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.

The Green movement in Iceland

RM og HHAe graenagangaBefore the economical crisis in 2008, Iceland had been governed by the Independence Party for 18 years, much of that time in coalition with the Progressive Party (both centre-right parties). These parties have fought hard for their heavy industry plans and their biggest achievement was the extremely controversial Kárahnjúkar hydropower plant in the highlands, which was built in 2004-2007 after one of the greatest protest ever seen in Iceland. The power plant has a combined capacity of 690 MW and produces power for the aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður on the east coast. It is safe to say that the whole project failed to live up to expectations. Hálslón reservoir can rise up to 57 km2 followed by a great sandstorm risk, workers building both power plant and aluminium smelter were in large part foreigners and the projects did not create as many jobs for Icelanders as promised. The latest impact has been the destrucion of Lake Lagarfljót, now so thick with clay from the diverted glacier river Jökla that little life thrives in it. These things were all predicted by scientists and other specialists but warnings were ignored. Shortly after the aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður started operating the whole economy of Iceland collapsed and one must wonder if there was some causal link?

After four years under the reign of a left-winged government and a competent Environmental Minister, the tides have now changed. The Progressive- and Independence parties are back in power and already waging a war against Icelandic nature. They want more power plants and they want them fast. Not to create energy for the people themselves but for heavy industry. It would be easy just to bow our heads in defeat and cry silently, hoping that in the next four years the government would not do irreversible harm. But we refuse to do nothing. We will fight and call out to environmentalists in Iceland and abroad to help us. I proudly work for Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, which joined forces with other nature NGO‘s in Iceland and started the Green movement. We made 1000 green flags and got 5000 people (in Reykjavík, a city of 120.000 inhabitants) , at a very short notice, to march for nature on 1st of May 2013, carry the flags and symbolically place them in front of the parliament. It was incredible and we felt strong and united. But one green march is not enough, we need to keep moving and grow in numbers. In the first weeks in power, the new prime minister has made some startling statements, one in particular where he belittles the numerous comments from the public, NGO‘s, municipalities and others on the Master Plan for hydro and geothermal energy resources in Iceland. We joined forces again and a couple of thousands of us met in front of the Government House on the 28th of May where the numerous comments were given to the prime minister‘s PA. We raised our green flags to the sky and our hearts filled with hope. We will do it again and again until our voices are heard and our land is safe.