Whenever we humans are shown gut-wrenching images of animal abuse, neglect or suffering, only the very cold hearted among us will not show any evidence of sympathy or anger. But, when we see images of animals much closer to us on the evolutionary scale – such as our cousins the Orangutans – then it hurts just that little bit more, doesn’t it? Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans, yet it is us humans that have caused them to become a critically endangered species in Borneo and Sumatra.
How? The answer is painfully simple. Palm Oil. The Palm Oil industry is a multibillion dollar industry which not many people know about. Palm Oil is used in about 50% of consumer products, including cosmetics, dairy products, cookies, soaps, chocolate, candles, the list is endless really. In short, it’s huge business; meaning the Orangutans, (along with thousands of other species) have a huge problem and as this oil can be found in the majority of items consumers purchase on a daily basis, we, as a society, are contributors to the issue.
It is claimed that every hour an area the size of 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed in Malaysia and Indonesia for the production and cultivation of this one vegetable oil (which isn’t even good for your health!). I’ve seen this fact debated, and some argue that this figure is much too high to match reality. The exact amount of land and the timing of destruction can be argued, but what can’t be argued is that the process is occurring on a super-large scale.
It’s not just that the Orangutans are losing their natural habitat during the production process, it’s also that they are treated as pests by the Palm Oil Industry. Can you get your head around that? These majestic creatures, for whom humans can hardly find a closer relation, are treated as an annoyance and as something to be terminated, not protected, by this multibillion dollar industry. They’re not seen as an ancient species living peacefully in their homes. They’re simply seen as being in the way. If an Orangutan is found wandering into a Palm Oil plantation it will more than likely be killed as it has potential to damage the crops. Reports also suggest that if a female orangutan is carrying her baby, she will be slaughtered and the baby stolen then sold on the illegal pet trade, to countries like China or possibly even a bit closer to home in the US!
In the interests of balance, I must stress that there are benefits of palm oil. The production has boosted the Indonesian economy when it desperately needed such a boost, and has provided jobs for millions in poor rural areas, in a country which many remain living in poverty. Also, Oil Palm trees yield a lot more oil than other crops, such as Coconut Oil, so it’s a case of simple economics for corporations. However, these benefits come at an extremely high price environmentally.
It’s also claimed that Palm Oil can be used as a biofuel or renewable energy. But this claim is a flawed one. The Environmental Protection Agency has already declared that Palm Oil does not meet their criteria to pass as a biofuel, by stating: “EPA’s analysis shows that biodiesel and renewable diesel produced from palm oil do not meet the minimum 20% lifecycle GHG reduction threshold needed to qualify as renewable fuel”.
So what can you do? Well, it is going to be virtually impossible to completely eliminate the production of this ever-so-common vegetable oil, but, we could find more sustainable ways to produce it. For example:
- Cut down on illegal logging and regulate land distribution
- Encourage companies not to buy palm oil from suppliers which are linked to environmental destruction
- Establish a moratorium on clearing forests and peatlands
However, as is usually the case with these types of issues (where we the people are fighting the might of the corporations), the best way to help is by talking. Spread the word. Share this blog. ‘Like’ it. Comment on it. Tell your friends. Together we really can change the world! (Ok, sorry, that was too corny.)
Orangutans have only a 1 chromosome difference with humans. We are so closely linked we may as well be the same animal. Let’s help and protect them where they cannot protect themselves. Let’s say no to Palm Oil.