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Rainforests are some of the most vital resources on this planet, supporting an abundance of mineral, animal, and plant lifeforms, and providing us with the oxygen we breathe. Many indigenous communities depend on trees for their livelihood and sustenance. Vast “carbon sinks” such as the Amazon rainforest take in large amounts of the greenhouse gases that would otherwise push the temperature of our planet to a dangerously high level: a scenario which is sadly coming to pass right now, largely because we have been desecrating the planet’s ancient forests for the most trivial reasons you could imagine.

Palm oil is a commodity found in approximately 50 percent of all consumer products, including pet food, cleaning fluids, cookies, and snacks. It is highly valued for its versatility and was even used in the production of toxic napalm during World War II. However, this convenience comes at a terrible price. 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is produced in just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. The Leuser Ecosystem, located on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, has been particularly hard hit by the palm oil industry’s ever-increasing need for land.

Up to 300 football fields’ worth of forest is cleared every single hour to make way for palm oil plantations. Orangutans, pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinoceroses, and Sumatran tigers are all being pushed toward extinction as their homes disappear. Meanwhile, dangerous forest fires – typically started by palm oil companies as a quick method of clearing land – are devastating the health and livelihood of Indonesian children and communities.

Sadly, a culture of rampant, unbridled consumerism thrives in our society, and we are rarely encouraged to consider the adverse impacts that this may have on the world around us. The destruction being wreaked in the mysterious rainforests of a distant country seems very remote and disconnected from our way of life. Sometimes, the best way for us to truly comprehend the scale of what’s happening is to be presented with photographic evidence.

Environmental photojournalist Paul Hilton has long documented the impact the palm oil industry has on the Leuser Ecosystem. Two pictures he posted to his Instagram account reveal, in stark detail, just how shocking the transformation of Indonesia’s once-vibrant rainforests has been.

“The top picture shows untouched, primary forest, holding an abundance of life within it,” Hilton said.


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A post shared by Paul Hilton (@paulhiltonphoto)

“The bottom picture shows cleared forest, planted with a monoculture of palm trees, void of life,” he added.

In the man-made forest shown in the second photograph, nature is not allowed to intrude. Orangutans, for example, are shot on sight if they wander onto a palm plantation. The sadness of knowing that Indonesia’s wildlife is being systematically driven toward oblivion – for the sake of a few moments’ bland taste pleasure – is almost too great to bear. When this forest, and others just like it, are lost forever, will we dare to look future generations in the eye and say that we destroyed them for the sake of cookies and snacks?

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