Burst of carbon from Indonesian peat fires – and India coal mania

Burst of carbon from Indonesian peat fires – and India coal mania  

30 September 2011

published by www.indymedia.org.au

Indonesia — While we worry about the economy here, developments in Indonesia and India could change the climate for generations.

Nobody is reporting on this. The peat fires in Sumatra are blanketing Singapore and Malaysia. None can put them out. Huge carbon emissions. Last time, these fires in 1997 doubled the rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Indonesia also has more tropical forests burning this year than any other country, more than the Amazon. But there is no campaign to save it.

And Indonesia is the world’s largest shipper of thermal coal for power plants. It goes all over Asia, but the big Indian conglomerate Tata just bought into Indonesian coal producers.

There has been a mania of coal plant construction in India, with 173 new projects approved this past year alone.

Some projects have stopped in mid-construction for lack of coal. And coal prices went way up.

Banks in India have lent fantastic amounts for this coal/electricity rush, and some could go bankrupt.

Peasants and fisherpeople pushed off their land for some of the world’s largest coal-fired plants have protested. Several were shot dead by police. Wetlands are being trashed. Water shortages a huge issue.

It’s time to look at what is happening in Asia. We’ll feel the weird weather when it comes. All the species will feel the new heat.

Will Indonesia drive us into new record heat years?

I interview Dr. Florian Siegert of Munich, and Indian electricity expert Shankar Sharma.

Some key points from this program:

* peat fires in Indonesia in 1997 DOUBLED the rate of greenhouse gas emissions measured at Mauna Loa that year.

* this may have pushed 1998 as the super hot year (my opinion, based on various research and interviews)

* scientists estimate peat fire emissions in 1997 from Indonesia contributed more greenhouse gas emissions (17% or more of global human-made totals) – more than all cars that year.

* now the peat fires are big again, with smoke blowing over Singapore and Malaysia (as they did in 1997).

We will get another carbon blast.

Dr. Siegert’s satellite measurements also show other tropical forest fires in Indonesia are the largest in the world – bigger than the Amazon. More carbon, and no one is talking about saving these forests.

Siegert says a misplaced desire for “green” biofuel in Europe is driving both deforestation and burning of peat lands, to install more palm oil plantations. He says palm oil from peat lands produces 5 to 10 times the actual greenhouse gas emissions of the fuel when burned in cars or power stations (e.g. in Holland). A dangerous scam.

In the second half of the program, I interview a well-known Indian engineer and power expert, Shankar Sharma, about the Indian electric system. Here are a few quick conclusions, from the Sharma interview, and my own research:

* India has approved 173 power stations this year alone.

* displaced peasants and fisherpeople are protesting in the thousands against new coal plants. Several have been shot dead by police.

* the coal binge threatens fresh water supplies in India, already a very scarce resource

* to off-set this, coastal state governments and private enterprise are building giant coal plants (4 Gigawatts and above) along the Eastern coast of India, in Andhra Pradesh. Their plan is to use electricity to run desalination plants – to provide cooling water for the coal. More carbon wasted.

* the Indian giant conglomerate Tata has purchased a one third interest in the largest private coal miner in Indonesia

* Indonesia raised coal prices, so one Indian coal mega-project has stopped dead, and another is running only partly

* India has long since passed the Peak Coal point from its own resources

* so they buy from Indonesia, the world’s largest shipper (by ship) of thermal coal (for power plants). Indonesia is the world’s second largest coal exporter, period.

* the Indonesian government plans to increase their own coal usage tremendously, planning or building 35 new coal plants. They also want to provide 55% of all fossil fuel needs from coal, by building coal liquification plants. Horrible. They have no plan to save the planet, just a plan to burn it down.

While we have our eyes on the economic problems of the West, events in Indonesia, combined with the Indian coal rush, could sink the climate.

My guest, Shankar Sharma, says India has plenty of renewable resources to leave coal behind. Available solar energy alone could power the country, plus they have some geothermal, and tons of tidal power possible.

Sharma says the model of huge power stations can never serve the diverse peoples of India. They need small renewable power sources.

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