Palm Oil Production Is Crushing Wildlife

As more plantations replace virgin rainforest to feed the world’s insatiable appetite for palm oil, wildlife lands are disappearing.


Palm Oil Production Is Crushing Wildlife, Humans & The Environment


Guest Post by Amber Kingsley

According to a recent edition of National Geographic, there are now fewer than 2,500 Bengal tigers left on our planet. In a previous post, it was revealed over 1,200 rhinos are being killed by poachers every year; and it’s heart wrenching to think about these majestic creatures on the verge of extinction simply because of greed.

But it’s not just trapping, hunting and poaching that’s causing wildlife numbers to greatly diminish. The clearing of rainforest for the production of palm oil, found in a multitude of different cosmetic and food products, is now threatening the population of elephants, orangutans and other animals in some parts of the world, especially around Indonesia.

As more of these plantations are popping up to feed the world’s insatiable appetite for more palm oil, wildlife lands are disappearing. It’s not just wildlife that’s suffering, humans are also getting caught in the crossfire, with fire being the operative word in what’s happening with this type of production. To clear space for palm oil plantations, the most popular method for this type of construction is the burning of forested regions of peatlands.

What Exactly IS Happening?

Palm oil plantations in Indonesia is the driving force behind the largest amount of deforestation occurring inside this region. Once they’re operational, the wastewater ponds are releasing immense amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere, which is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The smoke from these burning peatlands contains 28 times more carbon dioxide than found in a rainforest. The resulting aftermath causes a hazardous haze that drifts and spreads to neighbouring areas like Malaysia and Singapore. In 2013, this filthy fog set all-time records for air pollution and was responsible for sending tens of thousands of people to the hospital.

Palm Oil Production
via EPA


Igniting Problems And Controversy

Although the former president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, apologised to neighbouring countries for the massive health problems it faced, it didn’t stop the spread of fires, which continues to ravage Indonesia to clear more peatlands for future palm oil plantations. Following another round of burning, these additional fires sent another 50,000 Sumatrans to seek care for lung problems, itchy, burning eyes and other health issues.

In 2010, Norway offered Indonesia $10 million dollars to keep their forests intact, however, this effort did nothing to halt plantations from continuing to scar the earth; injuring and killing countless species and driving many forms of wildlife towards the point of extinction. Singapore recently began imposing fines of up to $2 billion dollars for companies contributing to the fires, and yet they still burn.

Supply And Demand

Sadly, whether or not the health of human beings, the destruction of our planet and the obliteration of endangered species is at stake, the almighty dollar seems to win out over common sense and the preservation of our world is therefore threatened.

In 2013, the amount of palm oil consumed around the world was around 55 million metric tonnes, four times what it was twenty years previously.

Palm Oil Production
The proboscis monkey is endemic to the southeast Asian island of Borneo.


What’s the Alternative?

According to Jill Kauffman Johnson, the director of a California-based company, Solazyme that creates oils that can replace the demand for those found from palm plants, there are other solutions.

“Our goal is to try and help alleviate the pressure on the equatorial tropics,” offers Jill.

“Since Solazyme’s algae grow wherever the company places its tanks, Solazyme can site its plants where they are most convenient to customers, partners and feedstocks, thus shortening supply chains. The company just opened a 100,000-metric-ton plant in Brazil that uses sugarcane.”

“Our technology is capable of ramping up very quickly,” Kauffman Johnson says. Solutions are there, we just have to embrace them instead of continuing down harmful paths.

The Palm Oil Dilemma

Producing 35 million tonnes a year, Indonesia accounts for 45% of the world’s palm oil supply. According to Amnesty International, around three million Indonesians work in the sector, accounting for at least a third of the global palm oil workforce. Indonesia generally has strong labour laws but weak enforcement of these laws has led to companies being able to get away with systemic abuses of workers in palm oil plantations.

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