Commodities Consuming Rainforests
Palm oil plantations are a major driver of deforestation in some of the world’s most critical ecosystems. They are degrading the environment and affecting the carbon sinks of the world.
Around 24 million hectares of rainforest were destroyed in Indonesia between 1990 and 2015, according to official figures from the Indonesian government. That’s an area the size of the UK. In one year, Indonesia lost around one million hectares of its forests. Palm oil and paper companies are the main causes of this destruction. Approximately 45 million acres of land in Indonesia has been licensed for palm oil development. The Indonesian government plans to build more than 100 coal-fired power plants, while expanding palm oil production for local biofuel consumption.
It’s estimated that up to 300 football fields of forest are cleared globally every hour to make room for palm plantations, destroying the habitat of already critically endangered species like the orangutan, Sumatran tiger and rhino. Half of the Bornean orangutan population has been wiped out in just 16 years. Indonesia’s peatland destruction is roughly the equivalent of 70 large, coal-fired power plants. As estimated by Nature Communications Journal, one hectare of forest converted into a palm oil plantation in Indonesia results in 174 lost tons of carbon. Deforestation is the road to hell.
Often, timber companies and oil palm cultivators work hand in hand. “As the timber resource has been depleted, the timber companies are now engaging in the oil palm business, completing the annihilation of Sarawak’s peat swamp forests,” observes Marcel Silvius, a senior scientist at Wetlands International.
These palm trees are an invasive species imported from Africa. Every two or three weeks, each mature tree produces a 50-pound bunch of dates, bursting with a red, viscous oil that is more versatile than almost any other plant-based oil of its kind. Indonesia is rich in timber and coal, but palm oil is its biggest export.
Palm tree plantations have a lifecycle of 28-30 years. Once the trees are taller than 12 meters, it isn’t economical to harvest the fruits, which contain the oil. The palm trees are then cut and replaced by new trees. This waste speaks volumes about this industry.
Unfortunately, millions of acres of pristine rainforest on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra have been slashed and burned to make room for this criminal industry.
Now, fewer than 300 of these majestic tigers live in the wilds of Indonesia (a country that has already lost two tiger subspecies—Bali and Java). Thousands of orangutans have been tortured and killed. Indigenous people and advocates have been abused, raped and murdered.
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