• Simcoe-Grey Greens

Week 29: Rainforest or Ruffles?

by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood, 52 Weeks of Climate Action

Picture this: It’s the weekend. You’re enjoying some well-deserved peace and quiet. You sit down with your favourite person to watch a movie, and, like most of us, you grab a little snack to munch while watching. Whatever you happen to rip open, chances are it contains palm oil. Because at least 50% of everything that is packaged contains palm oil. And our hunger for palm oil is a major contributor to the destruction of the rainforests. In fact, in every room of your house, you are contributing to deforestation of the rainforest. Palm oil is in almost everything - shampoo, soap, snack foods, cosmetics, candy, and detergent. Despite us knowing that it’s bad, palm oil has become the most widely used vegetable oil on earth. And, some countries are even still using it in biofuel. That’s messed up. Remember the “fat is bad” craze? Well, when transfats were villanized, we needed something else to provide the “mouth feel” that fat provides. Enter palm oil. Problem solved. Or not. Maybe problem created. Demand for palm oil worldwide has skyrocketed, despite what we know about it. Why is palm oil bad? Well, there’s a million reasons - human rights violations for one very big one. Child labour, slave labour, questionable labour practices, and hazardous working conditions. Then there’s the destruction of biologically diverse biosystems and the endangerment of thousands of species. Orangutans, rhinos, elephants are on the brink of extinction in Malaysia and Indonesia. But we’re talking about climate change here. Palm oil is one of the major causes of destruction of the rainforests. As we’ve talked about before, the rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They produce much of our oxygen, and filter much of our air. They are gigantic carbon syncs. When they’re cut down, they release all that carbon into the atmosphere, compounding gHg emissions, and, double whammy, eliminating the forest’s ability to sequester carbon.  It doesn’t stop there. The demand for palm oil means more land is needed for plantations. Rainforests are cut down, and the carbon-rich land is drained and burned, to make way for planting oil palm trees. Palm oil is contributing globally to one of the worst forms of human-induced climate change. That’s on us. Because we’re the ones buying and consuming these products. So, again, the power to fix it lies with us. 

Challenge 29: Check for palm oil in products

Check for palm kernel or palm oil in foods and cosmetics - and avoid buying them. There are many alternatives. So, choose differently. Read labels. “Farmed” palm oil is not better. It just means it comes from those plantations I told you about. However, sustainably produced, ethically grown palm oil is a better option, if it comes down to a choice. Corporations get their palm oil from suppliers. Just like many big companies, they say they don’t know the dirty details - that’s the supplier’s problem. But, in 2020, that’s just not good enough. We need to hold corporations to a higher account - they need to take responsibility for the damage they do, and we need to make sure that we aren’t letting them off the hook. The Rainforest Alliance Network came up with a list of the top 20 corporations who are the biggest purchasers of palm oil globally - The Snack Food 20. On this list you won’t be surprised to see some players who already have bad track records of environmental awareness, to say the least. Nestle, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, PepsiCo, Hershey’s, Campbell’s, Unilever, ConAgra. Well, there’s 20. And, they can be game changers, if they take effective action. You can take a look at the Snack Food 20, their promises, and the actions they’ve taken (or not) here. There are also links to take action, where you can express your own concerns. You can decide what stays and what goes. As usual, corporations don’t love the idea of honestly listing ingredients. There are more than 500 different names for palm oil derivatives. So, reading labels isn’t that straightforward. You can check this list which is updated regularly, to see if your favourite snack is a villain. It is not a simple check, mind you. Tip: The fewer ingredients an item has the less likely it is to contain palm oil.  To compound the issue, the WWF is not promoting we abandon palm oil as an ingredient, claiming that substitutes could be even more harmful to the environment, requiring more deforestation. They advocate for sustainable, ethical palm oil production, and supporting companies who have made that commitment. Again, being an informed consumer is the best way you can mitigate the damage you are personally doing with your purchasing habits. Today, right now, you can make some serious commitments yourself about what you’re going to invest in as a consumer. Because (broken record time), it’s up to you and me to change our purchasing habits, and send a message about what we will and will not accept. Until we do that, not much will change. We have to put our money where our mouth is. Yours in Sustainability, Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood 52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.

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