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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)."

The plan of the book

In part I, we begin by outlining a background of the natural environment, placing emphasis on those processes that operate over a long time. We then narrate the course of events, beginning by offering a sketchy overview of a longer environmental history. This is followed by an account of accelerating modern change, which sets the scene for the more analytical part II, in which selected elements of possible endangerment or criticality are examined. Emphasis is placed on questions related to deforestation and environmental degradation. However, we also place emphasis on variability. Our conclusions in chapter 11 are briefly stated and practical. They may be unpopular in some quarters. They finally refer back, however, to this discussion of issues for the study of criticality in global environmental change.

Explanation and acknowledgements

Brookfield has worked in Peninsular Malaysia since 1984, and Potter has worked in Kalimantan since 1982; both Brookfield and Potter have worked in Malaysian Borneo. For most of the time, Byron was

Research Officer in the Department of Human Geography, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. She has not been able to participate in fieldwork but has been responsible for a great deal of library research and has contributed to the whole manuscript. The book was written over a period of two years under an institutional contract between the United Nations University and the Australian National University, and earlier work was assisted by contracts with Clark University, supported by the National Science Foundation/National Research Council, USA. Together, these funds have made possible substantial fieldwork, and have met the production costs of the book. Other fieldwork has been funded from a variety of sources, including the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University. Until Potter came to Canberra for a year as Visiting Fellow to the Economic History of Southeast Asia Project (ECHOSEA) 1993, the book was written by sending drafts backward and forward between Brookfield and Byron in Canberra, and Potter at the University of Adelaide. Closer proximity in the final months has eased progress toward a conclusion. We are grateful to the project leaders, and particularly B. L. Turner II, for comments on an almost complete draft of the book in late 1993. His comments have been taken into account. The valuable comments of three anonymous reviewers have also been taken into account fully in the final revision. The line drawings in the text are the contribution of Nigel Duffey and Ian Heyward of the Cartography Unit, the Australian National University. The word processing, literature search, and responsibility for all errors are our own.

Harold Brookfield
Lesley Potter
Yvonne Byron