Global warming is after much arguing accepted as a fact by a majority of citizens and scientists. Ordinary people can see signs here and there of it’s coming. I wrote earlier about the date of the cherry blossom in the Kyoto area in Japan over centuries. We get continuous news about the shrinking arctic ice cover. In Sweden the arrival of migratory birds and the first spring flowers have been recorded for a hundred years or more, and there is a tendency towards earlier arrivals. Another phenomenon is stronger winds, which can be expressed for example as the number of days per month with no or very faint wind. (I am not aware of any observations of a similar kind in Indonesia, but with increasing frequency I hear people saying “it is very hard to predict the weather nowadays”.)

We all know that the identified cause of these changes is emission of so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In December 2015 an international agreement was entered into in Paris, aiming at international cooperation to reduce the emission of such gases. USA joined. President Trump has wanted to back out of this agreement, although we are informed that there are interests working on convincing him to reconsider. In May 2016, a year ago, Mr Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris agreement. (People who are well informed about these matters explain that a cancellation is not necessary since the agreement is voluntary and non-binding and each signatory member country sets its own targets anyway.) A few days ago, the WH spokesperson Mr Spicer replied to questions from journalists saying that the reason why the President is hanging on  is that he is seeking advice from his team is to get options, and then he’ll pursue the best one. So let’s hope.

Right now and until 18 May, another UN Conference on Climate is taking place in Bonn. This time the task is to draw up rules for how the Paris agreement of 2015 is to be translated into action. The World Resource Institute WRI says “Parties need to know that climate action efforts will be measured, communicated and counted in ways that create a level playing field and build trust to reinforce the sense of common purpose.” So an element of peer pressure is foreseen – and probably necessary. The aggregate national targets so far are not enough to stay below the 2 degrees limit that has been estimated as required to stave off the worst effects of changing climate. Targets need to be reviewed, to start with. “The global stocktake” is the new buzzword here – how to assess what is really done and accomplished, first nationally and then accumulated on global level – and it does not take much imagination to see that getting this done with all members aboard must be a very complicated undertaking. However, it has to be tackled. Our future depends on it. By now that seems clear beyond reasonable doubt.


The Rich and the Poor is something people have talked about ever since. The educated and the uneducated have been added among many  types of contrasting “identities” that we seem to enjoy identifying.

In a lecture on May 7 1959 (58 years ago) the British scientist C P Snow made the unsettling claim that intellectual life, in Europe at least,  was split into “two cultures”: sciences and humanities, in a way he saw as harmful. Snow’s concern was that scientists knew too little about humanities – and people of the humanities knew too little about the progress of science. This split, and difference in outlook, would cause a hindrance to human progress. The two sides had difficulties in understanding each other. We need a common culture to work together. – A very vivid debate followed. I am not qualified to summarise and comment, but it seems that the passage of time has reduced the gap a bit, certainly to everyone’s advantage.

My point here is that we have for many years been living and working under the distorting influence of another gap – that between economists and “environmentalists”. (Others talk about a divorce of economic science from moral philosophy, but I stay away from “moral”, for now at least.) Decisions on land allocation, forest exploitation, and area-based production, made by investors and administrators, have been based on calculations where environmental, factors that cannot easily be expressed in monetary terms, are not included. The result is inevitably decisions in favour of financial returns to begin with, and in particular returns that will materialise early. And those decisions, through subsequent consequences here and there, have a very concrete impact on our daily life, and on the resources themselves, and our environment.

This is nothing new. Attempts have been made for long to come to grips with the “biased” procedure for bringing out data and making decisions. Still we seem to be at the same stage we were, for example in the eighties, when I was working with investments in forestry funded by the Asian Development Bank in Manila. At that time, the Environmental Impact Assessment was added to the “tool box” of analysts, but still as an “imponderable” that could not really be brought into the economist’s summary,  and to what extent this tool has affected  final decision making is not clear to me. (It has helped enhancing awareness among decision makers though, no doubt about that, and it has helped to open fora for debate.)

On April 21 I wrote about the Value of Nature: in the economic calculations Nature is made invisible. Therefore, we loose it. The discussion has continued.

