“It’s human nature to only change for the better when something bad happens.” Ayu Rosan is commenting on the worrying frequency of natural disasters happening around the world, including Indonesia, and the relationship of these events to man-made climate change. Ayu’s concern is natural. In 2015, Nasa satellites detected over 130,000 fire hotspots across Indonesia as a result of a prolonged dry season. In 2016, the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management noted that no fewer than 40.9 million Indonesians were living in landslide-prone areas across 274 cities.
“Do we need even more disasters to happen before we decide to act on climate change?” she goes on. “The earth is sending us signals, while the scientists are presenting us with real proof that this is an urgent issue. It’s time to stop being ignorant. The time to act is now.”
Ayu is a co-founder of Citra Kartini Indonesia (CIRI), an organisation that facilitates economic empowerment for women. Among the group’s programmes are practical training sessions to help women set up their own home businesses, including providing them with free “Coding Mum” short courses. Ayu started the foundation less than two years ago, alongside Miranti Serad, Dara Ipang Wahid and Santhi Serad. Meanwhile, Kartini Panjaitan, Titi Panjaitan and Amanda Katili are mentors of the foundation. It believes that women play an important role in battling climate change. That belief manifests itself as set of green activities for women.
The first of these was a talk show themed “Women and Climate Change”, held during the Indonesia Women Expo 2016. The event featured contributions from Rachmat Witoelar, the President’s Special Envoy for Climate Change; Amanda Katili Niode, Manager of The Climate Reality Project in Indonesia (Al Gore’s NGO); and Suzy Hutomo, Executive Chairwoman of The Body Shop Indonesia. The expo was CIRI’s biggest single programme last year.
To continue the group’s climate-change activism, CIRI regularly educates housewives around Indonesia on the issue and recommends eco-friendly habits they can apply in their own households. From buying local products to conserving energy, CIRI is changing the way women think about their daily activities.
In the case of fashion entrepreneurs, CIRI encourages them to use natural dyes to minimise the amounts of toxic wastage going into the water supply. To celebrate Kartini Day, which falls on April 21, CIRI is working with The Climate Reality Project to plant trees in deforested areas. Matthew Boms, International Manager of the NGO, will be flying to Jakarta to lead the planting effort.
“Planting trees might not seem like much, but everyone can do it,” says Ayu. “It’s practical, and that’s the message we’re trying to send. If people think of eco-friendly activities as doable, the chances are that they would actually do it. The more people are doing it, the more positive the impact will be.”
If CIRI’s climate change activities have not been publicized very much, this is because the organisation wants to focus more on grassroots-level action rather than creating media buzz. “As housewives, we believe that women are decision makers,” says Ayu. “They determine the kind of lifestyle their families practice. That’s why we want to give women knowledge and skills that are practical, ones they can apply at home.”
At her own beautiful home, Ayu educates her children (Raisya, 13, Razan, 10, and Ranisya, 9) to nurture green habits. She started small, reminding them to turn off electricity outlets after charging their mobile phones, saving water in the shower and minimising their usage of the air conditioners. She is also pleased to know that her children’s schools have been educating them about green lifestyles since an early age.
“Children these days are smart, and they need a logical reason for everything that they are asked to do. When it comes to climate change, we need to explain how human beings are responsible about floods and forest fires among other disasters. We need to make them understand why the things they do, including something as simple as throwing rubbish anywhere, can worsen the situation. On the other hand, we can tell them the things they can do to make the earth a better place to live in, such as planting trees and conserving energy,” Ayu enthuses.
The things that Ayu and CIRI do for climate change begs the question: why do they think it is an important issue? Ayu says that the climate change talk at the Women Expo was her turning point. “Attending the talk was an eye opener for me. I knew about climate change since years ago, but what I failed to realise was that it is not just an issue for scientists. It’s an urgent issue that all mankind should fix. Everyone should know that human beings have done such bad damages to the earth, and we need to stop now. In turn, we need to conserve the earth we live in, or else we all will be homeless sooner than later.”
While citizens like Ayu are doing their bit to conserve the earth, some others remains skeptical about the concept of climate change. One of the skeptics is Donald Trump, who infamously stated on Twitter in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. Recently, he also proposed a controversial Budget Plan, in which he intends to cut 31 per cent of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding. How does a climate change advocate like Ayu respond to the skeptics, or perhaps attempt to convert them?
“I think scientists around the world can provide countless of proofs to show that climate change is real. Even if we eliminated the scientists, we could tell that the earth is ailing just by looking around us. Look at the floods, the storms and the erratic weather. The skeptics will remain skeptics for the time being. If Trump thinks that way, I think it’s a big loss for America and the world. Honestly, I don’t think that we can convert the skeptics overnight, moreover Trump. But I believe in process, in educating and advocating tirelessly. Also, by walking the talk.”
Even though she stays realistic about the skeptics, their ways of doing things fuel Ayu to advocate even harder. One of the problems she highlights is the irresponsibility of big corporations, many of them led by the skeptics. “Many big corporations still produce an abundant mount of waste, and they don’t dispose it properly. The waste ends up contaminating our water and land. Now that’s just plain irresponsible. It’s the same thing as throwing rubbish inside our own home.”
Besides, she believes that the climate change advocacy should not only involve the people, but also the government as policy makers. “The government should have a road map and strong set of policy to protect the environment. On behalf of CIRI, we hope that the government would apply an incentive system to reward companies with eco-friendly initiatives. This would encourage people to invest on green technology,” she says.
At the end of the day and in spite of the immensity of the problems the planet faces, Ayu remains positive about her climate-change advocacy. “We shouldn’t see climate change as a problem, but rather as a challenge,” she declares. “As global citizens, we should ask ourselves: What can we do to make the world a better place for us and the next generations? Human beings are the only creatures on earth who are equipped with the intelligence and conscience to do this, so it is only natural that we should all do our bit to protect the precious home in which we live.”
The feature has been published in Prestige April 2017, The Green Issue. Click here to purchase.
Photography: Hakim Satriyo
Styling: Gabriela Batti
Makeup: Irwan Riady
Location: Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta