PALM OIL: the bigger picture

PALM OIL PLANTATIONS, THE ILLUSION of SUSTAINABILTY…. Environmentalists see the establishment of oil palm plantations as a new threat to the world’s largest rainforests and their biodiversity.

The potential for palm oil plantations in the Brazilian Amazon is vast: the Woods Hole Research Center estimates that 2.283 million square kilometers (881,000 sq miles) of forest land in the region is suitable for oil palm, an area far greater in extent than that which could be converted for soy (390,000 sq km) or sugar cane (1.988 million sq km). Woods Hole calculates this area of forest locks up some 42.5 billion tons (gigatons) of carbon in aboveground biomass, or roughly six times 2006 global emissions. Converting this area for palm would release nearly 60 percent of this carbon (oil palm plantations in SE Asia store about 75 tons of carbon per hectare). Oil palm expansion in the Amazon will likely be facilitated by infrastructure projects currently underway in this region, including road building, port expansion, and new hydroelectric projects. Oil palm producers also benefit from a “logging subsidy” whereby timber harvested from a tract of land helps offset the cost of establishing a plantation.

Oil palm plantations support significantly lower levels of biodiversity than even logged rainforests. Research by -Lian Pin Koh and David Wilcove- found a 77 percent decline in forest bird species and an 83 percent loss of butterfly species upon the conversion of old-growth forest to oil palm plantations. By comparison, secondary forest 30 years after logging retained roughly 80 percent of the original forest species.

What is a forest? “While it is true that trees dominate – they are the biggest organisms present there and there are many of them – a forest is in fact a community of not just plants and animals, but of micro-organisms as well. Throw into the mix the non-living, abiotic components like soil, climate and water, and take in the complex interrelationships among the organisms and the environment, and we are closer to an actual understanding of this ecosystem. With one third of the Earth’s surface is covered with forests it is no surprise that they are among the most notable storehouses of biological diversity on the planet. Forests house over two-thirds of known terrestrial species, including the largest share of threatened species.

Forests have a variety of uses to humans, including wood from trees, nutrition from animals, grazing, recreation, medicinal plants and so on. At the present time, conservationists are still arguing about a ‘technical’ definition of a forest. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), a forest does not stop being a forest just because the trees are gone. While that may be so, it is important to understand how the disappearing green cover and the resultant threat to habitats and to human life fits into the bigger picture of life on the planet. It is an intricate and complex web – fragile but at the same time holding the ecosystem together.

Forests come in all sizes and types – from the northern taiga to the scrub forests of arid regions to the rainforests of the humid tropics. They are found on moving glaciers, in fresh and salt water, on arctic mountain slopes. They do not occur in isolation from the rest of the landscape. The type of forest in a given area depends on many elements, including climate, soil, water source, rainfall patterns, seed sources and human influence”.

However, a deeper understanding of these relationships is crucial for the development of effective, sustainable forest management and policy options.

• 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year
• Deforestation is responsible for up to 20% of all carbon emissions globally.
• Tropical forests, where deforestation is most prevalent, holds more than 210 gigatonnes of carbon.
• 87% of global deforestation occurs in just 10 countries, with Brazil and Indonesia accounting for 51% of emissions from forest loss.
• Despite ongoing conservation efforts, the Amazon is losing on average 27,000km2 of forest cover each year from continued logging, mining and land conversion.
• Further forest loss may trigger changes including a reduction in rainfall and increased droughts. This will have a significant impact on the region’s biodiversity and even global climate change.

With the natural forest loss rate at 13 million hectares a year — about 25 hectares a minute — the race is on to protect what’s left of the world’s forests.
Forests are the lungs of the earth, regulating the earth’s climate, and are our storehouses of biological diversity, hosting over two-thirds of known terrestrial species and numerous plants and herbs, some of which may hold the secrets to curing cancer and other diseases. It is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests, including 60 million indigenous people who call them home.

Market forces, population pressure and infrastructure advances are continuing to pry on the world’s rainforest. As the pressures afflicting the regions grow in intensity, it is becoming increasingly clear that the price to be paid is not only loss of biodiversity and habitat – but also of a decreasing life quality for people.

Species lose their habitat, or can no longer subsist in the small fragments of forests that are left. Populations dwindle, and eventually some can become extinct. Because of the high degree of endemism, or presence of species that are only found within a specific geographical range, even localized deforestation can result in loss of species.

