Sustainability and Bali

Published 31 May 2017   

Behind Raybans many an eye has shed a tear at the sheer beauty of the Balinese rice terraces; the rice bowl and cradle of the subak.

Text: Duncan Murray Kirk


A footpath through Bali paradise

It could be said that a one thousand year old sustainability model is one of Bali’s most inspiring gifts to the world. The subak is a system of water distribution to almost every part of the island; an architectural monument to sustainable nature.

The Balinese literally created and channelled a supply of water from mountain tops to the farthest ocean-side rice fields resulting in a sustainable over supply of rice and coconuts for Bali’s population. This remarkable feat is framed by our own western political malaise and squabbling; The Balinese managed to successfully negotiate an agreement with the whole island’s population for their own common good.  That is no mean social feat by any standards.

Bali has two gigantic ecological difficulties looming ahead unless there is a way to sustainably alter the course.  Water is the prime cleansing spirit and central to Balinese spiritual ethos.

Water is the problem, and Bali is running out.

The southern coastal artesian wells are being pumped dry and sea water is seeping in. Rice fields are being drip fed the sparse subak water affecting local yields.

‘International Bamboo Queen’ Linda Garland, the great designer, ecologist, and pioneer said one day while sourcing new natural materials at her estate in Rote:  “You know about twenty years ago I planted hundreds of bamboo varieties on the other rocky side of the river in Panchoran (Ubud), and I’ve now got 3 waterfalls! It is said by natives in Columbia that bamboo’s name is literally called water. It seems obvious now that wherever you grow bamboo water arrives”


A rare colourful bamboo


A very large bamboo shingle roof

Linda Garland’s son Arief Rabik has just returned from the World Climate Forum. Arief and Indobamboo, the first strand-woven high-pressure bamboo laminate manufacturer in Indonesia, are now marshalling a project called ‘One Thousand Bamboo Villages’, the plan is to return compromised lands to a sustainable bamboo crop and confirm that Indonesia is a bamboo commodity exporter of the world’s most flexible and fastest growing grass. In addition Arief has released a definitive book on how to grow, harvest and maintain bamboo co-written with Ben Brown, called ‘Towards Resilient Bamboo.’

The other great dilemma is plastic waste; it’s the real scourge of Asia and the world’s precious oceans.

We have choices from a handful of dedicated heroes and die hard activists, and there really is hope! I hear not a scrap of any kind of litter was left by a young group of 5000 teens at the Malu Dong Festival in Denpasar last weekend.

Sean Nino and Mantra’s project ‘Merah Putih Hijau’ may have the solutions to Bali’s trash problem and the Bye Bye Plastic Bags girls Melati and Isabel Wijsen have aided the transformation of the Pererenan community into a leading model of organic composting and plastic recycling. Their community certainly deserves our recognition and congratulations.

The Bye Bye Plastic Bag project has a signed document from Bali’s governor Made Pastika agreeing to ban single use plastic bags; Melati and Isabel Wijsen have successfully started projects in other countries through their dynamic example in the international arena and thier creative use of Social Media.


An impressive bamboo structure

Taking bamboo to the jet set, Elora Hardy’s “Bamboo Village” is a woven dream world of ecological grasses; Elora’s original idea was to find as many uses for bamboo as possible that can be utilized for creating buildings and adapted uses.  The “Bamboo Village” is a testament to the creativity of her whole “Ibuku” team and produces stunning architectural examples.

Elora’s father John Hardy travels extensively lecturing on bamboo and green sustainability. He continues early most mornings, when in Bali, to walk the rice fields and ‘spike the plastic’.
His Green School vision and his vortex realized, John champions “Green” good sense and supports many ecological directives and projects. Bambu Indah is an example of his ideal eco conscious resort; it offers an old world flavour with the comfort of modern amenities.

John has successfully created a river-water powered ‘Vortex’ for his Green School that only requires a two meter drop and produces eight kilowatts per hour day and night. Unfortunately in the last huge flood it was damaged but it has proven it can become a power solution for many river side communities and no doubt it is scalable.

The new approach to living lightly on the land is called Glamping –‘glamorous camping’ where tent structures replace solid foundations. I remember the Aman Moyo had canvass roofing which to me obviously puts Adrian Zecha ahead of his time.


The Bamboo Queen Linda Garland

Many of these innovations come directly or indirectly from the legacy of Bamboo Queen Linda Garland; particularly since single handedly she discovered the way to make bamboo resistant to the Powderpost Beetle with her borax recipe. Without this breakthrough bamboo would not have become a building solution. We owe a huge debt to her vision, consistency and her mother earth presence.

Sadly Linda Garland left us for her new cosmic address at the beginning of January this year. She is greatly missed by many but her ecological legacy, The Bamboo Foundation, continues forward with Arief Rabik at the helm. It is surely time for us all to take personal responsibility for our own sustainability and really try for a zero plastic future, and at least make sure we turn off the taps and that they don’t drip!

©Duncan Murray Kirk
Long time Bali resident and the writer of Bali Sustainable Visions (Abbeville Press) and In the Spirit of Bali (Assouline)
plus the Author of adventure thriller The Rollo Trilogy and The Wetiko Killers.

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