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Forsaking the Next - The fight for our future in the forests of Papua

Sarah Fretwell | Papua New Guinea / West Papua

The view from the only road for hundreds of miles. Just a few years ago, the only way to get here was on foot. Now a Malaysian logging company has built a “free” road on private land to access high-value timber in the area. Local clans who have struck deals with the company are paid the value of the timber, as estimated by the company, once the cost of removing the trees is estimated and deducted by the company. In most areas, after the primary rainforest is logged, mining and plantation operations come in. With rampant corruption and little ability to enforce forestry laws, Papua’s rainforest is being changed forever. “White Stone” (the white triangle in the hillside) is the highest homestead encampment in the area and the end of the road.

In the island forests of New Guinea, clans are trapped as their ancestral land is being sold out from under them in a massive land grab for timber, palm oil, and mining.

Papua New Guinea and Indonesian controlled West Papua, contain some of the last swaths of intact rain forests left on earth. They store higher amounts of carbon than other forests, and their health is critical to mitigating climate change.

Communities are stuck between the promise of a better future or leaving the forests intact. With a need to improve their quality of life and resources to sell, families and clans are deeply divided over the best path forward.

In these "Wild West" economies, greed and corruption make managing the rampant growth difficult - at best. Governments and International conglomerates profit at the expense of tribes, the environment, and the health of the planet.

With immense respect for their ancestors and land, Papuans also hold a special reverence for "the next", the following generations who will inherit the successes and failures of globalization.

As I approached her family land, Ruth held up her hand to stop me. She needed to ask the spirits permission before I set foot on the land. After she announced my arrival in her native tongue I asked her to translate, "You come in peace as a friend from this far away land, you also have your own tribe, your own spirits, your own ancestors, but you come in peace, so I welcome you here, Sarah, and nothing will befall you while you are here on this land."

These ancient lands and communities are under immense pressure as indigenous people are forced to choose between the promise of a "better future" (development) or economic instability (leaving the forests and resources intact). Ruth told me, "here we do not inherit bank accounts we inherit the land". Land that many of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought for, it is the only inheritance for the next generation, and it is being sold out from under "the next" for short term gain, reorganizing society in a perilous experiment for tribes and the planet.

In Papua New Guinea government is brokering ninety-nine-year leases with corporations (mostly foreign), large swaths are being sold out from under tribes as cheap timber, and the land is being cleared for industrial agriculture such as palm oil.

On the other side of the border in West Papua (now under the forced control of Indonesia), large Palm Oil plantations and mining operations are already actively polluting wells and the ocean. Melanesians have lost fundamental human rights, and many tribes have been pushed from their land. Everyone lives in fear of the brutality of the Indonesian government and spies.

The parallels between these two countries on the same island are striking. They "share" cultural decimation, destruction of entire ecosystems, natural resource extraction, violence, and the oppression of minority communities. In some instances, conservation-based development allows the landscape to stay while locals can also profit from things like beekeeping and cacao, utilizing the skills they already have and preserving their way of life. In other cases, they are silently wiped out.

In the middle of remote jungles, people asked me if I had heard of climate change and told me how the seasonal patterns and rains are shifting. It is harder to grow crops, find food and traditional medicine. They also told me they want their children to go to school, and they want a better life. I believe there has to be a better way where people and the planet can thrive alongside the business. Sharing the valuable lessons of these forests and the wisdom of these people can help ensure a sustainable future for all.  


Helping shift the bottom line and global warming start​s​ with you. Calculate your carbon footprint in 2 clicks - ecosphere.plus/carbon-footprint-calculator/

Educate yourself about palm oil - thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/conservation-and-development/can-palm-oil-deforestation-be-stopped

Learn the simple science of Global Warming and learn how your decisions as an individual and consumer are a key to the solution - globalwarmingprimer.com/primer/

Blue Earth Alliance



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