Palm Oil – Improving Economy at the Cost of Permanent Destruction

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Climate change, air pollution and extinction of various mammal species – these are just some of the biggest concerns palm oil industry is causing. With more demands for this particular resource, the business is too lucrative to be ignored and in exchange for conversion, people are willing to sacrifice the very thing we can never gain back with money. Today, more than 80% of palm oil producers can be found in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The business is always booming and the country flourishes from the amazing demand and exports of palm oil. Roughly half of the packaged food found in developed countries make use of palm oil. However, the environmental impact is horrendous.

More than 98% of beautiful tropical rainforest in Indonesia lost by 2022

Indonesia is known to be the ‘Emerald of the Equator’ from the beautiful rainforest that can be found across the country. It has more than 17,000 islands and is the home to many species that can only be found in rainforests in this country. However, this fact does not stop men from destroying the natural habitats of animals and turning them into an oil palms plantation area. In 2007, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) releases a report that there will be less than 2% of rainforest left in 15 years’ time in the ‘Emerald of the Equator’ should deforestation continues at the same rate. Peatlands, which are known to store carbons, are being destroyed, causing greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change.

Extinction & Loss of biodiversity

With less home available to some of the rarest species on Earth, it will be a matter of time for these creatures to die out. The best spots for oil palm growing are places where rainforests stand, which are also the natural habitat of many endangered species such as Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Elephant, Orangutans, etc.

Biodiversity is the level of life variety that can be found in certain areas and it is particularly high in Indonesian rainforests. Not just losing their homes, many animals are treated roughly to smoothen the process of preparing the area for planting oil palms. As they are forced to relocate and plantation areas becoming easier to access, illegal poaching and trading of critically endangered species increases.

Statistics have shown that approximately 50,000 orangutans – and more in the future – have been found victims of animal cruelty as a result of uncontrolled deforestation. Many of them found dead from human attacks that range from sharp objects to bullets. Others are hunted to be smuggled, sold or killed for their skin, body parts or other uses.

And no one is there to fight for their rights.

Harm to indigenous people and their culture

Borneo Island is one of the 4 main islands where the palm oil industry flourishes. However, it is also the home to many indigenous people who have been residing in the area for centuries. They are living history, preserving their culture, traditions, and richness of diversity in Malaysia and Indonesia. According to Mongabay News, only 1% of oil palm concessions do not include lands owned by indigenous people.

While palm oil industries provide jobs to thousands of people, it is done at the expense of the income source of locals. Rainforests and lands that serve as the main livelihood for many are destroyed. Together with this, human rights issues arise as children are employed, often due to having no choice but to make ends meet.

It’s not the trees; it’s the people

Palm oil is an amazing natural resource which has improved economies, especially to the developing country, Indonesia. However, the cost to the country, its people and every living being around the plantations is extensive and permanent. Loss of biodiversity is happening, at this moment. Children are being employed to carry heavy loads and injuries during work are often unavoidable.

Palm Oil trees are not dangerous lifeforms.

It is unsustainable palm oil reserves that cause this major environmental impact. Unfortunately, it has become a resource where its demands increase every year. It has become a lucrative business improving the economy of developing countries and causing competition with neighboring areas.

What we can do

We cannot undo the damages that have been done – the loss of biodiversity, lost species and destroyed areas. What we can do is to help stop and prevent this from expanding even further. Many of us are not directly involved in oil palm planting, harvesting, and deforestation. Even the so-called sustainable palm oil is often a façade made by giant companies to avoid persecution from the public.

Development of a new alternative to palm oil is not easy. This particular vegetable oil is easy to maintain, cheap to process and widely acceptable in food, cosmetics and in biodiesel. It is not impossible for people like us to make our voices heard to policymakers and government.

Changes can be done to stop using palm oil by finding alternatives such as shea butter, coconut, grapeseed, soybean, jatropha and jojoba oil. By reducing demand for palm oil, businessmen will be more inclined to find alternatives to satisfy the public.

Most of our cars run on biodiesel which requires palm oil and there is little we can do about it. By cycling, walking or making use of public transportation, we are already doing our best in protecting nature from excessive environmental degradation done by palm oil.

We cannot bring back the life of the dead sun bears and orangutans. What we can do is prevent their cubs and babies from having to go through the same pain. We can work to ensure that our future generation will live to see the beautiful rainforests filled with life and vigor. We need to protect the planet we live on.

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