With the rising emphasis on coal- and fossil fuel-related sources of global warming, it it easy to forget about other factors shifting the Earth’s climate. Often times people forget that their car choice and home insulation aren’t the only things harming the planet. This month, Sustainable Wellesley is joining forces with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to bring a different source of environmental deterioration to light: palm oil.
Palm oil production is considered a problem by environmentalists because of the necessity to expand tropical palm oil plantations to meet a 485% jump in demand over the last decade as consumers worldwide look for less expensive snack food. This expansion results in mass rainforest destruction, releasing large quantities of carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Groups like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have been created to promote “greener” methods of palm oil production, but critics claim that their flawed certification standards have made product labels misleading to consumers. Additionally, often many environmentally-questionable plantations also use forced child and slave labor.
“The product has become an ingredient in a dizzying array of packaged goods – from snack foods to hand lotion. It is this increasing demand for ‘cheap’ palm oil that is driving the vast destruction of tropical rainforests in the mad dash to plant ever more palm trees,” said Sustainable Wellesley’s Lise Olney. “Cheap snack food or a habitable planet? This is not a trick question!”
As part of widespread criticism towards companies using what activists have dubbed “conflict palm oil”, the RAN has launched its own effort against palm oil use. Its campaign strategy is focused around the use of grassroots pressure towards snack food companies to redefine their standards and begin to develop away from conflict palm oil use. Aiming to do this through changing consumer preference, the campaign depends on informing and educating everyday shoppers.
RAN’s next hands-on opportunity for the average person to become involved with the effort, the Global Day of Action to Cut Conflict Palm Oil, is scheduled for May 20. To further their efforts and garner public support that day, RAN is encouraging people worldwide to take a group picture that includes the phrase “#INYOURPALM” and send it to them. Local groups like the Wellesley High School Green Team plan to participate, spreading their own picture throughout the community via posters and social media.
Sustainable Wellesley is also planning to host a “watch party” for Showtime’s newest series, “Years of Living Dangerously” on Sunday, May 19 to recognize the following day’s global effort. The show will explore the deforestation of rainforests in Indonesia and other processes involved in palm oil production. For more information, please contact Sustainable Wellesley via firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sustainablewellesley.com.
(Matthew Hornung and Olivia Gieger)