Being born and bred in Malaysia, haze was an unavoidable part of growing up for me. With the massive 1997–98 haze episode coinciding with my formative years, this transboundary puzzle seemed an obvious research topic of choice during my undergraduate studies. Little did I know that a small student conference paper would somehow snowball into fifteen immersive years and counting of research.
The title of this book is directly lifted from the title of my academic blog, which I have maintained since 2015. The blog title was, in turn, inspired by the popular phrase “to miss the forests for the trees”, which is defined by Merriam Webster's Dictionary as “to not understand or appreciate a larger situation, problem, etc., because one is considering only a few parts of it”.
Indeed, over the years, as I do more fieldwork, speak to more people and collect more personal experiences, I am even more appreciative of how large and complex the haze situation in Southeast Asia truly is, and how impossible it is for one to consider and understand all the different aspects of the problem.
As an academic who focuses on an issue that is very much in the public eye, I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to share my research, hypotheses and opinions with an interested public audience beyond academia, at a pace more-or-less reflective of the rapid development of this issue on the ground. Thus, this book is a collection of my commentaries, some solicited and some not, previously published on various media platforms, on various facets and various stages of the regional transboundary haze problem and its links to unsustainable agribusiness practices.
My view from Malaysia is, as expected, somewhat myopic in that my research, and by extension this book, focuses on the fires and haze in the southern ASEAN subregion and its connection to this particular subregion's “golden crop”—palm oil. Hence, I should caution that the issues discussed within this collection, while not entirely dissimilar, should not be easily generalized to apply to the Mekong subregion.
The commentaries featured in this collection were originally published between 2013 and 2020. They are divided into four broad topics and are arranged chronologically within each of these topics.