Once the trees are cut the biodiversity have nowhere to go. The new palm’s plantations do not provide any support for the wild life that existed before and we assist to the destruction of species like the “Orangutan”. See the story of “Green”.
The sustainable forests are biologically dead forests. The prime forest that was before took with them all forms of lives that it supported. Let say that the highly productive oil palm plantations replace low-intensity cattle pasture already established in the region, the Amazon may well be richer economically and biologically…”The problem is, they won’t replace pasture. They will become another stress on the ecosystem.

Some scientists fear that declining population could reduce the genetic viability of the species and result in its eventual extinction. We are going to narrow our example of extinction to one species: the Orangutans.

“Birute Galdikas” from Orangutan Foundation International- www.orangutan.org is working in Indonesia to stem this risk by studying the habits of orangutans and reintroducing captured orangutans into their native rain forest. Her program is the largest of its kind in the world and has reintroduced more than 150 orangutans into the forests of Tan Jung Puting. Her program works by rehabilitating orangutans that have been captured in raids; usually once the orangutan has fallen ill or outgrown the keeper’s capacity to care for the animal. With deforestation, hungry orangutan mothers go into plantations for food. When caught they are killed and their babies kept for sale on the black market or turned over to authorities, who bring them to the care center.

Orphaned orangutans are taken to the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine Facility. Staffed by three full-time veterinarians, plus local assistants and volunteers who take them to the “training” forest, and equipped with donated medical equipment and supplies, the center enables the staff to provide an excellent level of care for orangutans including surgery and treatment of disease. But beyond physical rehabilitation, many young orangutans—especially orphans—require psychological and social conditioning so they can eventually return to the wild and live as normal orangutans.
Are we this type of society who needs psychological care for our planet’s wildlife?
So, why is it that oil-palm plantations now cover millions of hectares across Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand? Why has oil palm become the world’s number one fruit crop, trouncing its nearest competitor, the humble banana?

The answer lies in the crop’s unparalleled productivity and in the greed of humans. Simply put, oil palm is the most productive oil seed in the world. A single hectare of oil palm may yield 5,000 kilograms of crude oil, or nearly 6,000 liters. So, why is oil palm cultivation a concern? For environmentalists the problem with palm oil lies in the nature of how the crop is produced. In recent years, vast areas of natural forest have been cleared across continents for oil palm plantations. This conversion has reduced biodiversity, increased vulnerability to catastrophic fires, and affected local communities dependent on services and products provided by forest ecosystems.

Beyond the loss of forest ecosystems, the production of palm oil, as currently practiced, is damaging to the environment. In 2001 Malaysia’s production of 7 million tons of crude palm oil generated 9.9 million tons of solid oil wastes, palm fiber, and shells, and 10 million tons of palm oil mill effluent, a polluted mix of crushed shells, water, and fat residues that has been shown to have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems.

“It is easy to cut the trees. With a chainsaw it takes 10 to 15 minutes and a big tree falls. It takes 70-80 years for that tree to regrow. It’s very slow.” Why not invest and use natural green energies? For example energy from “solar cells” and, or “recycling”.

“Scientists have been exploring the potential of solar energy for decades. One of the cheapest ways to turn solar energy into electricity is by creating solar cells from organic polymers, which are easily manipulated by scientists. Now, researchers at UCLA’s Department of materials science and Engineering have come up with a new type of solar cell that sets the record in changing sunlight into power”.

At GreenDustries we use recycled paper for our PleatPak and Magic Bag, 100% recycled paper which comes from our recycling paper and cardboards mill.
We collect waste materials that we then recycle at our paper mill and produce high quality recycled papers.

The process goes from waste to production, form waste to transformation, which allows us to return used products available to be recycled in quantity and in quality products.

• It creates jobs, by developing a society of recycling.
• Manages natural resources permanently.
• Reduces environmental impacts on environmental and on natural resources.
• It constitutes a chain of activities. (New jobs)
• Recycling is a factor of green growth.

We control the production of or PleatPak & Magic Bag from the recycling source to the delivery to you at your favorite fast food chain.

Why destroy the environment when waste which surrounds us can be reused as a great source of a clean green energy and achieving our goals to reduce landfills significantly and to leave our forests and biodiversity untouched, reducing climate change and the production of CO2.

The choice is so logical and make so much sense.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

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