As a child, Matt Aman grew up in the lush tropical lowland rain forest of Sumatra. Tigers padded through
the underbrush, rarely seen and silent as shadows. "It made my skin prickle," the indigenous leader
recalled recently as he sat on the floor of a stick hut surrounded by fellow villagers.
"When I was young, it was easy to find the mouse deer, monitor lizard, and wild pigs," Aman said.
The birds were majestic, too, he said, as he nodded and lit a cigarette. They filled the forest with a chorus
of coos and trills that woke the Kubu village every morning. "We never hear those birds anymore," Aman
It is easy to see why. The storybook forest of his youth, the great green riot of reeds and vines, the
cathedral-like thickets of fruit and hardwood trees — all of it is gone. In its place, for mile after
monotonous mile, is a rolling carpet of palm trees, not the kind that sway in the wind at Waikiki, but a
shorter, pudgier variety — the oil palm — that like corn and soybeans is rapidly becoming one of the
world's major sources of biofuel.
Not long ago,
were billed as a green dream come true, a way to burn less fossil fuel and shrink
our carbon footprint. But today, mounting evidence indicates that producing biofuels — particularly those
derived from food crops such as corn and oil palm — may be doing considerably more harm to the planet
than good, actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions and driving up food prices worldwide.
Some of the most devastating costs of the biofuel revolution are on display in
, where massive
clearing of tropical
for oil palm plantations has caused staggering environmental damage and
tremendous loss of biodiversity. Only the Amazon and Africa's Congo basin harbor more tropical forests
than Indonesia, but the reality today is that all three regions are seeing their rain forests disappear at an
alarming rate. And in the Amazon and Indonesia, growing world demand for food and biofuel is now
driving much of the damage.
A flurry of scientific field work and environmental reports have linked the spread of oil palm plantations
in Indonesia to the decimation of rain forests, increased conflict between logging and oil palm interests
and rural and indigenous people, and massive CO2 emissions through logging, burning, and the draining
of carbon-rich peat lands. And most of the trouble, as I learned on a recent visit, is playing out in the