Saturday, January 23, 2010

24 / An Anthropologist In Bali

We met Dr. Jill Forshee, an anthropologist based at UC Berkeley, in a gelato shop in Ubud. She was not that interested in talking about the art and culture of Bali. She was interested in talking about the environment.

Dr. Forshee has been coming to Bali for thirty years; at the moment, in fact, she is living in Bali, in a rented house in Ubud. If Dr. Forshee has the facts right, the groundwater table has dropped precipitously in the last ten years, even as new building has continued at a rapid pace. A severe and life-threantening drought is a real possibility, she believes. Global warming has led to appreciably warmer temperatures in Ubud, during that same ten-year time period. Each night, according to Dr. Forshee, the Balinese burn the plastic and other refuse left behind by the tourists, since there is no other form of solid waste disposal, and the result has been the massive introduction of dioxins into the environment, with a concomitant increase in birth defects. They are up 20%, if Dr. Forshee has the facts right.

The incredible art and culture of this island, like all human creations, is ultimately dependent on the integrity of the natural world. So Dr. Forshee, whose professional and personal life has been so centered here, wasn't that interested in talking about the art and culture of Bali. She wanted to talk about the environment.

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