Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bali dances for REDD

Today, in Indonesia, the loggers chopped down the trees with enthusiasm, and carried away the dead wood greedily. Then the fires came and burned through the remainder of the forest, creating a treeless wasteland. Luckily, this spectacle was not taking place in Indonesia’s 88 million remaining hectares of standing forest, but at the COP13 in Bali. Thirty-five young Balinese dancers represented deforestation through traditional Balinese dance, mixed with contemporary dance. The choreographer was I Sura Nyoman, a world-renowned artist native to Bali.

As a PhD student studying land use change in Bornean Indonesia, and mildly competent in Indonesian, I was asked to help the dancers from the bus to the performance and home again safely. Easy, right?

The morning started with the dancers arriving an hour early, already fully made-up and in costume, outside of the conference center. Musicians were also part of the group, along with their rather large instruments. Photographers began taking photos of our dancing friends the minute they stepped off the bus; costumes and bold makeup and sheer group size made for an intriguing spectacle.

Our first order of business was to get the dancers through security so they could pose for photo ops by the trees. Security is very tight here, and everyone must have a badge to enter the conference complex. To my dismay, about half of the dancers were without badges! After a couple hours of (literally) running around and pleading with security officers, we were able to get the dancers into the conference center minutes before the performance began.

The dance troupe performed at the lunch break in the main conference center, and the viewing area was packed not only with media but also by representatives on their lunch breaks after the first REDD Contact Group. Everyone watched in awe as the dance began with a man painted in green and scantily clad embodied the earth, green and wild and pristine. More dancers soon joined him on the stage, representing binatang (animals), tumbu-tumbuhan (plants), manusia (humans) and dewi (gods). But as in reality, the humans in the choreography became greedy and logged the forest. Biodiversity plummeted, and fires burned through the degraded forests. The dance ended in a grand fashion, with a broken forest lying beneath a benevolent-looking, white-winged figure (the UN?) who apparently could not stop tropical forest destruction.

I walked away from the show with an amazed smile on my face. But I didn’t have much time to reflect on the dance because the show was followed by a press conference. Representatives from all three major tropical rainforest regions (Africa, Latin America, and Asia) spoke about REDD and the necessity of a post-2012 agreement to help reduce deforestation rates and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the governor of the Indonesian province of Papua was able to offer a few words about his perspective on conservation.

I hope our efforts – especially those of the dancers, who are citizens in a country with one of the largest expanses of remaining tropical forest in the world - inspire the delegates to reach an agreement on REDD before the conclusion of this conference!

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