“There’s a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do…”
Several weeks ago, Iceland released their hard-hitting Christmas advert telling the story of ‘Rang-tan’, the young orangutan whose home had been destroyed by deforestation for palm oil. The ad was bold, emotional and so important for the education and awareness of how the unsustainable farming of palm oil is bringing animal populations to the brink of extinction.
However, Rang-tan’s story won’t be told on television this year as the clearance agency, Clearcast, which approves broadcasting advertisements, has deemed it too political and banned it.
With over 30 million online views, here we investigate the effects unsustainable palm oil deforestation is having and the small changes each one of us can adapt to make a difference.
What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil and the most widely consumed on the planet with around half of all packaged supermarket products containing it, including bread, chocolate, and shampoo. Why? Palm oil trees are greatly efficient, producing on average 10 tonnes of fruit per hectare, meaning that they require 10 times less land when compared to the other major oil-producing crops such as soya, rapeseed, and sunflower. Palm oil is also the most chemically adaptable vegetable oil meaning it can be processed to produce a variety of products with different characteristics and consistencies.
It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s versatile. But what price are we paying? And is it worth the cost?
The ‘eco-disaster’ of palm oil plantations
Palm oil plantations are found in warm tropical climates; those naturally known for their immense biodiversity. Every day, huge portions of rainforest are bulldozed across Southeast Asia, South America and Africa, making way for new plantations to meet the ever-increasing oil demand of multi-billion-pound companies, consumers and governments across the globe. The clearing of tropical rainforests has led to widespread habitat destruction and the population decline of endangered species including elephants, rhinos, tigers and, of course, orangutans. Without the introduction of sustainable farming, experts warn that the extinction of orangutans within the next decade is a very real possibility.
What can we do?
As we are thousands of miles away, it’s easy to turn our backs or close our eyes to the reality we should be facing head-on. So, how can we help?
- Increase your awareness. Understand why unsustainable palm oil deforestation is so bad. Tell your housemate, tell your grandparents and tell your siblings.
- Open your cupboards. Take out three items and look at the ingredients; how many contain palm oil or one of its derivatives, such as palm kernel oil, stearic acid or sodium laureth sulfate?
- Take the #palmoilchallenge. Next time you’re doing your food shopping, swap 1 item on your list that contains unsustainably sourced palm oil for sustainable alternatives and tweet us @TheStudentSci.
It’s not too late to start making a change to promote the use of sustainable palm oil. A little change could make all the difference.
Image: Lynda via Flickr