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close this bookIn Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (UNU, 1990, 310 pages)
close this folderIntroduction and acknowledgements
View the documentA thematic book that is also a regional book
View the documentThe plan of the book
View the documentExplanation and acknowledgements

A thematic book that is also a regional book

This book belongs to a series arising from the Clark University/ United Nations University Project on Critical Environmental Situations and Regions (formerly Project on Critical Environmental Zones in Global Change PROCEED; the original acronym has been retained). The theme of the series is the transition from "impoverishment," through "endangerment" toward "criticality" in the environmental condition and the human-welfare condition of selected parts of the world. Although there has been a shift of focus in the later stages of the project, as described below, this theme dominates the discussion of a book that, for this reason, is written primarily for a global rather than a regional readership.

Following the spirit of the broader project, which funded a large part of our work, our original intention was to compare the different trajectories toward "criticality," or rather the different distances travelled toward such a condition, in all those areas of Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo that were still principally under forest at the end of World War II. From the outset, however, we saw our work as a test of the concept of "criticality" rather than as a demonstration. Before we had gone far in writing, it became evident that we needed to examine earlier environmental change, and therefore to consider regions that have not been forest within modern times. Moreover, certain areas, and in particular the western side of the Malay Peninsula, have followed a very different trajectory. We therefore decided to concentrate emphasis primarily on Borneo, introducing material on the Peninsula, and principally on the eastern side of the Peninsula, more for comparison and insight than as a parallel survey. One of us had lately completed editing a book on modern transformation in Peninsular Malaysia, and this was additional reason for shifting the primary emphasis to Borneo (Brookfield, 1994d).

The original focus on the fate of land, and its people, after interference with or removal of the forest, remains and is reflected in our title. Although substantial areas of forest still persist, some of them especially in the uplands - little touched by modern development, our principal concern is with the transformed areas and with the consequences of that transformation. Our region, which we sometimes call just that, sometimes "Borneo and the Peninsula," is small by comparison with Amazonia, the topic of another book in this series, but it has become the world's largest source of tropical timber since the end of the 1970s and, although we give full place to both indigenous and new-settlement agriculture, minerals and the towns, it is the effect on the forests that is the central theme of this book. We deal with a region that has, for three decades, been a major "resource frontier" for the two countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, and our primary concern is its trajectory as a resource frontier.

None the less, a great deal of regional data is supplied and we hope that, for the island of Borneo in particular, we have provided an important contribution to a growing, but still small, general literature. Few attempts have yet been made to bring together the scattered literature on Borneo, or to place this literature in a regional and global context. We were fortunate to see one such (Padoch and Peluso, in press) in the manuscript stage, late in 1993, but have incorporated into this book only a few strands of material from that work, which was based on a conference attended by Potter.

Our central purpose is to identify those elements, in the present and immediately prospective state of the region, that can be described as impoverished, endangered, or critical, and to explain such conditions whether in strictly environmental or in wider terms. In an appendix we discuss the concepts of endangerment and criticality in general theoretical terms, and refer the reader to this discussion for a background to the concepts. From it, however, we extract the following statement:

"Since 'criticality' first came into use in the literature on global environmental change, the term has acquired a rather diverse set of meanings, as Kasperson et al. (1990) have demonstrated in a review that traces the use of the term from the early 1970s. Arguing that neither purely biophysical nor anthropocentric bases of definition capture what is involved, they initially proposed the following working definition (Kasperson et al., 1990: 16): a continuous portion of the earth's surface, preferably larger than 5,000 km2, constituting a habitat in which human occupation has so changed multiple components of the environment that the quantity and quality of those uses and/or the well-being of the population cannot be sustained, given feasible socio-economic and/or technological responses.

In their revision, however, they focus attention on stages of degradation, teeing 'e decrease in the capacity of the environment as managed to meet its user demands' (Kasperson et al., 1995: 7). They therefore distinguish between 'environmental impoverishment,' in which the trajectory in the medium to longer term threatens to narrow the range of possibilities for human use, 'environmental endangerment,' in which the trajectory threatens in the near term to preclude the continuation of current human use systems, and true 'environmental criticality,' in which this preclusion of continuation of current human use systems is immediate (Kasperson et al., 1995: 25)."