Trucks coughed out black smoke, their beds brimming over with seven-ton loads of palm fruit rocking back and forth on tires as tall as people.
It was, in a way, an astounding achievement, the ruthless culmination of mankind’s long effort to extract every last remaining bit of the earth’s seemingly boundless natural wealth. This was what an American effort to save the planet looked like.
It was startlingly efficient, extremely profitable and utterly disastrous.
He macheted his way through the nearby town of Pangkalan Bun, slaughtering dozens of people. But the palm-oil companies, Gelambong said, were much stronger than the Madurese.
As we approached an intersection, we could see two plantation guards lying back in a shack, rifles propped against their knees. Most of the plantations around us were new, their rise a direct consequence of policy decisions made half a world away.
Later, as a whistleblower, he alleged the company conspired to take villagers’ land and withhold pay from local farmers. Right: A truck carries freshly-harvested palm fruit through a plantation in East Kalimantan.
The tropical rainforests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil.Around the world, the oil from its meat and seeds has long been an indispensable ingredient in everything from soap to ice cream.But it has now become a key ingredient of something else: biodiesel, fuel for diesel engines that has been wholly or partly made from vegetable oil.His father, he told us, was a king of one of Borneo’s dozens of Dayak tribes, the sixth descendant of the sultan of Old Kotawaringin, and his mother came from a line of warriors who served in the Indonesian special forces.In 2001, he said, he took part in a brutal ethnic cleansing of Indonesians who had moved in from the nearby island of Madura.Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.Gusti Gelambong first worked for the palm company Bumitama Gunajaya Agro, planting near his village.Our driver, a 44-year-old island native and whistleblower named Gusti Gelambong, had brought us here to show us the incredible destruction wrought by the growing demand for palm oil.The oldest male among nine siblings, he was modestly built but exuded a wiry strength.Now, Bush proposed, homegrown energy could be drawn from the rural places most in need of an economic boost.Clean-coal initiatives would generate the electricity of the future, but it was biofuels — in particular ethanol, which is largely distilled from corn, and biodiesel, made with vegetable oil — that would power the vehicles of the future.