Activists in orang-utan outfits block a UK Unilever factory protesting against the destruction of forests for palm oil.
Palm oil is a cheap vegetable oil used in products such as
lipstick, soap, detergents, dry soups, ice cream and increasingly
for so-called 'biofuels'. Global demand for palm oil is booming,
and to meet this demand, industrial agriculture giants clear vast
swaths of Paradise Forests in Southeast Asia to create palm oil
plantations. This deforestation results in habitat loss, harm to
local people species extinction, and global warming.
Forest destruction for the development of the palm oil industry
is taking place primarily in the Asia/Pacific Paradise Forests,
Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea (PNG). When
deforestation is factored in, Indonesia is among the world's
largest emitters of greenhouse gases. These Asian forests
represent a green wall against uncontrollable climate change. Their
destruction results in irreplaceable biodiversity loss and
increased global warming due to the release of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere. Twenty percent of worldwide greenhouse gas
emissions are the result of deforestation.
Forest destruction is worst where forests grow on peatlands,
like in large parts of Southeast Asia. Peatlands store vast amounts
of carbon, globally up to 528 billion tons (70 times the current
annual global emissions from fossil fuel burning). Emissions from
current deforestation on SE Asia's peatlands alone, equals to
almost 8 percent of global emissions from fossil fuel burning. Riau
province in Sumatra, subject to a massive expansion of palm oil
plantations, alone comprises 4 million hectares of peatland (the
size of Taiwan), storing 14.6 billion tonnes of carbon. If these
peatlands are destroyed, the resulting emissions would equal an
entire year of mankind's global greenhouse gas emissions.
Magnificent animals now threatened by this deforestation include
the Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant, birds of paradise, and the
critically endangered orang utan. Indonesia contains between 10-15
percent of all known species of plants, mammals and birds that make
up the world's biodiversity. Borneo and Sumatra, now host the
world's remaining orang utans. They depend on the forest for food
and nesting sites. According to the Centre for Orangutan
Protection, at least 1,500 orang-utans died in 2006 as a result of
deliberate attacks by plantation workers.
Wolves guarding the sheep
Nearly 75 percent of Indonesia's pristine forest areas have
already been destroyed or degraded. Meanwhile, demand for palm oil
is predicted to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. To meet this
demand, the industry intends to convert more Asian forests to
plantations. The UN Environmental Program estimates that 98 percent
of Indonesian lowland forests could be gone by 2022.
To counter bad publicity about disappearing forests, the palm
oil industry in Asia formed the "Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Production" (RSPO). The word "sustainable" sounds earth-friendly,
but notice that palm oil production is enterprise to be sustained,
not the forest, the animals, or the Earth's climate.
The chair of RSPO is a representative from Unilever, among the
world's biggest palm oil buyers. Other corporations on the board
include plantation owners, commodities traders, and buyers such as
Cargill, Cadbury's, Nestle, Tesco, and Golden Hope. Together these
companies control about 40 percent of the global palm oil market.
The wolves are guarding the sheep.
Greenwashing and cherry picking
Earth Day once served the purpose of raising awareness about the
environment. Today, few people remain unaware, so perhaps the new
purpose of Earth Day is to help people distinguish between real
solutions and pure "Greenwashing," making a company or industry
look green for public relations purposes, without actually changing
environmentally harmful practices.
Corporations now realize that consumers care about the
environment, so they have set their public relations departments
loose to sell a new, "green" image. In 2003, Co-op America selected
Starbucks as one of the "Ten Worst Greenwashers" for their
reluctance to reduce paper waste or purchase Fair Trade coffee.
Starbucks promised to add "up to 10 percent" recycled material in
their coffee cups, "within five years."
Tricks of the green spin trade include "cherry-picking" data to
look scientific while promoting a single point of view.
"Astroturfing" is the tactic of making industry support groups that
look green. Global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller
pioneered this tactic in the 1980s with "Forest Alliances," funded
and controlled by the international logging industry.
The Unilever-led RSPO uses some of the same Astroturfing
tactics, creating an ineffective body with an environmental
sounding name to obscure the continued destruction of the world's
irreplaceable forests. Unilever is a marketing company that
distributes some of the world's best-known brands, including Dove
soap, Vaseline skin cream, the Heartbrand ice cream, and Slim Fast
diet products. Most of these products include palm oil.
We at Greenpeace are
asking Unilever to live up to their promise of
"sustainability," by refusing to purchase palm oil from suppliers
that are destroying forests for plantations. The destruction of
these forests destroys habitat for endangered species and
contributes to global warming. We are asking customers, who buy
Unilver products, to write to the company and urge them to become
authentic good citizens, not greenwashers.
Unilever, the maker of Dove beauty products, is buying palm oil from suppliers who destroy Indonesia's rainforests. We've got the proof. Unilever is causing forest destruction, species extinction and climate change.