environment

Indonesia Is Home to the Most Climate Change Deniers in the World

Experts say the lack of education and focus on religion are reasons why many Indonesians don't believe in global warming.

by Adi Renaldi
14 May 2019, 8:26am

Photo by Ahmed Tawil/Reuters 

Indonesia has recently come on top of a global list, but it's not anything Indonesians should be proud of. The country is already notorious as one the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, but now it's been revealed that Indonesians make up the most number of people who don't believe in human-driven climate change compared to other countries in the world.

The major global poll, conducted by YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, shows that 18 percent of Indonesian respondents don't believe in the role of human behaviour on climate change. The number surpasses Saudi Arabia (16 percent) and the US (13 percent). For the poll, YouGov surveyed 25,000 people in 23 countries.

This is hardly surprising. For a nation well acquainted with the effects of climate change, Indonesians, and the government, are relatively unprepared to deal with its consequences.

In Indonesia, the media tends to focus more on politicians’ ramblings and religious debates, and environmental issues usually don't get the spotlight. In reality, the need to push the government to seriously reduce carbon emissions just doesn’t rake in the page views. It's important to note that during both the 2014 and 2019 elections, candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto didn't put climate change at the top of their priority lists.

Meanwhile, effects of climate change are clear as day in Indonesia. Since 2009, Indonesian farmers have had difficulty relying on weather predictions, as crop anomalies are frequent. As a result, crop failure is quite common throughout the country. No study has examined the losses incurred due to crop failure in Indonesia as a whole, but according to a Tempo report, crop failure in East Java alone led to a loss of as much as Rp 3 trillion ($208 million USD) in 2011.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of proof of climate change. Ironically, most Indonesians don’t even believe climate change is a thing. Why is this so?

Niken Sakuntaladewi, a forestry sociologist at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, points out that though Indonesians actually experience the impact of climate change, many of them don’t really understand what climate change or global warming is.

“It’s difficult for them to predict the changes in season and how long it will last,” Sakuntaladewi tells VICE. According to her, climate change also influences the people’ behavioural patterns. She says that people will actually support prevention efforts if they're taught about the issues.

Yuyun Harmono, the climate campaign manager of the Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI), says YouGov’s survey is an indicator of increased skepticism from climate change deniers in Indonesia. And the root of the problem is caused by the lack of education on environmental issues in schools, says Harmono.

“The survey is an interesting finding," she adds. "There is already clear evidence that can be proven scientifically, but will we believe the science that shows our planet is in crisis?"

For Harmono, what’s more ironic is that some Indonesians who agree that global warming is real may not necessarily believe that humans are the cause. Never mind that the Earth's temperature has risen by 1°C since the pre-Industrial Revolution times.

Didit Haryo, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia, agrees that Indonesia is lacking in environmental education. For Haryo, environmental issues can't stand a chance next to religious issues.

“If we relate the issues to current religious trend, people will only see the problem as something that has been set by God,” Haryo tells VICE.

In addition to the society’s fatalistic point of view on environmental issues, climate change is not an easy topic to digest. Haryo thinks Indonesia still has a lot to do in terms of increasing public awareness.

It's possible that Indonesians' denial on climate change is related to one study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter in 2017. In the study that was published in the journal Global Environmental Challenge, the researchers found that the participants preferred to discuss about racial and gender issues instead of environmental issues. They think climate change is too political, and it’s easily politicized. It means Indonesians who care about the environment have plenty to do. Unfortunately, the majority has not considered this kind of issue as important.

Indonesians have to wait until it’s too late to realize that climate change is real, though according to some scientists.

This article was originally published on VICE Indonesia.