Indonesian Refugees ©Rare Species Fund
The Horror of Palm Oil Production
Fires raging across much of Borneo and Sumatra devour vast amounts of Indonesian rainforest. These fires which are now out of control, are believed to have been set intentionally by companies seeking to clear land for the lucrative production of palm oil crops. Unfortunately, approximately 50% of everyday products used in the west today, contain palm oil.
Habitat for thousands of species, including critically endangered Sumatran tigers, orangutans and rhinos, is engulfed in flames at the rate of about one million acres annually— deforestation on a cataclysmic scale for the purpose of unsustainable palm oil production.
Unless this ecological apocalypse is arrested, the biodiversity of the Indonesian rainforest, and all of the hope for our future that it represents, could be lost in our lifetime.
1. the complete final destruction of the world.
2. an event involving destruction or damage on a catastrophic scale.
Hell on Earth — Rainforest Burning ©Getty Images
In 2012, the Rare Species Fund, traveled to Borneo to film a documentary about the life of the incomparable orangutan researcher, Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas —Orangutan Foundation International. During our travels, we visited the orangutan orphanage, seeing hundreds of orphaned babies lamenting the loss of their mothers to fire. The trauma these babies were experiencing was heart wrenching. And to realize, that this was once an incomparable eden filled with one of our closest living relatives; there are no words to describe the shock and depth of suffering we witnessed.
In Borneo, the deforestation by fire was obscene. We tried to help more than 300 orphaned baby orangutans find refuge.” — Doc Antle
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is an edible plant oil which has become a common ingredient in many consumer products. It is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “palm oil is the world’s highest yielding oil crop, with an output 5–10 times greater per [acre] than other leading vegetable oils.” In other words, it’s efficient and cheap to produce. And everything from processed food and vitamins to lotion and lip balm— candy and candles— shampoo and toothpaste, all contain palm oil.
How is Palm Oil Labeled?
Palm oil is not always clearly labeled. Here are some of the more recognizable names: Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol.
Over Halloween, the Rare Species Fund, a non-profit organization, raised awareness of candy products containing palm oil. We issued a PSA to our mailing lists and social media to educate consumers as to the devastating ecological implications of unbridled palm oil production. We also supplied a list of candy that is palm oil free. However, simple boycotts fail to answer this complex conservation problem.
Boycotting Palm Oil Could Make the Problem Worse!
The alternatives to palm oil are other vegetable oils that would decimate even more land to produce. The Rare Species Fund subscribes to the WWF model of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) as outlined in their report entitled Profitability and Sustainability in Palm Oil Production. In short, we support the certification of best practices demanded by product producers, to ensure that the palm oil they are using is being grown in the most ecologically responsible way, and that land used to produce palm oil was not converted from land that was of High Conservation Value (HCV). In other words, land that contains a high level of biodiversity, or provides habitat for endangered species, cannot be used.
What Can I Do to Help?
Analyze what is in the products that you use. If you find palm oil in your favorite product, contact the manufacturer and ask that they use ONLY Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). Most manufacturers have contact information right on the label. If they are not using CSPO, tell them you will switch to a product that does. Post on their Facebook and twitter pages (most companies have a social media presence these days). Share this article and my blog, Tiger Tales, with your friends and family. Maybe together we can make a difference?
The horror! The horror!”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Apocalyptic Ecological Disaster of Our Time?
Never before has such large scale industrial farming, using destructive slash and burn techniques, provided millions of consumers with everyday household products. Never before has there been such a raging firestorm engulfing high value biologically diverse habitat for critically endangered orangutans, tigers and rhinos. The homes for these charismatic creatures, and thousands of other plant and animal species, are being burned to the ground at a staggering pace. Although there is still hope of sustainably producing palm oil, that hope is but a flicker on the path toward Armageddon. Are we already too late? Take action for Tigers, Orangutans and Rhinos today!
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