Professor Mikinori Kuwata (Postdoc 2009-2013 with Prof. Scot Martin, SEAS) of the Earth Observatory in Singapore gave a talk on Haze and Deforestation in Indonesia to a group of alumni and friends, the first event by the newly elected HUAAS committee.
Prof. Kuwata gave an overview of the research available on haze and health, and the current understanding of the haze from peatland fires, which is unique to Indonesia. Despite the many incidents of smog and haze worldwide, there are few studies on their impact on human health. The few reports available show a troubling trend of increased mortality with pollution.
Prof. Kuwata also explained the economics side of the haze issue. Oil palm is 4-5 times more productive than other oil crops current being farmed, such as soybean and rapeseed. Moreover, oil palm is an easy crop to grow, giving an annual harvest while needing little weeding and one application of fertilizer each year. Many different products sold worldwide use oil palm in their manufacturing, such that it is impossible for Singapore to boycott any one product to have an effect. This is unlike the situation in Brazil, where the Amazon rainforest was razed in part to raise cattle. Consumer pressure on a large buyer, such as McDonald’s, was sufficient to reduce demand for Brazilian beef, and thus reduce the amount of deforestation.
Prof. Kuwata also explained his novel findings measuring the haze, and introduced his collaborators, many of whom have trained or worked at Harvard. It will take a few more years before the research that him and his collaborators are doing is ready for publication.
Majority of the funding for the Indonesian haze research comes from Japan, although the EU is getting more interested in the issue. This is due to the massive carbon emissions from the Indonesian haze, which is wiping out any hard-earned gains in reducing carbon emissions in Japan and the EU.
The audience in attendance was surprisingly well-informed about many issues, asking detailed questions about PM10 and PM2.5 measurements, and questioning the relationships between small farmers and large conglomerates. Attendees without a technical background were able to follow the entire exchange, and found the session informative and fun.
When asked how he decided to become a haze researcher, Prof Kuwata explained that he was a chemistry major in college. Because he did not want to spend all his time indoors, he chose to go into atmospheric chemistry, which requires field work. The Indonesian haze was a natural topic of interest when he was thinking about what to study in Singapore.