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Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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The Irresponsible Practices of the Palm Oil Industry

Palm oil and negative environmental impact

Palm oil plantations are in demand as the world uses more palm oil

The use of palm oil products, that further the destruction of our planet, its people and wildlife, is not acceptable!

By Linn Smith

December 4, 2015—Being curious about palm oil and its devastation to wildlife habitats and the environment, many questions have lingered in my mind. What are the various kinds of palms and what palms are used as oil palms? What is the relationship of oil palms to coconut palms? (I use a lot of coconut oil!) How is the harvesting of products from palm trees effecting our environment? So I decided to investigate and here’s what I found:

Palm Oil Products

According to Philadelphiazoo.org, a zoo currently working towards spreading awareness of the negative impacts of palm oil, the oil can go by many different names in many different products, such as foods, cosmetics, hair and lotion products, cookies, toothpaste, cleaning products, and the list goes on. Here are some of the different names for palm oil you may find on these products: Cetyl Palmite, Ethyllhexyl Palmitate, Hydrated Palm Glycerides, Octyl Palmitate, Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol, Palmolein, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palmate….and more!

The Arecaceae Family

Oil palm and other palms, including coconut, come from the family Arecaceae which means “palm”–but there are thousands of different species of palm trees which grow a variety of different fruits, from dates and acai to coconuts. The fruit of the palm oil tree has kernels which are pressed to make palm oil. Most palm oil comes from the species Elaeis Guineensis. Coconut palm is from the species Cocos Nuciferas. A website, davesgarden.com, describes many of the various fruits of the palm family.

The Palm tree, which we get our coconut oil from, is mostly cultivated in Indonesia, the Philippines and India on a very small scale. The coconuts, harvested by local farmers, are a renewable resource. The coconut palm is known as a “three generation tree”, as it continues through three generations, supporting the farmer, his children and his grandchildren. The farmers produce coconut for coconut milk, coconut oil, fibres for rope, mats, mattresses, and paint brushes.

Removing tropical forests for palm oil

Tropical forests are burned to make room for palm oil plantations.

The Negative Impacts of Palm Oil

Quite the opposite of coconut production is the environmentally unfriendly production of palm oil. The oil palm is mass cultivated on large plantations that have been created by removing not only the indigenous people from their homes, but also have devastated the habitat of wildlife, mainly the Orangutan and Tiger in Indonesia and Malaysia. Tropical forests have been cleared to create plantations. This clearing has added to the warming of our planet as the valuable trees are cut and sold, leaving the rest to be burned down. Burning of the tropical forests emits large quantities of smoke into our atmosphere. Oil palms are then planted.

When the forests are cut they release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, driving up temperatures by the greenhouse effect. Indonesia is the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. It is estimated that 714 million acres of tropical forests will be cleared by 2050 adding another 169 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the the atmosphere, significantly raising global temperatures.

Oil palm industry and child labor

Child labor is used by the oil palm industry.

Violations by the Palm Industry Corporations

Corporations involved in the palm industry are accused of human rights violatons by employing child labor and taking the land owned by indigenous people for their own financial benefit–to supply the world with palm oil! Without their own land, the indigenous people have no choice but to become palm plantation workers, getting paid barely enough to support their families.

Another negative effect of cutting tropical forests for palm oil plantations is the destruction of peatlands, which store carbon. These peatlands, which have developed over thousands of years, are drained and cleared. According to biofueldaily.com, “Draining the peatlands exposes the upper layer to oxygen, raising decomposition rates and soil carbon losses. Most of the carbon is emitted into the atmosphere, speeding up climate change by emitting still more greenhouse gasses.” Clearing a single acre of peatland rain forest can release up to 15,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, (one hectare releases up to 6000 tons of CO2).

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established by producers, manufacturers, traders, bankers and investors of the palm oil industry, with the objective to “promote growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards.”

Greenpeace and many other environmental organizations have criticized this group as, “Falling short of protecting the rain forests and reducing greenhouse gasses,” because the RSPO which has created the certified sustainable palm oils is not guaranteed to be deforestation-free. The RSPO also allows the destruction of peatlands by the industry. In 2013, 200 scientists asked for stronger standards, but the RSPO failed to respond.

In 2014, 67,000 tons of palm oil was used by Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Nature Valley, requiring 44,700 acres of tropical land to be cleared to grow the palm oil.

According to the Union Of Concerned Scientists there are steps we can take to let the industry know these practices are not acceptable. By going to the website:https://secure3.convio.net, you can sign a letter to the industry to increase sustainable practices.

The use of palm oil products, that further the destruction of our planet, its people and wildlife, is not acceptable! Do what you can to make a difference!

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