Worse Than Crude: The Case Against Palm Oil 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 of Greenpeace makes the case that not only is the ingredient bad for the areas where it's produced, it's also one of the leading causes of global warming.
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Worse Than Crude: The Case Against Palm Oil

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Worse Than Crude: The Case Against Palm Oil

Worse Than Crude: The Case Against Palm Oil

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Palm oil is everywhere. It's in our soap, our makeup, lots and lots of food products. The American Palm Oil Council, yes, there is such a thing, says it's actually good stuff. They say it doesn't have any trans fats, it's rich in antioxidants - those are good things - increases good cholesterol, and may in fact prevent the growth of some cancer cells, so they say. And it's now being processed into a cheap, supposedly cleaner, plant-based biofuel.

But when we read an opinion piece by writer Glen Hurowitz in this week's LA Times, we learned that some folks think it's wrecking the environment. Palm plantations, predominantly in Southeast Asia are created by burning peat land. That emits serious greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Critics also say that the palm plantations are occupying the last remaining habitats for some endangered species like the rhino and orangutan. So, we like the environment, we like animals, but I've got to say, when we were talking about this one, some of us thought, OK, how does this affect me?

We are inundated with environmental and health dos and don'ts. It feels like everyday some new news story tells us some bad effect that some product is having on the environment. It's hard to keep up. That's how we arrived at this edition of the BPP's recurring series, Make Me Care, where we look at news stories you get the feeling you should pay attention to, but you just don't really want to you don't know why. We asked an expert to tell us why a story is indeed worth paying attention to. Today on deck is Rolf Skar. He's a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace. Hey, Rolf.

Mr. ROLF SKAR (Senior Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace): How's it going?

MARTIN: It goes well. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. SKAR: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: So you hear that long intro. You have 60 seconds to play this game and explain to us why we should care about palm oil and the supposed effect that palm oil has on the environment. When you hear the ticking clock, you have just ten seconds left. Do you think you understand?

Mr. SKAR: Yeah. I'm ready to go.

MARTIN: You think you're ready? OK. Rolf, Make Me Care. Go.

Mr. SKAR: Well, Rachel, the fastest and the worst deforestation rate in the history of humankind is taking place in the tropical forests of Indonesia right now. That record-breaking rainforest destruction is being fueled by the clearing of land to make palm oil, a substance that's in products we use every day, from candy bars to shampoos to laundry detergents.

Now, much of that forest destruction, some 70 to 80 percent of it, is illegal and it comes with a heavy price tag. It's causing gross human rights abuses. It's pushing wildlife like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger towards extinction. It's emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere putting at risk the climate that we all depend on. But the good news is it doesn't need to be that way, because with simple actions and with everyday choices, we can put a quick end to this problem. But the first step is education. So now, do you want to learn more?

(Soundbite of clock ticking)

MARTIN: OK, Rolf, the verdict is, you beat the 60-second clock. Good work.

Mr. SKAR: Great.

MARTIN: I do have some follow-up questions, though.

(Soundbite of ding)

MARTIN: So all of this has to do with deforestation in Indonesia. Without forcing you to play the game about why I should care about deforestation in Indonesia...

Mr. SKAR: Mm hm.

MARTIN: Why should I care about deforestation in Indonesia?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SKAR: People don't realize that when you look at the global greenhouse gas emitters, that there's China and U.S. at the top, and most people might guess those, but then the third is actually Indonesia. It's ahead of all of the other industrialized countries in the world and the number one reason is deforestation, and the number one reason for that is this palm oil plantation expansion that's going on right now. So if you care about global warming or what that might mean for droughts and disease and sea levels rising and polar bears and the long list that we've all heard about, then you've got to care about what's happening in Indonesia right now.

MARTIN: What do you suggest? This stuff is apparently everywhere. It's in all kinds of products. It's marketed as something that's actually good and even green. How - if we avoid these products and demand goes down, does that really save orangutans?

Mr. SKAR: Absolutely. I mean, it's a two-step process. I mean, obviously people who buy products everyday have a choice to make, and you can look on the ingredient labels, and if you see palm oil, you can try to avoid those products. There's a lot of other products out there that don't have palm oil in it that taste just as good, that work just as well. The second thing you do is contact companies and say, hey, I don't want any of your products with palm oil in it. And the third thing is that those companies, once they hear from consumers, can start to make choices about how they get their ingredients. They can say we don't want palm oil from plantations that have recently been rainforests.

MARTIN: And we should say, again, the American Palm Oil Council has a very different opinion. I mean, they clearly say that palm oil is not this evil. It actually is good for you. It's rich in all kinds of antioxidants and increases good cholesterol, that there are actually health benefits.

Mr. SKAR: You know, people will always claim that their products are good for you. You can look at the cigarette manufacturers for years claiming that there was no link to cancer. The point is now that the writing is truly on the wall, and you know, from human rights abuses to species extinction to global warming, this is a problem we just can't afford to ignore.

MARTIN: And one of many - I mean, it's so touch to keep track of everything that you hear that's bad out there. How does palm oil stack up in your priorities or your organization's priorities?

Mr. SKAR: Yeah. Greenpeace has offices all over the world. We're sort of unique that way, and when we look at the priorities for the global environment, palm oil is right up at the top of the list, believe it or not, and it's a relatively new phenomenon, so people are still learning about it, and when we look at what's going on worldwide, palm oil is one of the leading causes of that deforestation, and something we can do something about relatively easily.

MARTIN: Well, you definitely made me care more than I did a couple of minutes ago about palm oil. Rolf Skar is a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace. Hey, thanks for being with us, Rolf. We appreciate it.

Mr. SKAR: Thanks, Rachel.


Coming up, we'll get a look inside the tactics that John McCain will be employing on the campaign trail. He is the presumptive Republican nominee, but we presume nothing here at the BPP. We call Jonathan Martin of Politico next.

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