Bali’s Challenges on the Road Ahead
Bali has grown in the last two decades at a very fast pace. It is not only due to the tourism sector, although it plays a major role. The island’s population is above four millions, and it grows by 80.000 every year. These people need housing, water, food, transport and of course, jobs. Many young people from neighbouring islands come here to find a better life than what the future holds for them back home in their rural villages. Tourism has also grown steadily, and although a few groups call for a moratorium on hotel construction, the governments of the nine regencies could not agree on such a drastic action. So development continues, and the projects get bigger. Since land prices have skyrocketed in the main areas, investors move towards more remote areas. In the last couple of years, many new villa projects and hotels have opened their doors, and many more are currently under construction or in planning.
Bali is part of Indonesia, and like in all developing countries in the world, mainly money beats the drum. And cash does in many cases, open magical doors for developments and projects that would otherwise not be possible. That has been a problem since the 80ies and lead to some projects that the island could easily do without.
But they are there, and we cannot turn the clock back and knock them down. Uncontrolled and environmentally questionable developments are not a Bali typical problem; it happened in major tourism destinations all over the world during the last four decades. Have a look at Waikiki or Mallorca, – Bali’s coastlines still looks much better. The question is, how will Bali move forward in the years to come and will investors be motivated enough to put their money into sustainable developments and infrastructure.
Many claim that tourism has failed to enhance Balinese people’s prosperity. Well, one can not look at that claim and think in black and white only. The wealth generated is not distributed evenly among every citizen of Bali, yes. But Balinese people have indeed benefited for many ways and created a growing middle class, which is the backbone of every society: infrastructure, jobs, Quality of medical treatments, universities, prospects for the youngsters. But many of these improvements happened at the cost of nature and resources.
But would Bali be better of without the development of the last 30 years?
Look at other islands Indonesia such Lombok or the completely forgotten islands such for example Nias in North Sumatra.
Nias island is equally beautiful, culturally very interesting and has a population of almost 1mio people, but they have no tourism, very little infrastructure, no economic power. The island and its ecosystems are under great threat too. But nobody will put money there to protect the environment, stop the cutting down of forests, stop the garbage dumping into the sea, stop the usage of sand from the beach for buildings etc. The children cannot find jobs; school teachers are barely able to read sufficiently Bahasa, let alone teach English properly. The average farm gets smaller and smaller because children inheriting need to share it with their sisters and what remains is not enough to make a living. There is almost no hope for this island. Because nobody is interested in what’s happening there, no financial investment is at risk.
Balinese themselves have encouraged the development of international AND local tourism and used opportunities to sell their land, to open businesses themselves or to join joint ventures. And we are not in the position to blame them. Europa, America, Japan, Asia, Australia – all those countries got rich by eating into their land, forests and resources big time. And some of them fancied to invade other countries, killed the indigenous people and called it a colony.
We cannot deny Balinese people that they want to economically grow and make use of the natural assets and resources this magnificent island inherently owns. Westerners like to point the green finger and blame greed and lack of education for what is happening here. It’s more complex. Although we might wish that Bali would look like in the 60ies, most Balinese are quite happy that they could sell their rice-fields and stop a life of being a poor farmer living in poverty. Who wants to blame them. Have you ever worked on a rice field? It looks romantic but is less so when you are standing in the heat knee-deep in mud, mosquitoes all around, bending forward. After one day of that work, most of us would quickly sell the land to anybody and think little about what would happen afterwards. How the sewage water of the new villa will get cleaned, or the electricity will be generated for the 10 ACs that will be installed, or how the rubbish will be recycled from all the goods a modern human being thinks he needs to consume in this new home.
In Facebook, there are groups of thousands of nature-loving people from around the world, who call themselves something like the “lovers of the old Bali”. They are constantly complaining about the current situation in Bali’s nature, for example, that there are no more rice-fields in Kuta or Legian, that the island is going down, too many shops etc. They nostalgically remember Bali before the 90ies, how beautiful it was etc. and how bad everything is nowadays.
Kind of arrogant when you look at it. They are part of all those developments in their own way, they all have co-created it – and still do, together with the other many million nature seeking white people that came here for sun, drink and relaxation. They created the demand….then the “offer” followed which manifested in all those developments they now despise.
