I have decided to explore the topics of dam construction on the Mekong River, the palm oil industry, and the positive and negative effects of tourism in Bali. The Mekong River is an essential habitat for freshwater fish in the world and it also holds immense economic and political potential in the form of electrical energy. The issue of the Mekong region is significant for society because it offers a glimpse into how government will handle wicked problems involving society, environment, and economics. The palm oil industry is gripping the Indonesian landscape, economics, and society. With this bustling business comes various problems ranging from deforestation to human rights violations. This is a significant societal issue because all around the globe nations utilize palm oil which is in a variety of products and often times the oil is coming from very unsustainable locations. The negative effects of tourism in Bali are significant to society as a whole because similar problems arise in any area that experiences an influx of tourists. By examining how Bali has handled some of the issues, another nation can better handle their own tourism practices.
Along the Mekong River in Laos, multiple dams are being built for electric, and in turn, economic power which is proving to be detrimental to the river fish population due to blockage of migratory routes and lowered sediment flow to the Mekong delta. There are two dams under construction, with a total of nine planned, which experts predict will cut out over a third of the basin’s annual river fish haul. The social aspect of this issue come into play due to the fact that the region’s 60 million people rely on the annual fish harvest for a source of food and also income. The multifarious dams and dwindling fish supply leaves Laos on the brink of a food security and economic crisis. The governmental officials from Laos state, “[they] aspire to become the battery of Southeast Asia,” by creating the dams. Through the creation of the dams the government would get large economic gains because they would be powering much of Southeast Asia. The environment of the region is teeming with biodiversity, having eight of the biggest freshwater fishes found in the world-including three endangered migratory fish the Mekong giant catfish, dog-eating catfish, and the giant Siamese carp. These fish rely on the Mekong river as a passage to their spawning grounds. The human components interact with the natural components in multiple ways. The humans rely on the fish for a majority of their food. They also use the fishery as a source of income. The fish population is controlled through the annual harvest which helps to sustain the balance of biodiversity in the region. In order to keep the Mekong River sustainable in regards to society, economics, and the environment decisions need to be made in a timely manner because with every nut and bolt built on the dams the region creeps closer and closer to disarray.
Palm oil is used in a variety of products including baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents, and toothpaste. The industry has been criticized for a number of grievances ranging from deforestation, indigenous rights abuses, and animal cruelty. The social aspects of the palm oil industry are that the industry does employ a large population in Southeast Asia and the loss of jobs would be staggering. Still many companies violate human rights law including child labor laws and overworking employees. The land traditionally belonging to the indigenous people of Indonesia, known as the masyarakat adat, is given away to development projects due to a loophole in the Forestry Law and Basic Agrarian Law of the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. In terms of economics, the region relies heavily on money brought in from the immense palm oil industry. Palm oil also brings the region political power amongst larger countries in the world. The environment is desecrated by the palm oil industry in Southeast Asia. Due to habitat loss and other factors a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered. Over 90 percent of the Orangutan habitat has been destroyed in Borneo and Sumatra, and an estimated 1000 to 5000 are killed every year due to development. The issues within the Palm oil industry are currently not sustainable at all because of the numerous social, economic, and environmental problems it causes. In order to become sustainable, the socio-environmental, eco-economy, and socio-economic factors need to be closely examined to find a more viable solution to the various problems facing the region.
Tourism in Bali, Indonesia, has had both positive and negative effects on the region in the categories of society, economics, and environment. Socially tourism has caused Bali to become the province of Indonesia with the highest standard of living and one of the lowest unemployment rates. Negatively, tourism has brought about a shift from the traditional market to one of hotels, villas, and restaurants. Socially the island has become extremely crowed making the amount of land one is able to own very miniscule. Kuta, a center for nightlife, has become a center of drug trafficking and prostitution shifting the values of the region. Economically Bali is doing very well due to the increased tax revenues which has
allowed the government to support infrastructure economics. Environmentally the regions historic rice fields. Many ended up being sold to foreign investors who built luxury resorts and villas. Native wetlands have been buried by malls and shopping complexes. Subak (the irrigation system for the paddy fields of Bali developed in the 9th century) has been increasingly threatened by developers. While tourism seems to be a largely positive practice, upon closer examination one can see the more negative effects that it can have. In order for the practice in Bali to become sustainable, steps need to be taken to combat the increasingly large criminal ring as well as steps to protect the centuries old irrigation systems and ecosystems.
I plan to further explore the topic of the palm oil industry. I chose this topic over the other two because I have studied the Mekong River for another course at Ohio State and would enjoy learning about a new topic for this project. I did not choose the topic of tourism in Bali because I felt less connected to it than the issue of palm oil because I use palm oil every day in various products. I intend to explore the topic of palm oil by using the different types of citizenship starting first with the personally responsible citizenship by learning what products I use contain palm oil, followed by participatory citizenship in which I will try and cut down my personal palm oil usage, and ending with justice oriented citizenship where I will try and imagine ways to more sustainably harvest palm oil and also explore palm oil alternatives. I think that the personally responsible and participatory stages will not be extremely difficult, but I think the justice oriented stage will be difficult for me. Dealing with such a wicked problem will make me become aware of my own set of values regarding society, economics, and the environment which can be daunting at times but I am excited to future explore this issue in the oncoming weeks.