One of Indonesia's most important levels of participation in the global economy is it’s contribution of palm oil. It is in all manner of foods - from our Oreo’s to our Coco-Crunch, to our Dominos Pizza and our Dunkin’ Donuts. Even everyday items like soap, washing detergent and even lipstick have some degree of palm oil in them. If you eat it, wash with it or use it to make yourself look prettier; it probably contains palm oil.
Now here’s the problem - extracting palm oil is one of the most toxic processes to the environment we have ever created. And it’s only getting worse.
VICE investigates the truly devastating effect of the booming palm oil industry in Indonesia...
Beyond the tragic effects on our orangutan cousins, the effects go much deeper.
Hundreds of thousands of people that make a living through, and live in, the rainforest have already been effected. Many locals suffer from respiratory problems caused by the suffocating plumes of smoke that cover the area. In addition, everyone from humble collectors of the rain forest’s natural resin, to those effected by the floods caused by breakdowns in irrigation networks, suffer from the vast levels of deforestation.
And it is vast; vast to the point of incomprehension.
Since 2000; 14 million acres of land have been destroyed.
At this very moment, 60-80% of palm oil comes from Illegal deforestation.
This is so destructive because preparation for palm oil requires complete burning of the forestry, and this happens on an industrial scale. There are thousands of zones of rainforest that are burnt everyday in Indonesia.
This has prompted resistance from locals in the Aceh region to take a stand. In a recent instance, activists commandeered a palm oil excavator and burnt it. A brave tactic against the multinationals for sure, but it is no more than a slight dent in the machine of palm oil extraction.
They not only fear retaliation for their resistance, but anticipate a full blown, yet silent massacre of the activists who’s voices are seldom heard. With such little coverage of their struggle, who would realize if they were gone?
Because the majority of Indonesia’s palm oil reserves lie on Peat land - extremely carbon dense ground - Indonesian deforestation is particularly toxic:
While 400 tons of carbon/hectare is released in the Amazon during slash and burn tactics of deforestation - the figure for Indonesian rainforest’s stands at 2,700 tons of carbon/hectare.
Despite the fact that companies pledge to source from sustainable palm oil areas, demand is too high to play by the rules. It is a $50 billion-a-year industry, and palm oil companies are expanding to new frontiers and the point of no return is all too painfully in sight.
Until consumers demand that their palm oil comes from a sustainable source, Indonesia’s rainforest will more closely resemble the surface of the moon, rather than a thriving, integral ecosystem that acts as our planet’s lungs.