Nostalgia does not solve the problem and does not do justice to the Balinese. Looking at our neighbourhood back home, most of us will have to admit, that nothing looks how it looked like before and nature had to make way. And most of those nature-loving, eco-friendly tourists go now to Lombok, the Gili Island, or Vietnam or Cambodia starting the ball rolling over there. And in 40 years they will all say…oh, gush…it’s not what it looked like before.
In Europe, you won’t find any “old” forests anymore of a decent size. It was cut down a long time ago. Even the world-famous Black Forest is a man-made monoculture. Human-made not for beauty, but timber production. If Germans hypothetically would have been able to plant palm oil trees during that period, they might have a “Black palm oil forest” today – like the Kalimantan and Sumatra palm oil monocultures.
The Romans cut down all the forests in North Africa, adding drastically to the size of Sahara. We have no moral authority over anybody.
In the last two decades, the south has developed immensely catering for the steady stream of tourists. Wherever there was a demand or a need, almost within day or weeks, a business opened its doors—shops restaurants, bars, hotels, laundry services, spas, scooter rentals – big and small.
Indonesia’s decision-makers sit in Jakarta and Bali is a place where quick and big money can be earned. Naturally, this attracted all sorts of investors, not all of them having the best of Balinese people or the protection of the environment in mind.
Today, Bali is challenged with immense problems in the area of water and garbage management. The island can not keep up with the wastewater and the rubbish if some things do not change. Bali has a chance that many smaller islands that face the same challenges and have not been developed, such as Nias, for example, do not have. Here, many many powerful individual business people and conglomerates invested a lot of money. And it will be in their very own interest to protect their assets. The people of Bali and their local authorities can do little and honestly; they have little interest in doing something. They have not the means anyway. But the stakeholders in the major tourism sector do have the power and resources to prepare Bali for a sustainable future.
What Can We Do to Support a “Green Bali”
We are all responsible as a consumer, so we should make responsible choices and act responsibly.
Every single one of us, who sets foot on this island (or anywhere else) has an impact, leaves a footprint. And although one often decides to think the opposite, a single person, a single environmentally concerned visitor can indeed do something and can have an impact. Why is this so? As simple as it sounds. We as consumers can decide where to put our money, what we eat, where we stay, what we buy, which businesses we value and support and which companies we avoid. The choice is ultimately ours.
Not spending money in certain establishments is a message the business owners do at the end understand. They can see it in their balance sheet. We do not even convince them of a higher cause or argue a case for a better world. And it is a very automatic response of any investor who faces a decline or stagnation of the business, to invest into the factors that will protect his assets and keep the profits coming.
And if we decide, to value and support, for example.
- strong and controlled recycling efforts
- wastewater treatments
- energy-saving efforts
- use no plastic bags
- no plastic straws
- avoid unnecessary packaging
- the usage of natural building materials
- 100% degradable detergents
- organic food
- paying fair wages
- supporting the local community
Then those things will become eventually important to the business owners as well.
So, IF, we as consumers will put enough value into those aspects and spend our holiday dollars with businesses that are showing us sincere efforts in those environmental areas, then we have an impact. It could mean to pay sometimes a bit more for a beer, a salad or a shirt because running an environmentally friendly business is (still) more expensive than not caring where the garbage goes. Bali needs to become greener if it wants to survive and not go down in glory.
Naturally not everybody will be concerned about the future of Bali and the preservation of this beautiful island. There are enough residents and tourists who couldn’t give a damned. But we do not need nor convince everybody. Scientists estimate that only 10-15% of a group in a business-driven environment need to change to have a big enough impact on the others to initiate system changes. So let’s be part of this 15%. Let’s become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
The team of Bali.com will support the businesses that do help a greener Bali. You can then support them by going there instead of going somewhere else. And step by step, we will put more emphasis on supporting a sustainable future of Bali. Bali.com will create green labels and certificates, awards, offer discounts.
Support the NGOs
There are many wonderful non-profit organisations (NGOs) in Bali that do a great job in many ways. Taking care of children, protecting the environment, and all sorts of great things, that help the Balinese and Bali.
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