An informative article has currently been released by The Guardian explaining the intricacies of an illegal destruction that has been taking place in the pristine Leuser Ecosystem of Sumatra, Indonesia. This massive and illicit devastation has been linked to palm oil plantations allegedly being financed by major brands such as Pepsico, Nestlé, McDonalds, Kellogg’s, Mars, Procter & Gamble and Unilever (Nelsen, A., 2017).
This region’s deforestation rate lies in the midst of the world’s highest and in 2015 only wildfires, which are usually linked to agricultural activities, discharged more than the entire UK’s CO2 emissions corresponding to that year (Nelsen, A., 2017). Apart from palm oil, hardwood has been another industry that has substantially harmed this one and similar Sumatran rainforests; the WWF holds data showing that over the past three decades more than half of the country’s rainforests have been shaved off (Emont, J, 2017).
After the desolating man-made forest fires of 2015 President Joko Widodo went ahead and executed a set of forestry reforms along a suspension on new permits for palm oil plantations. Nevertheless, the methodical clearing of forests has continued and still does.
Will they stop until there’s nothing left to take?
Paradise and humanity at stake
Set foot on 6.5 million acres of pristine rainforest; lush green, the scent of weeds, herbs, leaves, shrubs and wet soil. The moist wind softly caresses your cheeks and the ancient trees that surround you make you feel one with nature’s greatness. For the first time in many years you feel a deep sense of belonging. A family of elephants roams at a distance, orangutans swing graciously from tree to tree from branch to branch; and a series of black stripes wonderfully painted on an orange furry canvas behind the bushes reveal what is a majestic tiger who is cautiously being watched by an alluring clouded leopard that quietly pauses behind a tree trunk.
Welcome to the Leuser located in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra on this Asian Island; the most ancient and biodiverse ecosystem ever taped by science. Other than the animals mentioned in the description above, this one of a kind place on Earth is home to rhinos, sun bears and countless more unique species (RAN, 2017). This is the last place in the world in which we can witness all of these iconic creatures interacting with each other; many of which already stand as endangered or critically endangered. In other words, this is heaven on Earth being torn apart.
Besides being one of the few remaining lungs of our planet, offsetting tons of released carbon; many rivers flow through the Leuser Ecosystem providing millions of people in the Aceh and North Sumatra provinces with fresh water (Love the Leuser Ecosystem, 2017). Therefore, this rainforest does not only provide all of us with oxygen, but many of our fellow human beings with drinking water.
The ruthless destruction associated with palm oil
Most palm oil production has its base in Malaysia and Indonesia, but its reach has even covered far off places such as the Brazilian Amazon or the northern side and pacific coast of Guatemala. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “one huge source of global warming emissions associated with palm oil is the draining and burning of the carbon-rich swamps known as peatlands” (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2017). These swamps are said to retain as much as 18 to 80 times as much carbon as forests lying over them, releasing loads of CO2 and methane onto our atmosphere.
On top of it all, the burning of peatlands leaks a hazardous haze onto the air, which negatively affects the health of neighboring communities and brings about critical economic losses. More than 100,000 deaths in Southeast Asia can be traced down to particulate matter exposure linked to forest fires (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2017).
Companies behind this agricultural practice have also been known for stepping over human rights such as taking away land from local communities without their consent, making use of forced labor, amongst others. Last but not least, we repeat the biodiversity impacts triggered by palm oil plantations. It is estimated that “only about 15 percent of native animal species can survive the transition from primary forest to plantation” (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2017); with tigers, orangutans and elephants being amongst the most defenseless.
Let’s take our stand
At the end of the day we can criticize and point fingers at these irresponsible and unprofessional corporations all we want, but what is really keeping them up and running is money; and not just any money, most of the times it is money coming from our own pockets.
Remember, every dollar you give equals a vote. Whenever you buy something, you also vote for the company behind the product to keep on producing, selling and earning profit. If we stop the inflow of money from going into their bank accounts we basically stop them from existing.
As ironic as it may sound, one of the biggest advantages you will derive from avoiding these products is related to your own wellbeing and health. And let’s face it the healthier you are and the better you feel with yourself, the more beautiful and handsome you will look in the eyes of the world. Generally, these companies are behind just one and only thing, which is profit. Meaning that what they sell is often worth a negative figure. That is to say, you might as well be buying shit in a bag (it is probably worth more because you can actually make fertilizer out of this).
Bottom line, by stopping yourself from buying from these companies you won’t just be doing a big favor to the Leuser Ecosystem but to your own self too. Our recommendation is to support local brands instead. These companies are usually closer to their customers and consequently their products’ quality is more than often superior to that of mainstream corporate products.
Conservation photojournalist Paul Hilton is still raising money through a Go Fund Me campaign to bring in more Elephant Protection Units to the Leuser Ecosystem. Sumatran elephants are amongst the most affected of species not only by deforestation due to palm oil and logging, but because of current governor of Aceh Zaini Abdullah’s plans for building a geothermal plant right in the middle of the rainforest and poaching too. If you feel like it, you can back this helpful initiative; and, as they say: “no amount is too small” (Go Fund Me, 2016).
Emont, J. “A Provincial Government in Indonesia Wants to Develop UNESCO World Heritage Forest” (2017) World. TIME, 16 January 2017. Web. 29 July 2017. http://time.com/4635994/leuser-national-park-unesco-sumatra-aceh/
Global Conservation “ Leuser Ecosystem – New Government Moratorium on Logging and Palm Plantations” (2016) News. Global Conservation, April 2016. Web. 28 July 2017 http://globalconservation.org/news/leuser-ecosystem-palm-and-logging-moratorium/
Go Fund Me “Elephant Protection Units” (2016) Campaigns. Go Fund Me, 12 September 2016. Web. 28 July 2017. https://www.gofundme.com/Leuser-epu
Love the Leuser Ecosystem “Building a Global Movement to Save a Global Treasure” (2017) Home. Love the Leuser Ecosystem, July 2017. Web. 28 July 2017. https://www.lovetheleuser.org/
Nelsen, A. “Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé accused of complicity in illegal rainforest destruction” (2017) Environment: Palm Oil. The Guardian, 21 July 2017. Web. 28 July 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/21/pepsico-unilever-and-nestle-accused-of-complicity-in-illegal-rainforest-destruction
RAN “The Last Place On Earth – Leuser Ecosystem” (2017) Forests. Rainforest Action Network, July 2017. Web. 28 July 2017. https://www.ran.org/lastplaceonearth
Union of Concerned Scientists “Palm Oil” (2017) Union of Concerned Scientists. Global Warming: Stop Deforestation. July 2017. Web. 28 July 2017. http://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/stop-deforestation/drivers-of-deforestation-2016-palm-oil#.WXwtiRU18dU