Saturday, 21 January 2017

Omnipresent Palm Oil

Palm oil. The single most devastating environmental problem the world is facing today. Palm oil requires tropical conditions to grow. Nearly 85% of the world's palm oil supply comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. What were before luscious rain forests were slashed and burnt to make way for palm oil plantations. Every hour 300 football fields worth of forests are being compromised to make way for palm oil production.

The impact on the orangutan population in Indonesia has been catastrophic. Almost 90% of their habitat has been destroyed due to this activity. We are losing 6000 orangutans every year. The thought of it makes me very sad. They have been attacked by machetes and guns. The ones that survive often die of starvation.

Palm oil plantation workers are ordered to kill orangutans. They are treated like pests! These beautiful creatures have been said to share almost 97% of their genes with humans. Not just orangutans but the Sumatran Tiger, Clouded Leopard, Sumatran Rhino, among others are also chronically suffering due to this activity.

When I first learnt about palm oil I got really mad and went "Right, going to stop buying everything that contains palm oil!". Much to my dismay I found that palm oil is in literally EVERYTHING. It is extremely difficult to get around. Below are just some of the examples of products that contain palm oil.

What is the solution? The WWF has set up a sustainable palm oil certification system that sets environmental and social criteria that companies must abide by in order to get the certification. Although a move in the right direction, it has been criticized as more of a greenwashing tactic. In other words, the degree to which the companies are abiding by the criteria set is unclear. In some cases the auditors have even been accused of colluding with the plantation companies.

The other solution is to find an alternative to palm oil. A couple of years ago there were reports that scientists were working on developing an alternative on an industrial scale. If this happens, that would certainly be good news for all of us.

But in the meantime, if we want to stop the alarmingly fast rate at which palm oil production is causing environmental destruction, we must attempt to buy products that don't contain this substance. There are apps that can help you make better choices. I know it is hard. I myself struggle a lot with this (avoiding Nutella alone is an achievement for me). But, the change must come from the consumer's side. If the people boycott products containing palm oil, production and supply are sure to get affected - it's basic economics.

Can we do it? We have to give it a try. These guys in particular will be very grateful to you.

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