Palm Oil and the Disastrous Effects of Its Use on the Environment

Palm oil extractions are very controversial these days. Although it is widely used all over the globe, and you can either eat it or use it in another way, palm oil is linked to several environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, and animal cruelty. In this post, we have detailed all the necessary data regarding the use of palm oil and its effects on our planet.

How Do Farmers Extract Palm Oil?

Palm trees, from which you can extract palm oil, grow in certain areas of the globe, mainly in Africa, North America, Asia, and South America. They grow tall, sometimes reaching 20 meters, and their lifespan is around 25 years. These trees develop wherever rainfall and heat are abundant.

Palm trees produce fresh fruit bunches, which are harvested, once they reach maturity. Then, the workers transport these fruits to a palm oil mill, where they are processed. During this process, the mill squeezes each individual fruit until the oil comes out. The interesting fact is that these fruits have a hard middle made of a nut. It is called kernel, and the workers collect it and send it to a kernel crushing mill.

Once the kernel gets crushed, the oil comes out. Then, they press the remaining pulp until it forms the expeller, otherwise known as palm kernel cake. As you can see, the palm fruit pressing process has multiple outcomes. It produces three products: raw palm kernel, crude palm oil, and palm kernel expeller.

Main Uses of Palm Oil

palm tree fruits on the ground

This vegetable oil is highly versatile. You can use it for a lot of purposes. Palm oil has many health benefits. Some say it is even better than coconut oil. Still, specialists still need to do some more research to anchor this belief. Other voices disagree with the fact that palm oil is good for your body, stating that is just an unhealthy tropical grease.

Doctors and nutritionists have been using it lately to fight against several diseases like brain conditions, cancer, high cholesterol, and even for weight loss. Some say it increases your metabolic rate. But this is just one single alternative to plenty of other solutions. Once you become aware of the fact that palm oil extractions do more harm than good, you start having second thoughts on whether you should use it or not.

Why Aren’t Palm Oil Cultures Sustainable?

an orangutan jumping from a tree

Most people say that palm oil cultures and sustainability do not have anything to do one with the other. Although you will not see any serious debates regarding this matter in the affected countries, I think we should bring this subject to a global level. All of us should be concerned with the way these palm oil plantations affect and damage your planet. The biggest problem with these cultures is that they are cleared quickly without taking into consideration the environmental pollution and side effects caused.

Even though environmental activists have petitioned palm oil production multiple times, producers don’t seem to care. They haven’t taken any special caution measures, and they haven’t changed anything. Moreover, they constantly burn down trees and forests to make room for other plantations. They don’t really care about how this affects animals such as orangutans. Besides orangutans, tigers also suffer from palm forests exploitation. There are a lot of shocking statistics that should make us aware of how irresponsible we act towards nature. According to WWF,

Every hour, palm oil producers clear rainforest areas amounting to over 300 football fields Click to Tweet
. They do this to create enough space for new palms. And this happens every hour.

If you still do not think that these issues are real and serious, think about the fact that the UN has declared a conservation emergency in all countries that exploit palm trees. On the other hand, environmental organizations still believe there is another way to produce palm oil without devastating nature and habitats. WWF even thinks that producers could find eco-friendly as well as sustainable methods if they wish to.

As I am writing this post, there are at least two international organizations that fight against irresponsible palm plantation. These two nonprofits are the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and POIG (The Palm Oil Innovation Group). They are trying to convince producers to fulfill some requirements regarding an environmentally appropriate palm oil production.

How Does Palm Oil Negatively Impact the Environment?

a massive palm trees deforestation

There are severe damages in all the areas in which there are palm oil extractions. For example, in Indonesia alone, several species of mammals have become endangered. This is a result of unsustainable palm oil extractions and deforestations in their natural habitat. This issue affects all animals, as I mentioned above, but orangutans in particularly have a lot to suffer. This animal is the iconic image of eco-friendly organizations who are struggling to stop or at least reduce natural exploitation, especially in places such as Borneo and Sumatra.

Some of the most affected and threatened ecosystems are peatlands and rainforests. Besides endangering the life of animals, palm oil extractions also have a huge impact on the climate. Specialists say these processes have seriously changed the planet’s climate. Workers usually burn the leftover timber, which emits a huge quantity of smoke into the air.

Palm oil monocultures have even more pronounced environmental impacts. The most commonly met ones are the following issues:

  • Animals lose their natural habitat, and they become endangered species.
  • Wide areas of tropical forests are threatened by exhaustive deforestations.

Regarding the second main damage, the most affected countries so far are Malaysia and Indonesia. These two states have the most beautiful and complex tropical forest areas on the planet. Unfortunately, people are cutting trees and damaging soils with the risk of completely destroying virgin forests. According to a UNEP published report from 2007, palm plantations are the main cause for rainforest destruction. UNEP is an acronym that stands for the United Nations Environment Program.

Besides endangering forests and animals, palm oil plantations lead to soil erosion which leads to air pollution and eventually to climate change. This happens because of the high concentrations of carbon that forest fires produce. Workers set fire on these forests to clear the ground for new plantations. This is a worrying source of CO2. In other words, land clearing releases dangerous toxins into the air.

Bringing It All Together

Nowadays, palm oil plantations destroy a lot of areas on the globe. They harm the nature, threatening animals’ habitats and eroding the soil. On the bright side, there are ways to exploit palm forests without harming or polluting the environment. If farmers respected certain guidelines, they could even produce more oil without the necessity of using a wider land area. They need to learn how to respect the land they live on. This is why environmental organizations must make them more aware of the dangers and risks that will affect the entire globe, including their own lives.

Image source: 1, 2, 3, 4

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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