environment

Tahayul atau Peka?

Ternyata bangsa Indonesia masih saja lebih terpatok pada mitos-mitos kesaktian gaib ketimbang pada kenyataan. Contohnya, kini kita begitu sibuk mengkultuskan Mbah Maridjan, sampai-sampai jadi bahan laporan CNN. Padahal gara-gara beliau tidak mau turun gunung tak sedikit orang lain tewas, termasuk wartawan dan dokter yang jadi korban ketika berusaha membujuknya turun gunung. Contoh lain, kita ramai-ramai membuat isyu bahwa bencana ini adalah kutukan terhadap SBY – seolah kalau jadi presiden bisa menghentikan gerakan lempengan geologis.

Kalau kita perhatikan contoh pertama tadi, sepertinya meskipun sudah berada pada abad ke-21 dengan segala ilmu pengetahuan yang canggih, kita tetap terobsesi dengan ‘orang pinter’ yang bisa mengatur segala dengan kekuatan gaib. Sudah rutin kalau bikin acara harus setor dulu ke pawang hujan. Walaupun belum pernah terbukti bisa (dan juga belum pernah terbukti tidak bisa)  banyak pelaku yang  panen duit dengan bisnis ‘atur alam’. Apa perlu kita bikin lomba pawang? Atau mungkin sistem perizinan pawang? Yang terkahir ini pasti bisa jadi posisi ‘basah’, bayangkan nanti bahkan bisa ada “Menteri Perpawangan”.

Jujur kata, orang-orang seperti pawang dan ‘juru kunci’ punya makna dan fungsi yang penting dalam masyarakat tradisional. Mereka mengingatkan kita agar menghormati alam sebagai sumber kehidupan kita, agar kita bertindak lebih bijak terhadap alam. Mereka sebenarnya mediator, bukanlah diktator.

Lewat sejarah lisan, umpamanya, para rato di Sumba bisa tahu tanda-tanda dan waktu yang baik untuk bercocok tanam, pemali-pemali yang berdampak langsung pada survival suku masing-masing. Atau para Pekaseh subak di Bali pun bisa mengatur musi tanam seantero wilayah subak sesuai dengan musim dan pembagian air dengan patokan siklus odalan-odalan di pura dan dugul subak.

Manusia Indonesia modern memang paradoks, berpendidikan namun tidak berpikir panjang tentang apa yang mereka lakukan terhadap alam, seenaknya merusak demi kepentingan sendiri. Di lain kesempatan, manusia yang sama percaya dan terkesima dengan segala yang berbau klenik.

Tetapi sebelum kita ramai-ramai mengupayakan arus balik masyarakat modern kembali berkiblat kepada para pawang, dukun, dan sebagainya, sebaiknya kita ingat bahwa sistem-sistem tradisional tidak semua sempurna. Tidak sedikit juga dari warisan kepercayaan yang bodoh pula, bahkan tidak sedikit yang berpeluang untuk disalahgunakan. Pada kasus Mbah Maridjan saja, yang sosoknya terkenal “bersih” dalam pengabdiannya, ada ‘daerah kelabu’: mau saja membintangi iklan Extra Joss, meskipun hasil dibagikan ke masyarakat desanya. Mungkin bagi Mbah Maridjan tujuannya jernih, murni untuk membantu warga desanya. Namun perlu juga kita pertanyakan mengapa pihak Extra Joss melihat bahwa yang gaib itupun bisa jadi komoditas, atau minimal dikaitkan dengan sales?

Kenapa begitu sulit kita memakai akal sehat? Perlu sekali kita memilah antara kepekaan terhadap alam dan sikap ‘sok ngatur’ alam. Para “juru kunci” bertugas mengkomunikasikan pada masyarakat apa yang mereka hayati tentang alam sekitar. Tapi kita malah berusaha membalikkan arah komunikasi dengan mencoba menyuruh alam menuruti kehendak kita. Lewat jasa para pawang, hujan disuruh berhenti, lahar dari letusan gunung berapi diharapkan berbelok. Kalau sang pawang “berhasil” dibilang sakti, kalau “gagal” dibilang “kurang sakti”. Tak jauh beda dengan dagelan.

Yakin atau tidak pada mereka, ada atau tidak ada pawang, juru kunci dan sebagainya, toh bencana alam tetap akan terjadi dan tetap berpotensi mengakibatkan korban. Waktu Merapi meletus zaman dulu, apa tidak mungkin juru kuncinya lebih “sakti” lagi dibanding Mbah Maridjan? Dan ternyata tetap saja meletus.

Alam bergerak dengan kekuatannya sendiri. Bukan rahasia lagi kalau melawan kekuatan-kekuatan itu ada konsekuensinya. Anak kecil pun tahu bila dia melempar batu keatas (di bumi ini) sudah barang pasti batu itu akan jatuh.

