Indonesia’s rainforests have been heavily deforested to make room for palm oil plantations. In fact, today only half of the original forest cover remains. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil which is not only a common cooking and vegetable oil but can also be converted into biodiesel fuel for commercial use. How can simple and popular oil be so bad for the rainforest?
Palm oil tree plantations have an extremely negative environmental impact because they replace pristine Indonesian rainforests. By 2006 almost 10 million acres of rainforest had been wiped away and replaced by these plantations. Every year hundreds of thousands of acres are burned down to make room for this new commodity. It is estimated that the palm oil industry accounts for an estimated 2.057 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. In addition to the loss of rainforest and additional carbon dioxide emissions, a horrible side effect of palm oil plantations is the drying out and oxidizing of the countries rich and moist peatlands. The peatlands are a swampy wetlands full of rich organic material responsible for storing approximately 37.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide. As the peatlands dry up, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. According to the World Bank 84% of Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation, forest fires and peatland degradation.
Palm oil plantations don’t just destroy the environment they are also notorious for their human rights violations. Sixty to ninety million indigenous people have lost their land and their livelihood to the palm oil companies. The degradation of the land is leaving them without clean water and the companies have resorted to violent tactics to force the people out of their homes and off the land.
America and Europe are currently looking to increase their use of biofuel. However, research has shown the conversion of land for corn, sugarcane, palm oil or soybeans releases 17 – 420 times more carbon then the annual savings of replacing fossil fuels with bioethanol or biodiesel. In fact, Indonesia has now become the third largest greenhouse emitter in the world. The question is, how can we decrease our use of biodiesels? It’s time for alternative energy sources, electric vehicles, improved fuel efficiency and expanding mass transit.