An oil formed by nature and produced for humans…made bad for nature because of humans
AND THIS TIME, IT’S NOT MADE FROM FOSSILS
“Transparency is the bedrock to a responsible business”-Greenpeace, 2014.
Palm Oil; its everywhere, it’s destructive like nothing else, but do you know which products in your home contain it?
If every time you reached for a packet of Doritos would you be prepared to kill an orangutan to eat them?
George Monbiot recently published an article on the saddening situation of a media more interested in trivial lifestyles of celebrities rather than an eco-apocalypse currently occurring in South East Asia.
Those at the frontline of British media illustrate a refugee crisis with distressing images of people fleeing from Syria but fail to publicise refugees fleeing from the imminent threat of choking from smoke that’s enveloped their homes from burning forests which their government haven’t the power to stop.
Recently though, even the Daily Mail have published an online article giving the issue some discourse…
So what do all these products have in common? And what’s the relevance of rainforests you might ask?
They all contain palm oil and everyone sometimes, if not everyday, invests some disposable income into.
Palm oil is an ingredient found in a ton of daily household products and foods and has been transitioned from subsistence farming in West Africa to industrial scale monocultural harvesting in Indonesia and the Amazon in South America.
Monbiot states that “species are going up in flames”. So how do we begin fixing this?
The answer is closer to home than you may think. The businesses you invest in everyday, Nestle, PespiCo, Kraft, if they took some responsibility for the origins of the natural resources they profit from, maybe such crises wouldn’t have to happen before people took heed.
Change can be brought on by an increased awareness from consumers, Alongside this, pressure from large environmental campaign groups to encourage companies to provide more transparency and regulatory measures.
Greenpeace have been successful before in heading mass campaigns such as one this year which pressured Shell to withdraw from destructive oil exploration in the Arctic and one in 2014 which ended a partnership between Lego and Shell.
It is this kind of pressure that would serve well against mass destruction of forests in Indonesia and South America. If we can’t get action from the top, then a concerted effort from below to target those who fund the damaging practices occurring near the source of the supply chain is needed.
For example, Greenpeace ran a campaign against APP, the paper and packaging giant who sources their products from rainforests, by targeting the companies that were buying from it. One of the most high-profile of these companies was the toy manufacturer Mattel who founded the Barbie franchise.
Recently, there has been some progress in terms of truthful labelling of products containing palm oil.
But, just because they’ve made an agreement to become 100% ‘sustainable’ in where they get their oil from does not mean they are out of the red. PepsiCo, who own well know companies like Doritos, Mountain Dew, Lays and Quakers, buys around 450,000 metric tons of the oil annually (an area the size of NYC!).
PepsiCo have agreed to a 100% sustainable palm oil policy by 2020 but many environmental organisations such as the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) claim this agreement insufficient because it lacks transparency of the origination of the palm oil used to make their products and involves the controversial GreenPalm framework.
It is one thing saying that something is sustainably sourced but if a company cannot actually trace through the supply chain back to its source then it’s a worthless statement to make.
It’s also worthless just claiming to be sustainable and not fully commit. GreenPalm simply means the company has paid for sustainable palm oil to be used somewhere else on the market, but the oil they use themselves is not from a sustainable source; you could coin it a ‘virtual palm oil market’.
In Indonesia, starting from the beginning with the harvesting process many tragedies unfold. From the clearance of forests using slash and burn methods, to the burning of peatlands alongside the unaddressed issues of modern day human slavery in the dark depths of the palm oil industry in South East Asia. This means that all the while the big businesses profit off of this product then they are effectively condoning it and preventing progress in undeveloped countries (which I discuss in one of my other posts).
Indonesia’s forests are disappearing at 3.8 million hectares per year, and that the area converted to oil palm plantations has doubled during the past decade to nearly 5 million ha. In just 3 weeks, these fires are contributing more emissions than all of Germany does in a year and now Indonesia has gone from the 6th largest emitter in the world up to the 4th largest in just six weeks.
Indonesia in particular is worth taking note of from a geographical perspective because of the presence of tropical peatlands. These store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years and the draining and burning these lands for oil palm leads to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
These fires that are chugging out more emissions than the US are also threatening up to a third of global orangutan population.
Between 2001 to 2010 in Indonesia alone, average carbon emissions from land-use, specifically palm oil, equated to 45 to 55 million cars, 61 to 75 coal-fired power plants. In terms of wildlife, only 15% of the biodiversity that exists in the remaining tropical forests live on palm oil plantations, showing that if this industry continues to expand, we will also witness a huge decline in animal species.
And as Indonesia have an aim of becoming the world’s largest exporter of the stuff, we will likely see an eradication of elephants, tigers and orangutans.
This escalating problem results from horrifically bad management of forests to produce palm oil in Borneo and Sumatra.
But as effects are sweeping over parts of Singapore and Malaysia, this environmental crisis is now a transboundary political and social issue.
Schools have been closed in Singapore and Malaysia and authorities have resorted to cloud seeding methods to disperse pollution after airport closures were carried out.
Thousands of people are suffering from respiratory issues because of the smoke enveloping the region.
Let’s be honest, palm oil is valuable because its a healthier alternative to many other oils, in terms of area needed to grow, it is the highest yield oil on the market making it an economically sound product with by-products just as valuable as the oil itself. Therefore, accusing the industry of contributing directly to global emissions is not applicable. As a crop, it is relatively faultless.
The lack of policy regulations correlates with Indonesia’s status as one of the most corrupt countries in the with a government struggling to achieve democratic goals. Investment in sustainable forest management and high conservation risk areas is not as profitable as private loggers and palm oil companies illegally shifting woodland through slash and burn methods.
I should add that since 2000, it has actually been illegal to convert new forest for crops. This is, of course, ignored.
On a political scale, the establishment of REDD+ was an attempt by the UN to provide financial incentive to GHG’s from forest loss. It did encourage suspension of concessions for clearing peatlands and natural forests and redirected activity to already degraded land (found using databases).
However, they have since claimed that attempts have been “undermined by a combination of corruption and incompetence, resulting in the exploitation of forest dwellers and driving rates of deforestation to the highest in the world.”
Expansion of fossil fuel reserves by Canada, the US and China can be likened to Indonesia’s desire to export it worldwide, and infiltrate it into the daily lives of global populations, much like petroleum oil.
But is this goal morally acceptable when the product are causing fires “destroying treasures as precious and irreplaceable as the archaeological remains being levelled by Isis.”?
However, despite large scale policy failing, this does not give us as the consumers the excuse for inaction.
As individuals, we can do something to stop this destructive ingredient from leaving a wake of destruction.
Here are things you can do:
Read this article by Greenpeace on ‘NutellaGate’ and find out why your jar of Nutella is destroying forests and why not buying it is not the answer
Have a look at this article on the companies that use irresponsibly sourced palm oil and avoid buying them.
Where you choose to spend your money is your power.