By Rachel Roberts
Palm oil is in an astonishing amount of food, cosmetics, cleaning agents, and even toothpaste, yet the awareness concerning environmental problems caused by palm oil is incredibly lacking. Palm oil is responsible for major environmental issues such as deforestation, climate change, habitat degradation, and loss of subsistence for local communities. According to the World Wildlife Fund, around 300 football fields worth of rainforest are cleared every hour for palm oil production. Even though celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio have joined the movement against palm oil, and donated around one million dollars to the World Wildlife Fund, the use and importation of palm oil to the United States has not waivered.
Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable grown on the African oil palm tree. Typically, oil palms are grown in Western Africa, however these trees are able to grow where there is abundant warmth and rainfall. This is another reason why the rise of palm oil is leading to the fall of rainforests, as rainforests grow in a climate similar to that of oil palms.
Companies are using techniques such as slashing, burning, and bulldozing of rain forests to create monocultures of oil palm trees. Not only does this destroy biodiversity and habitat for a variety of species, it also increases greenhouse gas emissions because forests also act as carbon sinks.
Deforestation on this scale is beginning to push a number of species to extinction such as the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, sun bear, pygmy elephant, and clouded leopard. In addition to clearing land to grow oil palms, land needs to be cleared to construct a network of roads so that workers and equipment can be transported to and from these remote areas.
By avoiding products that contain palm oil, and encouraging companies that harvest, process, and sell palm oil to adopt more sustainable practices, we can begin to show industries producing palm oil that we are not supportive of industrial practices that harm the environment. According to a recent report from Greenpeace, Wilmar, a major palm oil supplier to major U.S. brands often buys from companies illegally clearing endangered tiger habitat. Studies done by the USDA show that the United States imported about 2.7 billion pounds of palm oil last year.
There is an upside however, large-scale buyers of palm oil such as Nestle, Unilever and Wal-Mart have all made pledges to transition to the purchasing of only sustainably grown palm oil. While this is a good start, in order to mitigate the adverse environmental effects resulting from palm oil, pressure must be kept on corporations. Consumer awareness regarding environmental impacts of farming palm oil needs to be increased as well.
Posters, commercials, and documentaries could provide increased public awareness regarding the palm oil industry. Word of mouth is another powerful way to increase awareness. So let your friends and family know about how palm oil is adversely effecting the environment, people, and animals around the world. Lets make a difference before it becomes too late!
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“Environment: Healing the Web of Life.” Sustainable World Sourcebook: Critical Issues, Viable Solutions, Resources for Action. Berkeley, CA: Sustainable World Coalition, 2014. 33-34. Print.
“Palm Oil Production Poses Problems for the Climate | Climate Central.” Climate Central. Ensia, 16 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://www.climatecentral.org/news/palm-oil-production-climate-18338>.
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