When I read about palm oil production and the detrimental effect it has, the focus always tends to be on animals. The impact of palm oil upon both individual animals and entire species is devastating. We are at risk of losing orang-utans all together before long.
And yet, the problem doesn’t end there. I thought I’d examine some of the other issues caused by palm oil production, starting with pollution. I know it doesn’t stir up public opinion as much as pictures of animals suffering, but perhaps it should.
You see the problem is, palm oil is an equatorial resource. This means that it can only be grown within ten degrees either side of the equator. That happens to be where some of the most beautiful and quite frankly useful forests on earth are situated.
Because forests don’t just provide ecosystems and habitat for animals. They play an incredibly important part in maintaining our atmosphere as it is currently. You might remember from school that plants and trees use the process of photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. To put it very simply, less trees means less oxygen. And when you remove some of the biggest forests in the world to make way for palm oil production... well, you get the picture.
So then let’s add into the equation the fact that in order to clear the land for palm oil production, huge areas have to be burned. This process in itself produces carbon dioxide and of course smoke. In fact, residents of Southeast Asia regularly have to live with a horrible haze in the air that is caused directly by the palm oil industry. At the moment, fires are raging in Sumatra that have been set deliberately by “sustainable” palm oil producers. The country has had to declare a state of emergency and thousands of troops are trying to put out the fires.
Further carbon dioxide is released by the draining of wetlands that is necessary to allow palm oil to be produced. And of course, pollution doesn’t only take the form of carbon dioxide. Palm oil plantations are causing rivers to be polluted with chemicals and land to erode. Each change we make to our environment has a knock on effect. Species of flora and fauna will die out. Our environment will become unrecognisable as a result of climate change. We will live with smog, unclean air, flooding and land slips. Homes will be lost over and above those who are actually being displaced by the palm oil industry.
And yet, we don’t seem to be able to cope without this strange oil. An oil that is treated and chemically processed before we put it on our skin or in our bodies, making it bad for us anyway. Oh the irony.
The palm oil industry is unlikely ever to disappear completely, I accept that. But if we all cut down on our palm oil use considerably, companies might actually think twice about using it. More money might be invested in finding an environmentally friendly, truly sustainable alternative. Because if we carry on as we are at the moment, the world is never going to be the same again.