Perhaps you’ve noticed how ubiquitous palm oil has become as an ingredient in processed foods, cookies, crackers and other sweets. In the west, though it is highly saturated and not terribly healthy, its use has increased in order to replace partially hydrogenated trans fats. In Asia, it is the most popular cooking oil. It’s also used in soaps and other personal care products, and – oh boy – as a biofuel.
It is expected that palm oil will be eaten and used more than any other edible oil by 2012 (soybean oil holds that place now.) Indonesia and Malaysia export 89% of it and have 25,000 square miles of land ((the size of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined) devoted to these plantations, much of it formerly tropical rainforest. Much more than that has already been cleared for more. Those forests were home to thousands of species, many of which are currently endangered with extinction, such as the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran Rhino , Bornean orangutans and Asian elephants, probiscus monkeys, barking deer, gibbons – 252 of mammals and birds species in Indonesia are endangered, 21, critically so.
Besides for the creatures who live there, Indonesia now plays a much larger role on the world stage, as it has taken third place in greenhouse gas emissions, after the U.S. and China, due entirely to the burning of rainforests, and destruction of carbon rich peatlands for plantations.
Rainforests hold about 50% more carbon than other kinds. Their loss emits more carbon, while living, they absorb more.
Dire as this all is, some progress is in the works. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil first met in Malaysia in 2003, made up of people from the World Wildlife Fund, citizen groups and the industry. Last December, “Unilever, the world’s biggest buyer of the oil … suspended a $32 million contract with a subsidiary of the giant Sinar Mas Group until the Indonesian conglomerate proved its plantations are not contributing to deforestation.”*
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Barbara Hirsch, recording engineer, eco-person
“Unless someone like you cares a whole lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– The Lorax, Children’s book by Dr. Seuss