There’s only one place left on Earth where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinos, and elephants all still coexist—and actor Leonardo DiCaprio was just there. Fresh off winning a best actor Oscar for his role in The Revenant, the movie star was getting his shoes muddy in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, highlighting efforts to defend the area’s wildlife against encroaching palm oil plantations.
The ecosystem is on the island of Sumatra, where large swathes of rainforest and peatland are routinely burned down and replaced by the neatly ordered rows of palm oil plantations. The burning of dried peatland, essentially young coal, is especially destructive as it releasesvast amounts of greenhouse gases.
The destruction pauses for Indonesia’s rainy season, but returns with the dry season that starts in April, along with the resultant air pollution. Last year the land-clearing fires conspired with dry El Niño conditions to create what one observer called the “the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century,” with a thick toxic haze covering large areas of Southeast Asia, closing schools in Singapore,causing deaths in Indonesia, and creating a class of climate refugeesescaping cities where visibility was low and the simple act of breathing had become potentially lethal.
DiCaprio’s focus on the ills of palm oil come after he highlighted the environment in his acceptance speech for the best actor award in February: