Thursday, October 8, 2009

Palm Products Are Killing the Orangutans

So yesterday, I went to see a really moving documentary about the rainforests in Indonesia. Without words, the film was able to convey the damage being done both to the rainforest and to the orangutans who are apparently going extinct as we speak. It was quite a remarkable piece, and as soon as they get the film online, I will be sure to link to it. After the film ended, the director and another orangutan activist spoke a little bit about the film, their efforts, and what is causing the destruction of the rainforest in Indonesia. Basically, the problems are: the timber industry and the palm industry. The timber industry destroys the rainforest for lumber, and the palm oil industry cuts down the trees for their palm plantations. Which means that palm products are killing the organgutans. And this is a problem because according to the director of Orangutan Outreach, palm products are in EVERYTHING. So while it is very difficult to live a palm-free life, "It is possible," he assured us.

So now, my sadness seeing the film was compounded with the growing horror that palm oil, sodium palmate and other palm products are now on my growing list of Things to Avoid. You know, along with:

High Fructose Corn Syrup
Industrial Corn Products
Industrial Soy Products
Factory Farm Meat
Food in Plastic
Non Fair-Trade
Non Local/Non-Organic

Is this even POSSIBLE? Actually, yes. If you bought most of your food from a farmers market and found a natural food store (preferably bulk bin), you could avoid all these items in one fell swoop. (The palm products are probably in your soap and make-up though, so watch out there.) However, if you shop at a regular old grocery store, like the D'Agostino I patronize around the corner, then I would say, no. It's just not possible. Which is again why it is important for us as individuals to change our practices, but that's not enough.

The ever controversial Crunchy Chicken posted today about whether you can eat meat and still call yourself an environmentalist. Most of the commenters simply argued that it was silly to set an extraordinarily high threshold for the label "environmentalist." Moreover, many argued that as long as you ate sustainably raised meat, that was okay.

Now, I totally agree with both these points. However, I also think it's important to point out how difficult it is for many people to find sustainably raised meat. Again, if you just shop at the major local grocery store, which most people do, a lot of times, you won't find that option. And that's a problem that we urgently need to fix.

In the mean time, avoid the palm products, fellow eco-nuts. And for more information about the orangutans, visit


Crunchy Chicken said...

What about RSPO Certified palm oil based products? Did they say anything about that?

I was also going to suggest that we just eat orangutan steaks instead and cut out the palm oil middle man.

ruchi said...

They did not say anything about RSPO certified palm oil products, but I may email them and ask them.

Orangutan steaks, huh? Mmmm ... tastes like human. ;)

Crunchy Chicken said...

My soap making friend (who sells it commercially) uses RSPO certified palm oil in her products. Let me know what they say.

Rosa said...

It is actually easier for me to find locally-raised grass-fed animal products than certain kinds of stuff (like the organic fair-trade chocolate hazelnut spread I tried) without palm oil.

This is why humans invented legal regulations: so we don't have to put in all this effort for every single decision we make.

Farmer's Daughter said...

When Ed and I were building our house, I made sure that I knew where the lumber was coming from, and lots of the wood was salvaged. For example, our ipe decking (a rainforest hardwood) was from a deck being ripped off a house my dad was working on. We got the wood Ed wanted, without cutting down more trees, which was what I wanted.

As for palm products, I remember having this conversation with a friend of mine a few years ago. I try to avoid it, along with everything else on your list. Sometimes I just feel so hopeless that all I can do is try to be as self-sufficient as possible. I long for the days that my great-grandparents had, where none of these things were a worry.

Still, I think education is key. We need to know the background of all the things we use/buy/eat, etc.

Fix said...

D'Ag's? Details, I need details...apartment? job? etc! email me soon -


PS. Trying to put together a trip for Nov, you around?

Dr.Pop said...

Instead of avoiding all palm oil products, we should BOYCOTT only UNSUSTAINABLE palm oil - products which aren't certified by the RSPO.. because palm oil is actually good for our health.

