How palm oil destroys the planet

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Illustration by Lydia Wojack-West

Look on the packaging of your food. Under ingredients you might find palm oil. It may seem harmless. In fact, you may never think about it again, but this mentality needs to change. Palm oil is in nearly everything. It is a cheap, highly unsustainable plant product many companies use because it’s readily available. 

Palm oil, a vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of the African oil palm tree, grows in many areas such as the tropical rainforests of Asia, Africa, and South Africa. It is in such high demand that companies bulldoze rain forests in order to make way for palm oil plantations.

Animals that live in the tropical rainforest of Asia include the Sumatra orangutan—about 7,500 remain in the wild. One may look at that number and think, “That’s not too bad.” However, it is estimated that 100 years ago there were about 230,000 orangutans in the world. These numbers don’t lie, and long story short, if humans didn’t infiltrate these animals’ habitat, the world would have much more biodiversity.

Palm oil is anything but harmless. If it benefits the human race, who cares about the environment or the species that are slowly dying because of it? Let’s take a look at this.

Deforestation occurs when people clear out a wide area of trees, leading to more carbon emissions in the air and more animals without habitats. Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate and not even just for palm oil. If deforestation continues at this elevating rate, rain forests will not exist in 100 years, especially when we continue to replace forests with man-made palm tree plantations. Even if you don’t believe in global warming, people with common sense can come to the conclusion that fewer trees and forests means less clean air, fewer animals, and more selfish humans damaging their own planet.

One of the main species at risk is the orangutan. Orangutans could go extinct within the next 5–10 years. They will starve to death because they simply cannot find food. Their shelters are in trees, and if there are no trees, where will they find refuge? This animal depends on the rainforest as a home, yet, somehow companies who fund these plantations think it’s okay to quite literally go in with machines, tear down the trees, lay down the law, and then plant African oil palm trees.

I have not bought anything with palm oil for the past six months or so. When I go grocery shopping, I check the ingredients on everything and make sure they don’t include palm oil. It’s been hard. No more frozen pizzas (Tony’s), cake mix (Pillsbury), chewy granola bars (Quaker’s), but when you look at it from a bigger picture, palm oil is cheap, so a lot of companies who produce cheap food will put it in their products. That’s why when you look at the organic counterpart of palm oil products, you will probably not find it.

Also, if you are interested to see which companies promote sustainable palm oil use and those who—suspiciously—haven’t commented on the matter or who still use palm oil distributed by the plantations, check out World Wildlife Fund’s Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard 2016. It’s updated annually, showing which companies to avoid and which companies actually care about the rainforest and its animals, not just their own profit with cheap ingredients.

It’s difficult to cut palm oil out of your life, especially because it’s cheap, and organic products tend to be more expensive. But I wholeheartedly believe that not buying these products does make a difference, even if it’s only one person. Also, advocating for it in a respectable manner gives people the knowledge to make their own choice about the matter. Give basic facts, show pictures and stories of the orangutans and other animals that are facing habitat loss and the destruction of deforestation. Next time you are at the grocery store, take a look at the ingredients listed on the back, and perhaps reconsider your purchase.  

2 COMMENTS

  1. Having in mind that palm oil production is sometomes protecting millions of our Muslim families across the world, in the light of article here: http://psuvanguard.com/interfaith-event-sparks-misunderstanding-goes-viral/ I would like to remind the Author that such racist behaviour, putting in a single article so many Muslim lives in danger is actually exceptional example of racism.
    Such comments shall be banned, author punished in public applying Shariah rules and required to compensate the economic damae he made to any and all of our Muslim families!

    What a rude, racist article!

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