Why does palm oil hurt orangutans?

Currently the palm oil plantations are the biggest threat to orangutans. Over 85% of the palm oil traded worldwide comes from Indonesia. Palm oil is an important raw material for the production of food (margarine, peanut butter, etc.), cosmetics candles, laundry detergents, and bio fuels. Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of oil palms.

More and more rainforest is being slashed to set up oil palm plantations. Since the end of 2014, palm oil and palm kernel oil have to be specified on the list of ingredients in food products. But for detergents and cosmetics it is almost impossible for the consumer to avoid buying products that contain palm oil. For years attempts have been made to set up a certification scheme for sustainably produced palm oil, but unfortunately so far without success.

To compound the problem, through governmental support of renewable energies in Germany, another bulk purchaser of palm oil has been created. The energy sector has quickly recognized the advantages of palm oil and some energy providers advertise “Green energy” made from palm oil. This is justified on the grounds of palm trees being a renewable and sustainable resource.

But unfortunately, German legislation, when setting up laws for renewable energies, overlooked the fact that plantation land is often deforested land and so carbon emissions resulting from deforestation have been ignored.

Large parts of Southeast Asian rainforest stand on peat swamps which store enormous quantities of greenhouse gasses. Only a functioning rainforest can protect these peat swamps and keep the greenhouse gases locked in the ground. When the rainforest vanishes, the peat swamps dry out and start to release their carbon into the atmosphere. And, of course, if the peat catches fire, the carbon is released even faster.

This is often demonstrated during the dry season when airports in the region are sometimes closed due to low visibility caused by smoke originating from burning peat swamps.

A huge swathe cut into the forest. There are still trees standing in the background. In the foreground all the trees have been cut down. Two excavators can be seen there.
Trucks loaded with oil palm fruit.
An oil mill surrounded by oil palms.
Oil palm stems with fruit lying on a truck.
A huge palm oil plantation. The photo was taken from an airplane. It shows rectangular areas with countless rows of oil palms and the sharp boundaries where the remaining rainforest begins.
A large field with countless oil palm seedlings.
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