Tapi kita tetap merasa segala sesuatu yang terjadi di alam itu adalah akibat perbuatan kita. Mungkin ini runut juga dengan keyakinan bahwa kita bisa atur

Alam dengan berbagai upacara, tapi kalau ada orang melakukan  kesalahan menurut kerpercayaan kita, maka dia akan kena bencana. Dari pandangan itu loncatan ke pemikiran berikutnya mudah: yaitu bahwa bila seseorang bertindak salah terhadap diri atau suku kita, alam akan membalasnya. Bahwa ‘kesalahan’ tersebut pasti merupakan suatu penilaian yang sangat subjektif rupanya tidak mengganggu hati nurani!

Jangankan masyarakat biasa, pada tahun 2010 bahkan ada menteri kabinet dan anggota DPR yang belum sadar bahwa terjadinya bencana-bencana alam bukan berarti kutukan karena pelanggaran moral, melainkan sesuatu yg ‘alami’.

Yang terkutuk adalah cara kita menghadapinya: para geolog sudah memberi peringatan tsunami, kurang ditanggapi oleh aparat setempat. Kita menggundulkan hutan lalu bengong kalau kena banjir lumpur. Ketika bencana terjadi, kita kurang siap; bantuan terlambat, lagipula tidak effektif. Kita hidup diatas pertemuan lempengan geologis yang termasuk paling labil di bumi namun tidak peka akan kekuatan alam; malah kita mencoba mengaturnya dengan gaib. Kita sudah kehilangan jalan tengah antara dua ekstrim: di satu pihak menelan mentah setiap tahayul yang muncul, di lain pihak membuang segala kebijaksanaan dan pengetahuan yang kita warisi dari leluhur sendiri.

Rio Helmi, Bali


Bali’s Burden – Sharing the Load

These days when I look out my office window in the small town of Ubud, inanely voted ‘best city in Asia’ by Condé Nast, I can only see a kilometer long traffic jam. And even when I am not watching I hear engines rumbling and the sharp trill of the whistles of locally appointed, sarong-clad parking attendants frantically trying to extract order out of chaos.

This is my street, it has been for 25 years. But it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the quiet backstreet I moved to in the 1980s. This isn’t a rant about traffic. At least not just traffic. It’s beyond that. What has happened on this island is that it has gone past its carrying capacity in terms of infrastructure, environment, and socio-cultural balance. That’s longhand for “a mess”.

There are all kinds of startling examples. You know all those villas you see with beautiful rice field views? On average 750 hectares of rice fields a year are converted into urban sprawl since the 1980s, not a little of it going to tourism related projects. Tellingly, when I googled ‘rice field conversion in Bali’ up high on the list were sites selling villas.

Need more elbow room? Currently the island’s population stands at 3.9 million. In 1978 when I first moved to Ubud permanently the population was just a bit more than half of that – around 2.4 million. Since the 1960s more than 200,000 Balinese have ‘transmigrated’ under an official World Bank sponsored program, leaving their island to carve out a new existence on ‘outer’ islands. Ironically, now there are more than double that number of migrant workers have arrived in Bali from other islands to compete for jobs here.

The air has become polluted – there is a permanent ring of brown smog around the island that is plain to see when you arrive by air. Water is fast becoming a flash point – per room the average hotel uses around 300 liters of water daily, five times as much water as the average Balinese family of 4-5 people. Do the math’s: there are upward of 80,000 hotel rooms on the island today, four times the number recommended by a government survey done years ago.

Crime, not to be left behind, has also increased. In 2009 there were 10,453 cases reported, up 22% from the year before. Bearing in mind that in countries like Indonesia there are huge numbers of unreported crime, that is a pretty sobering statistic for so-called paradise. Recently in the area around Ubud, where my children grew up running wild in the rice fields, there have been two young children kidnapped.

I really didn’t want to get into so much detail, or turn this into a simple litany. But sometimes detail helps to visualize the change. So with these enormous changes and chaotic development why isn’t there more being done? Sure one can’t stop time and change, but surely one can minimize the damage? Is it really beyond our capacity to alleviate the situation?

In the 1990s, a group of friends and I started an environmental foundation. We were concerned about rubbish disposal as well as water pollution and overexploitation. A certain high ranking, national-level tourism official at the time grumbled at me to the effect that Bali didn’t belong to locals but to the tourism industry. As those were Suharto days there really wasn’t much else to do but swallow, though we did our best to stand up against what we considered outrageous projects.

What was already clear then was that Bali is an economic powerhouse, extremely lucrative to those who were well positioned. Would there ever be a “just king” entering to the rescue? Then came the heady early days of Reformasi in 1998 when Suharto first fell. Suddenly the catch word was “empowerment”. But since then we have fallen back into a similar pattern of apathy and pessimism.