At the Forest Asia Summit in May 2014 here in Jakarta, Mark Burrows, a banker with Credit Suisse, made a presentation I thought was “different” and very important – because the subject is so seldom touched –  where he “drew attention to a ‘perception gap,’ noting that the public sector, private sector, and civil society often use sector-specific jargon to describe the same problems. He called for political will to correct market failures by rethinking financial systems and holistic approaches to green growth. He emphasized green bonds as a way to favour certain types of investments. He recommended standards, third-party verification of standards, and incentives to encourage investment in sustainable landscapes”. (From a IISD page). (I wish I could get hold of his paper.) Burrow pointed out that the global financial system is the most elaborate and complicated concept that mankind has ever created, and as such impossible to understand and control in its entirety. My impression was that he was worried that we are getting misled by the complexities. – I am not aware of any reactions in the wake of Mr Burrow’s speech. But the exploration has continued; for example the concept Gross Environmental Product GEP has been introduced. How has it been applied?

Perhaps the question should be: what does economics have to do with it?

To look back a bit again: in 1973 E F Schumacher published Small is beautiful – Economics as if People mattered. Schumacher wrote: Economics, which Lord Keynes had hoped would settle down as a modest occupation similar to dentistry, suddenly becomes the most important subject of all. 

A commentator (Nom de Plume Elena) wrote: “The conception of economics as a free-standing, autonomous discipline and sphere of activity, and even as an end unto itself, is one of the costliest fallacies of our age.” This is a rather terse verdict – all the more unnerving when we consider how much economic calculus seems to guide decision making. (Note that Alfred Nobel – and his contemporaries – did not think of Economics as a science relevant to his purposes in his testament in 1901. The Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) established the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, in 1968, a sign of an important change in social life and thinking.)

The work goes on. A team of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions has produced a study that makes the case for a ‘new school’ of ecosystem valuation practice, allowing for the weighing of multiple values in making land-use decisions.

“Ecosystem valuation can be difficult and controversial, and classical economists have often been criticized for trying to put a price tag on nature,” says Dr. Sander Jacobs, a researcher at the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and a lead author of the study. What is new? I will get back to this.

Is there another way but putting a price tag? A way that economists and environmentalists can agree on?


Here some ideas from Pinterest. I don’t know how useful they are, but some of them are at least amusing. Use of natural resources and conflict go together, that is just inevitable, and we know it has always been so.

Land conflict is an ever-present feature in forest management and natural resource protection, everywhere and certainly in Indonesia. A growing rural population and a growing awareness of the increasing value of land are driving factors. Encroachment into areas of natural forest and into forest plantations can nowadays be monitored from year to year through satellites – and recently by drone. But monitoring is just a first step – the big job is how to resolve conflicts where official government ownership stands against traditional or community ownership, or traditional use over long periods. Sweden and Indonesia can provide illuminating illustrations as the ownership picture is very different. Indonesia has comparatively small areas of privately owned forest with state ownership dominating. The state land is often leased to private operators, who are then tasked with protecting the resource and dealing with the conflicts – referring to government regulations and government institution decisions. The communities may feel unfairly dealt with, and the process drags on.


On 12 April I wrote about an initiative in NZ to declare a river a Juridical Person – the idea was to assure management of the river and its valley in the best interest of the River Itself.  Just the other day I saw in Yes! Magazine about an attorney in NY who has for years been filing lawsuits on behalf of four chimpanzees named Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo.

If you are interested in legal wrangling you can check here how the argumentation has progressed:

The lawsuits are based on habeas corpus, a legal doctrine that prevents an accuser from imprisoning someone without bringing charges against them in a court of law. For legal purposes the chimps are intelligent “persons,” he argues, they should be declared as Juridical Persons, and they should not be kept in cages!

I find his premise – and the inevitable conclusion – entirely reasonable. Especially after a brief encounter some years ago, on the perimeter of Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra, Indonesia, with a quite big male Orangutan. Both of us “froze” instantly on the trail, examining each other from head to toe. We looked into each other’s eyes for a good while, and he did not shun away. I cannot know what moved in his mind, but I could see that he was big and heavy and extraordinarily fit.  Still my most lasting impression of him was a bent back, a notion of something I would best call deep sorrow, or a feeling of powerlessness and incapacity, as if drained of all hope.

For my part, I will never be the same, that’s for sure.

Who speaks for him and for his nation? Well, there are plenty of NGOs and activists, and there are laws and rules. That is welcome, but I believe there is a need for going back for a fresh look at the conceptual and legal framework – and from there to look for a new approach for how to take care of, rather than manage, nature including wildlife. Only governments can do that, but governments need opinions to act on. So there is a job for all of us.

In collaboration with NGOs active in Indonesia we can on request organise field visits, as an extension of your nature travel, for example to North Sumatra or Central Kalimantan, to see Orangutans in the forest and learn about the work being done.