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The Hidden Truth of Deforestation

By: Manny M.

Palm oil is found everywhere in our daily lives, ranging from cosmetics to various produce on your local grocery shelves. So how exactly do numerous products contain palm oil? It's supplied by multi-million companies that destroy environments through the process of deforestation. These corporations such as Target go into countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and many other countries to cultivate palm oil. Why is palm oil being sought out and cultivated? Well, it is a cooking oil used internationally. Palm oil is affordable and has zero trans fat. As of now, Indonesia and Malaysia are responsible for 84% of all production of palm oil in the world. They cut or burn down tropical forests and peatlands to create plantations of palm oil. When deforestation occurs it destroys the environment, leaving already threatened species with less of a chance of survival and increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

The practice of retrieving palm oil can be dated all the way back to 3,000 BC, but the demand for palm oil has increased over the last several years. Palm oil was found in the tombs of Abydos, Egypt and archeologists believe that palm oil was brought in by traders. Palm oil was primarily recognized as a cooking oil in west and central African countries. A group of Europeans collected the cooking oil to distribute it in Europe. Along with the rest of Europe, the British began to gain interest in palm oil. They hoped to utilize it as a lubricant for their machines during the British Industrial Revolution. Now, palm oil is within numerous products! These items range from pizza dough to biodiesel. In Earth Island Journal it states, “In less than two decades palm oil production has nearly quadrupled to 55 million metric tons and surpassed soybeans to become the world’s most widely traded and used edible vegetable oil.” (Mark). Since palm oil is versatile, companies are now cultivating and exporting more palm oil than the environment can handle.

Palm oil comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. Photo by: James Morgan

The production of palm oil mainly occurs in two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia provides a minimum of 35% of the world’s total palm oil production. Indonesia’s economy is dependent on its palm oil plantations, which is one of the many reasons why Indonesia is planning to double its land devoted to palm oil. As of now, Indonesia has over 6 million hectares and they plan to add another 4 million soon. Malaysia is the world’s second-largest producer/exporter of palm oil. They devote as much land to the palm oil industry as Indonesia, but surpass them when it comes to exporting the crop. The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) states that “Malaysia currently accounts for 28 % of world palm oil production and 33% of world exports”. As a result of the increasing demand for the crop, environments in both of these countries have suffered. Native animals are greatly affected by deforestation considering that “eighty percent of Earth’s land animals and plantslive in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes” (National Geographic). Some animals impacted by deforestation in these countries are: Orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran Elephant, Sumatran Rhino and numerous others. Indonesia and Malaysia are actively destroying habitats and increasing the number of endangered animals. If they continue to support and practice unsustainable palm oil production, the environmental impacts will exponentially worsen.

Despite where an individual lives, everyone is affected by deforestation. We are consumers and therefore we are accountable. We are a part of a problem that allows for animal extinction and worsened air quality. Our current world’s atmosphere is filled with an abundant amount of carbon dioxide created by transportation, industries, and the significant factor: deforestation. Trees provide a natural way of “cleaning” the atmosphere. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. By cutting and burning mass amounts of trees we are making the problem worse.

Palm oil contributes to dangerous long-term effects such as extinct species, climate change and speeding up global warming. Ultimately, trees regulate the world and are a keystone organism in this food web. In the opinion of Mr. Russell, “Rainforests and the world that we know now will eventually disappear. When they disappear we will be left with dried, blazing desserts that are not livable for humans.” (Russell) If rainforests start to disappear so will the animals native to the area, inflicting a long domino effect on the rest of the habitat. Deforestation immediately impacts the animals in those rainforest environments but animals globally are affected as well. When industries plan to create these plantations they utilize one of the two unethical processes called “slash and burn” or deforestation. Even though “slash and burn” is the most effective at clearing a field, it is also extremely dangerous to the environment. There is a massive amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and an increase in air pollution. The gas remains trapped in our atmosphere and it causes for the temperature to rise.Increases in temperature prompt animals to die off, soil to dry out, extreme climate changes. Trees are the primary regulators for global warming, but without them it's just speeding up global warming.

Even though we are the biggest contributor to this problem we can stop it from spreading and take action into our own hands. It might seem difficult to cut palm oil out of our lives… it doesn't have to be! You can start by researching the brands you currently consume and their connection to palm oil. For example, peanut butter commonly contains palm oil. Brands such as Justin's Classic Peanut Butter and 365 Everyday Value Organic Unsweetened Peanut Butter both contain palm oil. Companies will disguise “Palm Oil” as other ingredients: Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, and other names! You can either look out for these in the ingredient list or download an app to help you! The app’s name is “The Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping” which will help you identify products that are Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Another way is by using your voice and speaking up about deforestation! Companies are always looking at the positives of palm oil as to the negatives. You can express your concern for the issue by writing a letter to companies that are using palm oil and ask them to stop. Your letter can simply be a request or a list of how their product is hurting the environment. By all means, we are not trying to stop all production of palm oil. We are trying to create sustainable production of palm oil. In order to achieve this, companies will have to agree to the following regulations created by the RSPO: no deforestation, no peat development, and no exploitation. This is just a step forward into creating long lasting change!

If nothing is done about this issue now, the future will experience the endless environmental consequences that palm oil production creates and these consequences will be passed on to every generation. So why not start now and make a change?

Discussion Questions:

  • Besides palm oil production, what else is responsible for mass deforestation?

  • What are some products you use that contain palm oil? How can you substitute them? Whether that be purchasing another brand or even making it yourself!

Works Cited
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