A couple of years ago the current governor, Mangku Pastika, came into office with a slew of promises. One of them was vastly improved public transport to ease the traffic. Now, finally, we hear that in October or November the “SARBAGITA” (an acronym of Denpasar, Badung, Gianyar, Tabanan) bus system is to start trials – on three of the 17 planned routes. Of course I am ready to give it a chance, yet with motorcycle outlets still selling literally thousands of scooters a month I am not overly optimistic. Hopefully this ‘affordable, convenient and comfortable’ system doesn’t experience too many delays.

But let’s not imagine the whole situation in Bali depends on Mangku Pastika’s whim and will. Since ex-President Habibie’s rushed decentralization that was rammed through legislation in 1999, power shifted dramatically from governors down to the next echelon, the bupatis or ‘regents’. What was glossed over was the fact that overnight, throughout Indonesia, the demand for highly trained and educated government officials would go through the roof. Imagine that from having specialized staff manning specific sectors in some 29 provincial governments, suddenly we needed qualified staff to handle similar sectors in more than 500 kabupaten or regency government offices. Eleven years later we are still shorthanded.

Decentralization also meant less supervisory authority over decisions made. Kabupatens became fiefdoms. Ironically it became more desirable in some ways to be Bupati rather than higher ranking governor, and all manner of abuse popped up over the country. Bali was no exception, and nowadays nobody seems to care about strangling the goose that laid the golden egg.

Given the fact that half the court cases brought by President SBY’s government against corrupt officials have ended in acquittals, the prospects for that deterrent mechanism don’t look good.

What we need now is to wake up – we are inches away from hitting the wall. It will take not only inspired leadership and firm political will to push through initially unpopular measures and sacrifice, but also very professional management. There needs to be a real, working partnership between community and government re-instilling civic pride and responsibility. Neither on their own can manage this mess.

OIL LEAKS AND SLIPPERY LEGAL RIGS

It’s a messy business exploiting nature. A lunch conversation with an old friend in the oil business helped put somethings into perspective for me.  I’m not just talking about out there on the rigs. The real mess is how these things are regulated, and the really slippery part is how to hold someone responsible for a major disaster while at the same time pooling all resources available, private and government, to fix the problem.

Having spent a grand total of two hours on an oil rig at sea I don’t really feel that qualified to speak about life there, but it did look like it could be tough but also a bit boring. From what I understand, ideally the personnel are subject to rigorous qualification, and are subject to strict work regulations.

BP had a reputation for being the most demanding in the industry when it came to safety and personnel. Yet from what I gather from people in the industry there were indications of a problem weeks before it came to a head. That’s one issue which is a pretty hot potato to be debated and dissected for years.

But more relevant to right now, is that after the leaks (also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) finally blew out, weeks that passed with futile efforts before the drilling of relief wells began to be even talked about. Meanwhile it is nearly impossible to get an accurate idea of just how much oil has gushed out into a fragile ocean system.

The Deepwater Horizon containment and clean up  is BP’s responsibility. But if the US government moves in completely to take control of the situation, it then technically becomes the US government’s responsibility. This fact I am sure complicates and delays the effort to get the leaks under control, despite denials to the contrary from the relevant parties.

Then there will remain the issue of how to hold BP accountable. This is a difficult one: how does one punish the company with the best safety record? BP shares have already halved in value due to all the flak. But yet they are responsible and no one else. As the oil seeps its way into various Carribean territories, what are the international legal implications? And what happens in countries whose legal and political systems are not as open as the USA’s?

This post isn’t a rant about BP. Here in Indonesia we have an ongoing mudflow in Sidoardjo which has engulfed the homes of more than 60,000 people. Lapindo, the company responsible for the drilling which opened up the first mud ‘volcano’ has somehow exonerated itself. The owner of the company went on to become coordinating minister of welfare and now has presidential ambitions.

Meanwhile so many theories – earthquakes, fault lines etc – have been floated as a smoke screen to distract attention away from the fact that Lapindo simply neglected to use the regulation casing required for the type of drilling they were doing. The Indonesian government has now assumed responsibility for containment and compensation. We won’t even talk about clean up as the containment is failing miserably. Lapindo, incredibly, is for the most part off the hook.

Just a week ago the Indian courts handed down 2 year sentences to seven Union Carbide officers considered responsible for the disaster at their Bhopal plant that instantly killed 4000 people, and fatally poisoned many more. Of the seven, one is dead, and another, an American, is living in very comfortable retirement in the US. Although arguably different as this was the manufacturing sector, it was a deadly environmental disaster.

What we perhaps need in these cases is for the intervention of an international tribunal. Destroying the environment uncontrollably on a massive, unprecedented scale, displacing scores of thousands of people, causing the deaths of thousands of people – don’t these merit the arm of an impartial law which reaches across borders of nations and cronyism, and the vaguaries of extradition rules? Is there not a quantitative factor at which point gross negligence becomes a crime against the planet, against humanity?