word justice down environmental justice becomes a broader concept that can incorporate issues and policy on different scales.

Firstly, I will outline the key aspects behind justice itself (Collins English Dictionary)

  • The principle of fairness
  • Fair distribution of benefits and burdens
  • Administration of law in accordance with prescribed and accepted principles
  • Conformity to the law
  • To make full use of one’s ability

These principles can be applied to many of the issues and policies that surround environmental news. Whether it is applying the principle of fairness to issues of indigenous exploitation in the development of their valued lands or the administration of and conformity to law where global environmental policies are passed. The point that interests me most however, is ‘making full use of one’s ability,’ environmentally this point has implications for whole countries as well as individuals as to whether they are doing themselves justice in protecting the environment. These aspects of justice I will attempt to use throughout all of the blogs I write, using them to explain the justice or injustice in several examples.

Scholars have written about Environmental Justice in many ways, but the first thing that stood out for me was the fact that Environmental Justice was a movement, rather than just a concept. The movement began in the United States of America in the 1970’s and was mostly made up of minority groups comprising of people from low socio-economic backgrounds. Mostly the groups looked at tackling precise sources of pollution, always tackling a specific urban problem with the survival of the human residents at the centre of their work. Support of the movement came from redefining the environment to include not only photogenic endangered species or pristine ‘wilderness environments’ but also human health risks associated with industrial pollution.  This has made environmental justice a powerful movement as now it includes both ecocentric and anthropocentric positions. This includes not only urban industrial waste issues, but deforestation and habitat destruction, carbon emissions and its associated consequences most importantly in both local and global scales (Arcioni and Mitchell, 2005).

With this knowledge of environmental justice my future blogs will be example based attaching the aspects of justice to issues, policies and theories in contemporary environmental news. Using the definitions as a framework, I hope to make the concept and the movement of environmental justice clear to see in a range of different contexts.


Arcioni, E. and Mitchell, G. (2005) ‘Environmental Justice in Australia: When the RATS become IRATE’ Environmental Politics 14 (3) p. 363-379