Deforestation Not Sustainable Or Responsible
Deforestation is directly responsible for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the carbon released when forests are burned, deforestation impairs the planet’s capacity to absorb harmful CO2 from our air, which compounds the greenhouse effect, global warming and climate change.
Because of deforestation, ecosystems in some regions of the world are on the verge of collapse right now. Balancing record human populations with diminishing natural resources is getting more challenging by the day.
The palm oil industry has been one of the greatest drivers of deforestation over the past 20+ years. Most of us have products in our kitchens and bathrooms that contain palm oil. It’s found in thousands of products, including cookies, shampoo, lotions and shaving cream. Most of us have no idea that these products promote tropical deforestation and wildlife extinction.
Palm oil is a multibillion-dollar industry—and it’s still growing rapidly at the expense of our rainforests. The World Wildlife Fund says palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, (65 percent of all vegetable oil). While it isn’t always clearly labeled on consumer products, the environmental impact has been devastating.
Most recently, Singapore, home to some of the largest palm companies in the world, warned citizens about the health costs of using palm oil, which is 50 percent saturated fat.
In most cases, owners of the palm oil plantation (or their sister companies in pulp and paper) are responsible for slashing and/or burning the land to clear large swaths for palm tree production. If not, they often rely on a shell game called “sustainable” palm oil to hide their connection to the deforestation.
Endangered species, including tigers, orangutans and elephants are displaced, if not killed as part of this bungle in the jungle. Those that survive cannot ever return. It’s definitely not a sustainable practice.
These palm plantations proceed to disrupt entire ecosystems because they are based on the concept of monoculture versus biodiversity. Even a so-called “sustainable” plantation often sits on thousands of acres of former wildlife habitat within a critical watershed. The Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) appears to be just a shell game where offenders can purchase offsets or credits to cover their misdeeds. Companies with blood on their hands (directly or indirectly through suppliers) simply buy credits and claim to be sustainability leaders.
Sustainable palm oil needs to defend biodiversity and endangered species. Sustainable palm oil needs to be responsible in the battle against climate change. Stalling, green washing and outright lies are not leadership tactics.
At the moment, most sustainable palm oil is merely a cheap label that anyone can buy. If RSPO can be bought not earned, it’s meaningless. A “sustainability leader” can kill ecosystems and endangered species and buy credits to cover its tracks. That’s fraud not sustainability.
It’s time to force biodiversity and endangered species into every conversation about palm oil (and other industries). It’s time to defend ecosystems, not just corporate reputations. If tigers, orangutans, elephants and rhinos go extinct at the hands of RSPO, we don’t have our values in order.
We have a model for a sustainable pilot plan that can expand palm oil’s footprint, while fighting poverty and climate change. It also could lower production costs. This model involves urban forestry in cities throughout the tropics. In these locations, millions of trees can make neighborhoods more livable, resilient and more productive.
Entire neighborhoods serve as the caretakers and harvesters. Palm companies merely develop collection centers that pay neighbors for their harvest, while funneling the supply onward for processing. Meanwhile, these urban trees can make communities more resilient, while sheltering buildings from the weather (which can save energy and cut CO2 emissions). No deforestation or displacement involved and every city has millions of spaces for trees. These trees also can help control surface water runoff in cities and protect them from floods.
We urge palm oil producers and stakeholders to work with us on this model and others. We have stakeholders around the world ready to help. It’s time for a new paradigm and new partnerships on forest conservation, reforestation and biodiversity.