I am pretty certain that we are all aware that everything we do has an impact as does everything we don’t do! This is particularly important as we all do our bit for the planet, nature, our environment, a sustainable future, our families, our next pair of shoes, or outfit, meal, or our next chocolate fix …… or whatever the reason is that you do the things you do.
Often we assume that our actions have no impact and that our positive and “good” actions are just that… perfectly wonderful and good for the world. We especially fall prey to thinking we have achieved great wondrous goodness when we do something that we perceive as good for the planet, nature or society. In addition green washing and misinformation by organisations simply adds to the fake feeling of ”goodness”. It is for this reason that we often end up doing things that we think are very good and that have possible negative impacts that we do not consider or that we blindly ignore. An example is a recent presentation that I attended on energy efficiency, certified emissions reductions and climate change adaptation technology. Considering all the energy that COP 17 generated about the pros and cons of the climate change response and adaptation, I was quite hopeful that the first presentation that the first post COP 17 presentation I attended relating to the climate change and technology issue would actually provide some new and amazing information or solution or way forward.
The presentation related to the use of agricultural wastes as an energy source, (nothing new here I thought….) specifically, palm oil processing wastes which are used to generate methane gas which is then used to generate power. Shock horror…..palm oil!
Palm oil, a major component of many processed food products has the dubious honour of being a major contributing factor to green house gas emissions, deforestation, landless-ness, relocation of marginalized communities etc
Surely, these people aren’t trying to sell a climate change adaptation solution (and we all agree that we definitely need solutions to climate change) that involves deforestation, habitat and species loss, and general negativity based on the creation of a few emissions reductions?
So the issue is, do we really need to cause more degradation and negative impacts by adopting solutions that actually take us backward in the journey towards sustainability?
When I raised the issue with the team that was presenting they had no idea about the linkage between palm oil production, species and habitat loss and deforestation etc. I am not sure whether the projects negative impacts will be mitigated or reduced but I did realize that before we blindly follow the solutions presented to us by we need to ensure that the so-called solution is in fact a solution. The other sad fact is that most people should by now know about the impacts of the palm oil industry and we should all be trying to reduce our use of palm oil and not creating opportunities for palm oil production to be increased or overlooked under the guise of sustainability and climate change adaptation.
I do note that the project uses the waste from palm oil processing and in so doing is trying to make the system more efficient. However, at the same time the use of palm oil in this project provides it (in my opinion) with a layer of green wash aimed at making it more acceptable and sustainable.
However, given the palm oil industry’s not so good record as far as habitat and species loss is concerned I think we should avoid climate change adaptation projects that may actually contribute to climate change and increased green house gas emissions in the long run.
In case you did not know here are some facts on the impact of palm oil cultivation:
- Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
- Greenpeace has concluded that “first generation” biodiesel extracted from new palm oil plantations may not on balance reduce emissions. If wood from forests cleared for palm plantations is burned instead of used for biodiesel, leaving forests untouched may keep more carbon out of the air.
- Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran tiger, the Asian rhinoceros, and the Sumatran Orangutan.)
- Reduced biodiversity including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
- Destruction of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan and Borneo, that belong to indigenous peoples (the Dayak), despite their frequent objections.
Additional information on Palm Oil: