In the last few days, the press has widely covered Astronaut Collins' observation from the Space Shuttle of environmental degradation on Earth. Noteworthy was her singling out of widespread fires on the African continent.
Now comes word that hundreds of forest fires raging on Indonesia's Sumatra Island have polluted nearby Malaysia:
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia said it would hold crisis talks with Indonesia over the choking haze caused by fires in Sumatra, which has reached hazardous levels and forced Kuala Lumpur's second airport to close.
In Port Klang, a major shipping centre just west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, the air pollution index shot up to 410. Several other parts of the country also recorded levels in excess of 300 which is considered officially "hazardous".
"If the API hits 500 we will declare it an emergency," Environment Minister Adenan Satem said. "The situation is not getting better, it is getting worse."...
Adenan showed satellite images of Indonesia's Riau and North Sumatra provinces on Sumatra island where hundreds of forest fires are raging, sending pollutants across the Malacca Strait and onto Malaysia's central west coast....
Indonesian officials warned that the blazes, caused by illegally using fire to clear land on Sumatra island and Kalimantan, would worsen in coming weeks.
Meteorological Department official Wong Teck Kiong said only the October monsoon season would shift the haze, as the southwesterly winds bringing smoke from Sumatra would not change direction until then.
The raging, environmentally-destructive fires in Africa and Indonesia serve as a reminder that automobiles and industry-- generally the chief pollution culprits in Western media reports-- may have received distorted focus regarding the world's most serious environmental damage. In fact, the generally good environmental stewardship in Western industrial countries compares favorably to undeveloped/newly developing areas not rich enough to be able to afford environmental policing.
As the above article says, the fires raging in Indonesia, and the resulting air pollution, come about as the result of using fire to clear cut forests. If a similar situation occurred in the United States today, we would be apoplectic; Congress would be holding hearings; the Sierra Club or similar organizations would be running ads on TV and holding press conferences; the Department of Justice would be seeking search warrants in an attempt to locate the firebugs; etcetera etcetera.
In short, Western capitalist-oriented societies have frankly done a better job in protecting the environment than has been done by undeveloped/newly developing countries. The message: wealth-creation is the friend, not the enemy of the environment; and attempting to turn back the clock on the industrial revolution would make things worse, not better, for the air we breathe, the land we live on and the water we drink.