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July 11th, 2011
Burning Season


Climate change is the “defining issue of our era,” according U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. But the question of how to slow global warming has stymied the international community and no consensus has emerged.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997, set targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. To date, 182 countries have agreed to the terms — the U.S. is not one of them.

One of the primary mechanisms for reducing carbon pollution is a system of emissions trading. Countries that have signed the treaty are entitled to an assigned amount of emissions, and if they manage to use less, they can sell the excess to countries that have surpassed their limit on the new carbon market.


Every hour in Indonesian rainforests, an area the size of 300 soccer fields is mowed down and burned. Often this clearing is done to make way for oil palm plantations. The resulting palm oil is used for cooking, cleaning and even as a biofuel. But the fires farmers set to clear their land have helped to make Indonesia the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — exceeded only by the U.S. and China.

A 29-year-old Australian “green” entrepreneur named Dorjee Sun believes he has a solution to reduce those harmful greenhouse gas emissions. He has canvassed the world pitching the sale of Indonesia’s carbon credits to polluters in the West.

His business model would maintain the standing swaths of Indonesia’s rainforests by selling their carbon credits. Burning Season follows Dorjee Sun on a whirlwind trip into boardrooms around the world – from Starbucks to eBay to Merrill Lynch – as he tries to convince skeptical financiers that his proposal is viable.

To carry out his plan, local political leaders in Indonesia must also agree that their forests are worth more alive than dead. Small farmers like Achmadi, who makes a living by cutting down trees to plant oil palms, fear the layers of government officials will be the only profiteers from the carbon credit sale.

Burning Season kindles both sides of the climate divide and explores whether capitalism can step in where altruism has so far failed to succeed.

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