Monday, October 12, 2009

Your Questions Answered by Orangutan Outreach

Orangutan Outreach was nice enough to leave a lengthy comment answering some of your questions and comments from this blog post. I'm reproducing it here in its entirety so that everyone can see it. If anyone associated with RSPO would like to respond, I would welcome a continuation of this conversation.

The RSPO [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil] 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!


Crunchy Chicken said...

Thanks for the response. That was, unfortunately, kind of what I was expecting to be the case.

Green Bean said...

Important post! Thanks for this. The whole palm oil thing makes my stomach churn but as you pointed out in your earlier post, shopping at farmers market, buying in bulk and making from scratch allow me to avoid palm oil. But how many people eat like I do?? Not many so all the more important to speak up on this issue.