Borneo is Burning / Palm Oil & Logging
There is a new 24 minute report from CNN on the continuing devastation caused by palm oil deforestation and fires in Indonesia. The journalist Ivan Watson does a great job touching on most of the issues involved.
Read the CNN story: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2019/11/asia/borneo-climate-bomb- -hnk/
Or watch Ivan Watson's CNN video piece: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2019/12/03/borneo-is-burning-full-documentary-watson-vpx.cn
As I've written before, the issues surrounding palm oil are complicated. The RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), a non-governmental industry group set up in Indonesia to try and produce a more sustainable palm oil supply chain, has an admirable goal. But truthfully, billion dollar industries regulating themselves doesn't inspire much confidence. Yes, the boom in palm oil has brought some financial relief to small farmers, and it makes a nice PR talking point, but the benefits are not as much as we're led to believe, especially for subsistence indigenous communities. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/most-communities-not-seeing-promised-oil-palm-payoff-in-borneo-study-finds/
Unsurprisingly, it's the few mega corporations that are reaping the vast majority of benefits, at the expense of the environment and wildlife. At this point, the RSPO "sustainable" label is, in my opinion, and that of many others, very far from being legitimate. Massive fires in 2015, and then again this summer, many starting conveniently on the edges of current plantations wanting to expand, and owned by mega palm oil corporations, make for very suspicious conditions. Most Indonesian palm oil plantations are planted on what was virgin biodiversity-dense rainforest, as well as where they must expand, which is the very definition of unsustainability. And as global demand shows no signs of slowing, more and more palm oil is planted, on mostly newly deforested land. Logging activities also add to the devastation.
Last year, the Indonesian government gamely tried to declare a moratorium on new licenses for palm oil plantations, but with no baseline data, accountability, or sanctions attached. So, basic greenwashing. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/rspo-indonesia-palm-oil-plantations-moratorium/
A recent concluded two-year study by the Gecko Project and Mongabay, set out to investigate the hidden story behind twin environmental and social crises unfolding in Indonesia. As we suspected, tackling corruption is a vital precondition for Indonesia to meet its climate targets and resolve land conflicts.
In fact, in August 2019, the Indonesian government admitted that a new study showed 81% of palm oil plantations have been breaking rules for decades, including polluting, and operating illegally in conservation and peat lands. This confirms what conservationists working on the ground are experiencing.
Frankly, the more palm oil news coming out about real conditions on the ground, the worse it gets. Wilmar International, the largest palm oil producer in the world (US$44 billion a year), has long been accused of intimidating small farmers off their land, brutal labor conditions, and other criminal behavior. Imagine the lobbying power behind companies that massive. It's certainly not just WIlmar doing this either. There are dozens of these stories, just in the last couple of years. https://www.foe.org.au/new_report_uncovers_australian_banks_financing_palm_oil_companies_responsible_for_deforestation_and_human_rights_violations
In November 2019, two land activists were murdered by a group of hit men at the behest of an oil palm businessman in North Sumatra:
"Orangutans are the innocent victims of an insatiable global economy that creates greed but not satisfaction, desire but not happiness." Dr. Birute Galdikas, primatologist and founder of Orangutan Foundation International.
Palm oil deforestation and the critical endangerment of orangutans is THE issue that inspired me to start Our Planet Soap last year, with our first palm oil-free bar called simply, Orangutan Soap. I am committed to making great soap without palm oil, and am not convinced by the so called "certified sustainable" version. We pay more for our olive oil base, but want to give our customers that choice. Plus, in my opinion, olive oil makes a much gentler soap. While the price of olive oil fluctuates (always up, right?), and supplies can be limited in certain years, it is generally considered a fairly sustainable crop. At least tropical rain forests are not being destroyed to plant more olive groves!
Beyond orangutans, the sad fact is that just about all wildlife is seriously to critically endangered in today's world. Climate change, habitat loss, trophy hunting; it's a tsunami of death for the biodiversity of plants, animals, and marine life. Thus was born Our Planet Soap. All our soap bars are palm oil-free, named after endangered species, with our mission to educate customers about the biodiversity emergency we face, integrating plastic-free sustainability into our purchasing decisions, and raising funds for animal conservation. And also, seriously, making the best bar of soap you've ever used.
I continue to update this blog post with news around palm oil issues. I hope one day to feel confident that sustainable palm oil - something we ALL want - will be a real thing. In the meantime, we'd all be healthier if we cut down on eating processed foods, right? And as for soap, we don't need palm oil at all.