To me, it is sad how a product’s unsustainable production can be hidden from the public. I will often read ingredients on a label and have no idea about the processes that went into making them. I’m sure I have many to learn about, but for now I would like to talk about palm oil and palm kernel oil. Both are extracted from the oil palm, and palm oil’s biggest exporter is Indonesia, with Malaysia to its north a close second. These countries share the island of Borneo, which has some of the most biologically diverse jungles in the world. In the biodiversity hot spot of Borneo and its surrounding islands, you can find the Javan and Sumatran rhinoceroses, both critically endangered, the orangutan and Borneo elephant, both endangered, along with about 15,000 endemic plant species. Also native are very strange organisms like the carnivorous pitcher plant, paradise flying tree snake, or flying frog. If you see palm oil among the ingredients on the back of a product, you can be pretty sure it came from a palm oil plantation that displaced the jungles of southeast Asia and all these species that they hold. To read about Borneo’s biodiversity and the industries and policies that are harming it, check out this National Geographic article, one of my favorites ever: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/borneo/white-text If you skip to page 4, you can read specifically about oil palm plantations, but I find the whole article both fascinating and touching. Pictures can be found here: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/borneo/klum-photography I think it is crazy how our choices here can affect the lives of amazing butterflies, frogs, or orchids thousands of miles away. I know that our choice to avoid products with palm oil, palm kernel oil, or coconut oil won’t get rid of deforestation or habitat destruction. However, I also know that I can’t stand to support something like oil palm plantations, which are quickly replacing the habitat of some of my favorite creatures; it just isn’t right.
“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
-Cree Native American Proverb
One of my English teachers has a poster with this quote in her room, and I have never really understood its meaning until recently. I realized that so much of what humans do is for money, that we don’t even realize we are destroying the world around us. From a young age, we are taught to want to be successful and make money, making us forget other things that matter too; how many of you aspire (or aspired) to be rich and famous as opposed to being someone who saves the environment. This Cree proverb tells us to live in balance with nature or the consequences will be severe. Cutting meat out of your diet is the best way to live in balance with nature. Deforestation in Brazil accounts for 75% of their greenhouse gas emissions, a very large number seeing as Brazil is the worlds 4th biggest greenhouse gas emitter. From 1996-2006, Brazil cleared 10 million hectares of rainforest, about the size of Portugal, and 80% of the rainforest cleared was for cattle farming. So how do you stop cattle farming, and therefor deforestation? Simple- stop eating beef. Rivers being polluted (poisoned) is also a huge issue in the world, as there are some pollutants that just can’t be filtered. Most rivers are polluted by farm runoff, which happens when cows poop and it rains, the rain sending all sorts of pollutants rushing into the river nearby. The river could very well be the same river that the town downstream gets their water from. Again, stopping the cattle farming producing the farm runoff is easy to do; all you have to do is stop eating beef. Fishing seems to be harmless to most people, after all the ocean is so huge you can’t possibly fish everything out of it. This thought is false however, as trawling is killing out fish faster than we could ever expect. By 2050, 90% of the species of fish we eat will be extinct, plus other species of plant or animal killed by the destructive nature of trawling. Like I said before, the easiest way to stop trawling is to cut fish out of your diet.
The situation in the proverb is happening faster than we think, every day we pollute more rivers, clear more acres of rainforest, and trawl more fish. The way to stop this is simple however, just stop eating meat.