Palm oil is found everywhere– in our shampoo, our snacks, and even in our fuel. As palm oil consumption increases, palm oil expansion occurs at the expense of the environment and other living beings in the countries it is produced. Due to unsustainable palm oil practices, about 1 out of 3 mammal species are endangered in Indonesia, including endemic species.
Currently, over 90% orangutans’ habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years according to the UN. That means we have destroyed 90% of the homes of animals that share 97% of our DNA. An estimated 4,000 orangutans are killed each year and they are expected to be extinct in the wild by 2022. But the orangutan is not the only species affected by palm oil development; their situation represents the story of thousands of other species facing the same fate in Southeast Asia, all because of our consumer habits.
Deforestation for palm oil production also contributes significantly to climate change. The removal of the native forests often involves the burning of invaluable timber and remaining forest undergrowth, emitting immense quantities of smoke into the atmosphere and making Indonesia the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. These trees also normally mitigate the emission of carbon dioxide but once they are burned all the carbon stored in that tree’s lifetime will be released into our atmosphere.
Additionally, the monoculture of the palm oil industry heavily impacts the region’s biodiversity. Without variation in an ecosystem, that region is more likely to suffer from future plagues or blights that will economically devastate the industry. This burden will then be moved onto consumers and even poor Indonesian farmers. A rich biodiversity indicates to scientists that the ecosystem’s health can remain relatively stable and endure most crises without human intervention.
Furthermore, the palm oil industry is responsible for the exploitation of many palm oil farm workers as many are poorly equipped, trained, and paid. Often, they are forced into a modern-day version of sharecropping where they can not escape their labor contracts. According to the Rainforest Action Network, children are often also forced to work on these plantations rather than to go to school, where an education may provide social mobility.
Additionally, if humans right abuse is not enough to convince you to commit to less palm oil, then think of the impact it can have on you. Most food products with palm oil have a high amount of saturated fats. In fact, your average bag of Cheetos has one gram of saturated fat (9 calories) from strictly palm oil.
Furthermore, the American Heart Association suggests never consuming more than 16 grams of saturated fat in a day. If 6.25% of your daily fat intake comes from a bag of Cheetos, then the same guidelines by the AHA only allow you to have only 40 more calories from saturated fats or four grams of fat. Any additional fat theoretically goes to an adipose cell and as these cells store more and more fat, they’ll multiply. The U.S. National Library of Medicine warns of this slippery slope when they concluded that if the number of adipose cells increases, your chances of obesity also skyrocket.
Ultimately saying no to palm oil comes down to the consumer. While there is some competition in the food oil market, the power of the consumer is really the driving force behind the movement to minimize palm oil usage. As individuals, we must realize that our power lies in a collective good– we must look for alternatives, ways to promote this message, and we must all say no to the forbidden fruit of temptation.
Say no to palm oil.