How to eat a rainforest and apply its blood to your skin!

YosriLadangKelapaSawit2What a strange and dreadful title you might ask but the fact is that you are probably doing it every single day without realizing it. Pristine rainforests are now, as we speak, being chopped down as areas are cleared for the mass production of palm oil. Animals and indigenous people have few places to go to once the trees have been removed. Countless oil palms are planted in desolated areas once covered with rainforest, their fruits producing palm oil, one of the most common vegetable oil on the market. Because it is so cheap and contains saturated fat, palm oil is used in bread, cakes, cereal, meat, chocolate, sweets, noodles, shampoo, cosmetics, biofuels… you name it. Don’t be deceived by “sustainable palm oil” labels, it hardly exists and as the use of palm oil in food or cosmetics is rarely explicitly labelled (usually only referred to as “vegetable oil” or a complicated chemical name on the packaging), it is hard to avoid buying products including it without contacting the producers, which often give very dubious answers.

All the way through my childhood a poster of an Australian rainforest was hanging in my room. I used to dream of the day I would visit a magical forest like that. In high school I worked on a project on endangered animals and rainforests and I have been smitten ever since, but also sad and angry. Very angry and appalled with humans and how we treat the planet. This was the first time in my life I was angry about something other than my teenage world. The rainforests were degrading fast and what could a teenager do with this information? I didn’t think it would be possible for a girl in Iceland to make a difference in this world but I followed my dream. I became a wildlife biologist and have been to rainforests in Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and Madagascar; I have seen pristine rainforests but also degraded ones. I have seen bulldozers working their way through the forest but also seen healing secondary forests. I have seen amazing rainforest creatures, small and large and I love them all (as horrific as mosquitoes and leeches can be, the nerd in me finds them quite fascinating, especially when feasting on someone else than me…). I know now that one person can make a difference in this world and therefore I will not stop, even though I sometimes annoy the hell out of my family and friends!

I have been talking about palm oil production to people in Iceland since 2010 and very few people I meet realize what a big problem it causes. Thankfully there are international groups and organisations such as Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that raise awareness, but rainforests are still being destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations (and other products like soy). The demand for palm oil keeps growing; it is, after all, the cheapest vegetable oil on the market. Hence the root of the problem is the exponential demand for cheap vegetable oil. There are both terrifying news of e.g. the loss of the Sumatran rainforests within 20 years and some signs of hope where “The heat is now on other large palm oil and paper companies after Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest such companies, was persuaded this year by international and local Indonesian groups to end all rainforest deforestation and to rely solely on its plantations for its wood.” Furthermore, some UK biscuit manufacturers are reducing palm oil in their products. But despite rules and legislations there are numerous examples of illegal logging. Even the Roundtable on Sustainable Palmoil (RSPO) has failed since they give certifications to companies who continue logging pristine rainforests. Producers and politicians lie or keep their heads buried in the sand because they are making money. Lots and lots of money.

I do encourage everyone to boycott products containing palm oil but sadly that alone is not enough. We need to stop further growth of the palm oil industry. It is time for serious action so please, spread the word. Please write to politicians, your favourite food/cosmetic companies, start and sign petitions and so forth. The rainforests are crucial for the well being of our Earth, the pale blue dot. Our only home.