My article for Global Landscape Forum Youth Ambassador Program 2017
For the Love of Peat
My name is Muhammad Malik Ar Rahiem. I am a geologist. In 2014-2015 I was working as hydrologist at peatland restoration project at Katingan, Central Borneo, Indonesia. Those periods change my life forever. Let me tell you a story about that.
Imagine you are in a barbeque party at the back of your house. Somehow the winds are blowing to you and brings you smoke from the stove. You’re coughing because of the smoke, your eyes are hurt and red and tears running down your face. I believe we all have that kind of experience.
But imagine that kinds of situation in a whole city, whole province, almost whole island are covered in smoke. That’s what life is like for Central Borneo, Indonesia, during the huge forest fire in 2014-2015. I was there during the moment. I saw how degraded and burned peatland has devastating my people. There’s haze everywhere, nowhere to hide, planes could not land nor fly, respiratory diseases increased, people were suffered.
Burned peatland was the main reason the forest fire could be so huge. Peatland that is supposed to be wet and inundated are drained to be converted to (mostly) palm oil plantation. As their content are mostly organic material, they are easily burnt if the moisture is low. During the drought season, as the water level are already drained for agricultural purpose, peatland are prone to fire. People even intentionally burned the land to open new agriculture land. This happen in a massive scale so that huge forest fire occurred, then there goes all the CO2 emission to the atmosphere.
Peatland contains a lot of carbon. We only have 3% of peatland in our land surface but they contain more carbon than the entire forest biomass of the world. Converting our peatland is the fastest way to store up CO2 to the atmosphere
It never come up to me before to work in a peatland. I dont even have any idea what is peatland when I was a bachelor student. But then working on peatland has open my eyes of one major climate change challenge in my country Indonesia.
One third of my country carbon emission is coming from degraded peatland and Indonesia is the 6thlargest carbon emitter in the world. Our government has set Peat Restoration Agency with the mission to re-wet 2 million hectares of degraded peatland until 2020. I want to have contribution to that effort. For that reason, I am now pursuing my master degree in Tropical Hydrogeology and Environmental Engineering at TU Darmstadt Germany. I want to learn and conduct research in peat hydrology and methods on peat restoration. This two aspects are very crucial for the effort of peat restoration in Indonesia.
Half of world population are below 30 years, the damage caused by degraded peatland will be felt in our lifetime. We will have the impact of CO2 level rising, sea water level rising, the melts of glacier, the extinction of corals due to the ocean acidity and lots of species following, more extreme weather, and every disaster that has been told to us. I want to take part in a campaign to support peatland restoration as I believe that peatland restoration is one of major issue regarding climate change, especially in my country.
When I joined GLF Jakarta 2017, I was impressed and inspired by GLF communities because in GLF people share their thought and action. People writes inspirational story about landscape restoration success and inspire another to follow and perform their own landscape action. In GLF, scientific words are rewritten so that people can easily followed the latest update of landscape restoration science. It is brilliant.
Inspired by GLF, I started my own blog and write about what I was doing as my landscape restoration action. I wrote about geology and climate change, as well as geology and peatland (malikarrahiem.wordpress.com). I also made my own video about my climate action that I submitted to COP23 (bit.ly/malik-unfcccc). I love using twitter and facebook and follow the official account of internationally recognized organizations in landscape restoration and climate change because they share a lot of interesting stuff about their effort to save the planet and gives us hope that we can do this, that we can have our planet better.
As our population grows, so the pressure to the planet. Demands of foods are continue to rise, peatland will always be threatened because we see the land as an asset to produce food without seeing its environmental role as carbon pool. This year, scientist has found the biggest tropical peatland in the tropical jungle of Republic Democratic Congo. We have not touched it yet, but there must be someone who is already had idea to convert that pristine area for agricultural purpose. We need to protect all the yet unharmed peatland and we must restore the one that already degraded. That is a must because the degradation of peatland will bring nothing but suffer for our planet.
Thats my story about how peatland has changed my life, and here I am, sitting in my couch applying for the youth ambassador program of GLF to bring the voice of peatland conservation and restoration.
Peatland has been storing Earth’s carbon for thousands of year and we need to protect it to keep our carbon cycle balanced. To end this application, I want to quote James Balog, the actor of Chasing Ice, the one I admire so much for his action documenting the glacier melts.
When my daughters, Simone and Emily, look at me 25 or 30 years from now and say “what were you doing when, when global warming was happening and you guys knew what was coming down the road?” I want to be able to say, “guys, I was doing everything I knew how to do.”
I want to do that to, I want to be able to say, I was doing everything I knew how to do.