Go to this link. You can do a little test at home to see how certain vegetable oil can turn into plastic!

So what we can do is write to manufacturers and ask where they source their palm oil. The more consumers do that, the more it'll pressure manufactures to get their palm oil from a sustainable source!

Anonymous said...

I don't use palm oil products.
But I read another comment suggesting it was cynical of westerners to shun the use of palm oil "just" because producing it harms tropical forests. The oils we choose instead (sunflower, corn, soy) also grow in altered ecosystems (former prairies, & forests). It's just that these were brought into cultivation so long ago that we don't remember.

Are people in the third world bound to preserve ecosystems because they are still intact? Will the rich world pay them for conservation?

What is our obligation to restore the ecosystems we have ruined/altered and the extirpated species? Are we willing to restore the prairies and bring back wolves and huge herds of buffalo? The temperate forests and try to bring back cougars, grizzlies and elk? Don't see big movements around these issues. Very limited efforts, yes.

No, its easier for us to say - you people over there don't cut those trees down, the orangutans are cute and need to be saved.

No easy answers.

redapes said...

The RSPO is nothing but a greenwash. It is a great idea, but in reality it is doing absolutely nothing to affect real change on the ground. Its most powerful members are actually some of the worst offenders in terms of deforestation. They just smile and keep having meetings while the destruction continues. They make great fanfare about their desire to have a whopping 20% or so of palm oil be sustainable by 2015. This is a complete sham, because if the destruction continues unabated, the entire forest cover of Indonesia will be gone by then... with but a few token parks left over to gloss over the harsh reality.

Many well-meaning companies use the RSPO as an excuse so as to not have to deal with the ugly truth that they are knowingly choosing to use ingredients that are actually contributing to the devastation of the planet. The greenwash has been going on for a while as this Greenpeace article from nearly a year ago demonstrates. Another good report by Friends of the Earth can be read here. Only New Zealand is effectively fighting back against the palm oil industry because of its horrific ecological destruction. The problem is so acute now that even the World Bank has agreed to put a moratorium on loaning to palm oil companies. Companies such as Lush are paving the way for a palm oil-free product line.

The most ridiculous counter argument of all is that the fight against palm oil is some sort of 'Western' or 'neo-colonial' plot to hold back the 'developing world'. This is a complete farce. First of all, the poor farmers are not improving their lot in life because of palm oil. At best, they become slave laborers on mega plantations-- earning so little money that they are still living well below the poverty line. Nearly all the profits from palm oil go to wealthy investors who are as often as not Westerners themselves-- or Malays and Indonesians who are anything but 'local'. They are fat cats living far away-- often in Europe and North America. Indigenous Dayak people are duped out of their land and then forcibly removed by the corporations. Then even poorer people are brought in from outside areas to work the plantations.

No one is trying to 'deny the poor the right to develop'. In fact, the same people who are trying to stop palm oil development are always in favor of some other type of compensation for keeping the forests standing-- either through REDD, carbon trading or local investment in agricultural practices that maintain the integrity of standing forests-- such as sugar palms instead of oil palms. This investment is meant to go to local people-- not politicians and businessmen in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

This is not a conspiracy to keep down any one group of people. It is a global problem that needs to be dealt with NOW. Saying "You destroyed your forests so we can destroy ours!" will simply result in a planet in which we all suffer.

Indonesia is the 3rd largest carbon emitter on earth-- after China and the US-- and it is not even an industrialized nation. All the carbon comes from deforestation and the burning of peat. This goes hand in hand with palm oil development. It is often the same companies working both sides of the deal. The cash from the timber is used to pay for the oil palm seedlings.

So even if you don't give a damn about orangutans, maybe you care about your own future? Or your children's future? If those forests go, we're all going with them... human and ape!

Visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more!

ruchi said...

Thanks for the comment @ Red Apes. Would you mind if I post it on the blog as a separate post?

I'd really like everyone to see it.

Let me know. Thanks

redapes said...

Please do! {:(|}

Thanks! OO