Palm oil is a seemingly ubiquitous commodity that can be found in an estimated 50 percent of consumer goods, including snack bars, pet food, cleaning fluids, and cosmetics. However, few people realize just how harmful the palm oil industry has been to the nations of Indonesia and Malaysia, which collectively produce 90 percent of the world’s palm oil. The production of this commodity typically involves clearing large areas of forested land using a “slash-and-burn” method. The Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra – which are home to a vast range of animal species not found anywhere else on the planet – have been particularly hard hit by palm-oil-related deforestation.
300 football fields’ worth of Indonesian rainforest are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations every single hour. Between 1990 and 2005, more than 28 million hectares of rainforest were lost due to palm oil production and illegal logging. On the island of Sumatra alone, some 10.8 million hectares of forest have been converted into palm oil plantations … and this has had a devastating impact on the wild animals who once called these forests home. Orangutans are shot on sight if they happen to wander onto a palm plantation, while pygmy elephants, Sumatran tigers, and Sumatran rhinos (to name a few) are also being pushed toward the brink of extinction as a result of the palm oil industry’s relentless demand for land. No doubt about it: commercial palm oil production has spelled disaster for these animal species.
However, the impact of this industry has extended far beyond the country’s wildlife. Fumes from the burning forests have also an extremely adverse effect on the health of local children and communities. For the past year, extensive forest fires (the majority of which were started by palm oil companies) have raged through the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, and Papua. In late 2015, Zamzami Arlinus, a media campaigner for Greenpeace, visited a town called Pontianak on the island of West Kalimantan. Arlinus observed that during the mornings, “visibility reached out to only about 50 meters; more than 12 students aged between 15-17 at a vocational school fainted, unable to breathe properly; and the Air Pollution Index (API) reportedly passed 1,000 (PM10) making Pontianak effectively the most polluted city in all of Indonesia.”
The extensive rainforest clearance Indonesia has experienced in recent years has ensured that the country is now listed by the World Resources Institute as one of the top ten heaviest carbon polluters in the world. Deforestation accounts for an incredible 97 percent of the country’s carbon footprint.
A new picture of Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, sheds light on the tragic nature of the entire situation.
Here, Widodo stands on an area of peatland that has recently been cleared to make way for a palm oil plantation: a symbol of how his country has been ravaged by the palm oil industry.
While it may seem difficult to cut palm oil out of our lives – given that it can be found in half of the everyday products that are available to us – it is crucially important for us to vote with our dollars and take a stand against the many abuses of the palm oil industry. You can learn more about the truth behind the palm oil industry – and why you should make an effort to boycott it in your everyday life – by reading the articles below.
- Will We Have to Tell Our Children the Rainforests Were Destroyed by Big Palm Oil for Snacks?
- What Our Snacks Have To Do With Indonesia’s Current Forest Fires and State of Emergency
- Deforestation, Human Rights Abuse, Animal Extinction and the One Industry That Unites Them All
- Top 10 Facts You NEED to Know About Palm Oil
- Why You Should Avoid Palm Oil, and How to Do It
Image Source: BBC