Worse Than Crude: The Case Against Palm Oil

palm oil demo

A demonstration in Jakarta against palm oil, which has been linked to the fate of wild orangutans. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
A stain of palm oil

A stain of palm oil off the shore of Colombia. STR/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Palm oil is everywhere: It's in soap, food and makeup. Some say it's good for you, while others say it's wrecking the environment. Rolf Skar, a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace, makes the case that not only is the oil bad for the areas where it's produced, it's also one of the leading causes of global warming.

"The fastest and the worst deforestation rate in the history of humankind is taking place in the tropical forests of Indonesia," Skar says. "That record-breaking rain forest destruction is being fueled by the clearing of land to make palm oil."

Skar also says as much as 80 percent of the land-clearing in Indonesia, one of the principal sources for palm oil, is also illegal. As a result, he says, shady production facilities are rife with human-rights abuses. Likewise, the diminished habitat hurts orangutans and Sumatran white tigers, both of which are facing extinction.

But it's the broader toll, Skar says, that makes palm oil such an important issue. "People don't realize that when you look at the global greenhouse gas emitters, there's China and the U.S. at the top ... but the third is Indonesia," Skar says. He says the clearing and burning of forests for more and more palm oil facilities releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases. "If you care about global warming ... then you've got to care about what's happening in Indonesia right now."

People who buy products have plenty of alternatives to palm oil, Skar says. "There's a lot of products out there that don't contain palm oil. They taste just as good; it works just as well."

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