It is obvious to even the most casual visitor that Indonesia has serious environmental problems. Rivers are filthy and clogged. Sometimes the air is unbreathable. City streets are lined with litter. On a global scale, Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon. Much of this pollution is caused by deforestation. Indonesia has the world’s highest rates of forest loss and the fastest rate of mangrove destruction. The problems are not restricted to the land: many maritime areas have been over-fished and coral systems are threatened by bleaching, blasting, higher temperatures and water pollution caused by plastics, sewage, oil and poisonous chemicals. Indonesia has almost one quarter of the world’s mangrove forests, but has lost 40 per cent of its mangroves.
Of course environmental problems are never simply environmental: they always involve economic, political and social forces. While around one-half of the Indonesian population is still vulnerable, overall the country is becoming wealthier. This means more consumption: demand for more power, more vehicles, more houses, more roads and improved infrastructure is rising at unprecedented speed. The consumption of fossil fuels is increasing rapidly, and Indonesia’s tropical forests are being cut and burned to allow massive areas to be devoted to palm oil plantations. Indonesia’s macroeconomic policies encourage resource depletion over sustainable use. As the nation has grown economically, so has the negative impact on the environment.
High school students in Surabaya planting trees near their campus on Hari Air (Water Day) - Credit: Danau Tanu
Despite some good leadership by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President Joko Widodo, decentralisation since 1998 has not been environment-friendly. Much of the damage is illegal and under-reported. Corruption, greed and competition for resources at sub-national level have all contributed to the problems.
The government has acknowledged that the level of environmental knowledge and awareness among the population is low. It has made serious commitments to the provision of environmental education (EE), or education for sustainability. It joined in the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD 2005-2014), which recommended that ‘sustainability be embedded across the curriculum’ with an emphasis on ‘society, environment and economy with culture as an underlying dimension’.
The government has also made legal commitments to provide environmental education, such as Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management. But Indonesia did not do well in its ‘report card’ for the seventh Millennium Development Goal, promoting environmental sustainability. Indonesia needs to move forward fast in environmental education.
High school students at the wet market collecting green waste for composting - Credit: Danau Tanu
Against this background, this edition of Inside Indonesia reports some of the results of a research project funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant. Researchers at The University of Western Australia, University of Newcastle and Universitas Indonesia investigated what was happening in the field of environmental education in a range of different contexts, including in schools and universities, among farmers and activists, and in protected areas, such as national parks.
In the school context, Kelsie Prabawa-Sear reports on the implementation of the Adiwiyata Program, the government’s main EE program, in Surabaya. While the Surabaya administration under Ibu Risma has arguably the nation’s most effective greening program, the burden of change is being left to schoolchildren.
Lyn Parker examines the curriculum and textbooks and finds them disappointing: they do not equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to understand and take action on complex and systemic social-and-environmental problems. EE is not embedded across the curriculum and teachers need training in EE.
Greg Acciaioli and Suraya Afiff examine the effectiveness of the Pride program, of an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Central Kalimantan. They find that while the social marketing approach can be transformative for individuals, ultimately it leaves the big structural forces, such as continual economic growth, intact. In turn, the palm oil industry is left untouched.
High school students in Surabaya making compost afterschool - Credit: Danau Tanu
Mardha Tillah and Fahmi Rahman examine a campaign of an environmental NGO in rural Bogor. The REPLING program shows the potential of EE to unite urban and rural youth in a campaign to secure villagers’ land rights against the predations of an ecotourism project.
Yunita Winarto, Rhino Ariefiansyah and the late Kees Stigter report on rice farmers’ variable responses to an agrometeorological scenario that warned of the long El Niño drought in 2015. They found that learning about changing environmental conditions is not enough: farmers need the support of their fellow farmers.
Muki T. Wicaksono et al compare the environmental knowledge and awareness of farmers in Indramayu, West Java with those in East Lombok. Farmers who have been learning how to observe and record the ecosystem in their fields for longer are better able to identify problems, such as the overuse of pesticides, and opportunities.
This edition makes a convincing case that Indonesia urgently needs to focus on environmental education lest its beauty and biodiversity disappear forever.
Lyn Parker (email@example.com) is an anthropologist and researcher of Indonesia. She teaches at The University of Western Australia. The research reported on in this article was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP130100051).