The air quality in Singapore reached hazardous levels this week, breaking all previous records for air pollution. Reports on social media had pigeons dropping dead like the proverbial canary in a coal mine. The cause is massive forest fires burning in Sumatra to clear forests for new palm oil plantations.
Government officials in Singapore and Indonesia are pointing their fingers like crazy with the Indonesians accusing Singaporean companies operating in Indonesia of setting the fires to create new plantations for palm oil. The Singaporeans in the meantime are demanding that the Indonesians do something to stop the forest burns that have been a yearly tradition in South East Asia. This would have been comical if the implications for global warming wasn't so scary.
As someone who has challenged the sustainability claims made by the palm oil industry, the forest fires this week reinforces what scientists have said about palm oil. Grown without regulation, its bad for the planet!
The marketing arms of both the Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil producers have been doing the sustainability song and dance to governments in the West, eagerly hoping to tap into the massive market that is opening up in our search for "eco-friendly bio-fuel." Malaysia and Indonesia jointly account for over 80% of global palm oil production.
The Indonesian act in particular has been impressive. It recently announced that it will honor a legal decision made in its Constitutional Courts last month that recognized the land rights of its indigenous peoples. This was huge considering that the same government had flat out said a few months earlier that there were no indigenous peoples in Indonesia. This has partially removed some of the criticism of land grabs that was constantly aimed at Indonesian palm oil producers.
Just prior to this, the Indonesian government renewed a moratorium on keeping palm oil companies out of virgin forests and this was touted as a sign as its intention to improve the image of Indonesian palm oil in the world. That announcement was celebrated by environmentalists worldwide!
Well, Indonesia shot itself in the foot this week when six hundred and three of the twelve thousand and ten fires presently burning were located suspiciously enough, in protected virgin forests.
I can just see these palm oil execs going " Well, we don't exactly know who set these fires but lookie here, degraded forests.Let's not waste them and plant palm oil trees on them!"
It's exactly wanton acts of destruction like these fires that have made palm oil a close second only to tarsands oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Having passed the 400 ppm mark in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, you'd think that more of us would be concerned. Millions of Americans and Canadians have rallied around the fight against tarsands oil pollution but palm oil pollution continues to be supported by every consumer in the market. Its unfortunate that when we passed that 400 ppm mark, we didn't wake up choking like the Singaporeans are today.
With our own record on forest destruction and greenhouse gas contributions though, we can't exactly tell other countries not to develop their own economies using the same destructive methods we're using. For that reason alone, you'll never see me telling other countries to NOT deforest when they have a chance to develop themselves into our i-Pad toting buy-something-new-everyday societies.
You will see me telling them slow it down and do things in a more sustainable manner. No, it has nothing to with the tired cliché of " saving it for future generations so that they can live". I understand the human psyche enough to realise the need to conquer and trash in human beings. All I'm saying here today to the these palm oil companies that are hell bent on squeezing every dollar out for themselves, leave some for our kids to trash!