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article imageOp-Ed: Luxury hotels linked to palm oil plantations, forest destruction

By Megan Hamilton     May 24, 2015 in Environment
If you remember those quaint drawings of big fish eating progressively smaller fish, until there's only one big fish at the end, you have the general gist of how palm oil companies often destroy rain forests.
In this case, the rain forests are the smallest fishes, while the palm oil companies are the mid-sized ones. The biggest fish is the company that owns the palm oil companies. That's often how it works, and it appears this may be the case for Astra Agro Lestari, which according to Grist, allegedly destroyed the rain forest seen in the attached video. The video, by the way, is drone footage filmed by the group Forest Heroes.
Now, the biggest fish, the one that owns Astra Agro Lestari (AAL), is Jardine Matheson (JM).
To their credit, after a great deal of discussions, more discussions, and even more discussions, some palm oil companies have agreed to use sustainable palm oil, Grist reports here.
AAL has promised to get with the program and has said it's "pursuing" deforestation-free palm oil, but Grist says, it hasn't made a clear promise to quit cutting down the forest, as other companies have.
It's pretty difficult for activists to gain leverage on agriculture businesses, but they can go after other companies associated with agribusiness. So that's what the Heroes are doing. They've set their sights on Mandarin Oriental Hotels, which is also owned by JM. Ben Keswick is the chairman of the conglomerate, and he also happens to sit on a corporate governance board for Astra.
So protesters, dressed in elephant suits, showed up at Mandarin's hotels because palm oil development is destroying habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran elephants. With ivory poaching and poisoning elephants is there something that people aren't doing to harm elephants these days? I have to wonder.
Baby elephant trying to wake dead mother
Baby elephant trying to wake dead mother
Sabah Wildlife Department
In a press release, Forest Heroes noted that AAL also has an enormous impact on the climate:
"Astra has cut down 14,000 hectares of forests since 2007 to make way for palm oil plantations. In addition, the report found that Astra is responsible for clearing 27,000 hectares of ultra carbon-rich peatland since 2009. That clearing has released an estimated two million tons of climate pollution – about the same as annual emissions from 830,000 cars."
Mongabay reports that Forest Heroes has spearheaded the She's Not a Fan campaign, which spoofs a celebrity fan endorsement drive Mandarin had conducted, and features a petition calling on AAL to stop destroying forests and habitat for elephants. It also calls on the company to follow in the footsteps of industry giants and pledge to rid its supply chain of deforestation, peat conversion, and rights abuses.
Forest Heroes has managed to score one big success by being instrumental in convincing Wilmar, which is the world's largest palm oil corporation, to sign a crucial forest conservation policy in 2013.
"Since late 2013 there has been a wave of sustainability policy improvements by major palm oil growers/traders," according to an accompanying sustainability assessment of AAL by Aidenvironment, an NGO, adding "Astra has not been part of this wave," per Mongabay.
On Wednesday, May 20, a representative for JM sent Mongabay the following statement:
"Jardine Matheson supports the sustainability policies of all its companies, and believes that Astra Agro Lestari's (AAL's) sustainability practices are among the best in the industry. We understand that AAL has welcomed the new Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) initiative and is actively working towards signing up, and they are engaging with the key stakeholders about this."
The statement said further details on the company's commitment could be found here.
Hopefully the company gets cracking on this, because the news isn't good.
Let's take a look.
The worldwide demand for palm oil has increased sharply in just a few short years. Palm oil is the most widely produced vegetable oil in the world, with 54 million tons produced in 2011, Rain Forest Rescue reports. Out of all crops raised for oil, it has the highest yield and is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce and refine.
Oil palms need a rain forest climate with consistently high humidity and temperatures, and they also need a lot of land, so rain forest is frequently destroyed for plantations. As of 2011, some 90 percent of the world's palm oil is being produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, oil palm plantations in Indonesia alone already cover nine million hectares. That's an area the size of the state of Maine. By 2025, it's projected that 26 million acres will be covered.
A report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) noted that oil palm plantations are the leading cause of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia.
It reported:
"A scenario released by UNEP in 2002 suggested that most natural rain forest in Indonesia would be degraded by 2032. Given the rate of deforestation in the past five years, and recent widespread investment in oil palm plantations and biodiesel refineries, this may have been optimistic. New estimates suggest that 98 percent of the forest may be destroyed by 2022, the lowland forest much sooner."
Most of this horrible destruction is going on in the name of food products, cosmetics, detergents, and candles. Buy a candle, kill a rain forest. Over 90 percent of the palm oil produced is used for these products, Rain Forest Rescue reports.
We are losing an area of rain forest that's equivalent to 300 soccer fields every hour. This is a disaster for our climate, the environment, and for people living within the rain forest.
To build a palm oil plantation, the most valuable trees in a rain forest are cut down and removed. Everything remaining is cleared by burning. In Indonesia, much of the forest is on peatland, and it is drained. Peatland stores huge quantities of carbon, and the conversion of just one single hectare of peatland releases as much as 6,000 tons of CO2, Rain Forest Rescue notes. The destruction of tropical forests is responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, meaning it is contributing significantly to climate change.
The most tragic losses are to Indonesia's biodiversity. It's rain forests and peatlands are among some of the world's most species-rich environments. Numerous species of endangered plants and animals--orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and Bornean rhinos make their homes here. Destruction of their habitat destroys any chances the animals have for survival and the loss of biodiversity is irreversible.
An orangutan is rescued from a bulldozed section of rainforest in Borneo  Indonesia.
An orangutan is rescued from a bulldozed section of rainforest in Borneo, Indonesia.
Rainforest Rescue
Orangutans are especially vulnerable because they need large contiguous areas of forest. As they search for food, they often wind up lost in the plantations, where they are considered pests. The Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) reports that at least 1,500 orangutans were beaten to death by oil palm plantation workers in 2006. It's entirely possible that no wild orangutans will be found outside of protected areas by 2020, the UN reports.
Sumatran tiger
Sumatran tiger
Ltshears - Trisha M Shears
Jardine Matheson is a huge, hungry fish in an ocean filled with scores of other huge, hungry fish, and all of them are gobbling, gobbling, gobbling. If we do not learn to control their appetite, the world's rain forests may vanish under the bulldozer, and with it, much of the world's beauty.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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