Palm oil is an ingredient that is found in your pantry, in your household, in your beauty products, and in rainforests. Except it really shouldn’t belong in rainforests – it takes up the place of biodiversity, habitats, and wildlife. Palm oil is cheap to produce and is used in a wide variety of products, which places it in popular demand. However, it comes at a hefty price, which we are going to explore in this part.
- Palm oil causes deforestation.
As farmers plant palm trees to harvest their oil, they end up burning and destroying huge portions of native rainforest, as you can see with these plantations in Malaysia. Sometimes the wildfires used to create space for palm tree plantations get out of hand and destroy the rainforest even more.
- Palm oil causes habitat loss.
For the same reasons above, planting solely palm trees over huge extenses of land means removing all the trees, wildlife, insects, and plants that make up a unique ecosystem with unique species living in it. Over 90% of orangutan habitat has been lost in the last 20 years and the Sumatran tiger is facing extinction. No more rainforest = no more homes for these species.
- Palm Oil causes a loss in biodiversity.
Some species, like the Sumatran tiger above, are becoming extinct. That means less biodiversity in the world, less colorful animals, less diverse genes in the gene pool of Mother Nature. This ultimately affects us, as we depend on several kinds of plants and animals for our crops, such as pollinators. By destroying life, palm tree plantations are destroying the very thing they depend on.
- Palm Oil, like other industries, is also socially unsustainable.
Palm farming is being exploitated by big international companies. While these companies give jobs to the indigenous people, they’re also exploiting them and their land. This leads to a violation of human rights – there is a gross presence of child labor in Indonesia for example, as Amnesty International announced in 2016.
This is the briefest of overviews, and each bullet point deserves its own blog post. But for now, we can establish that palm oil is bad news. The fact that it is found in virtually every snack aisle at the supermarket means that we’re part of the cause. What can we do to protect the orangutans, rhinos, and tigers? Keep tuned for Part II.