Palm oil is everywhere you look these days. It’s in so many food products. Even the soap I used tonight I noticed contained palm oil. The reason for its popularity? It’s not only versatile, but very cheap.
Palm oil is a wonderful product; but it’s how we obtain it and its widespread overuse that is of concern.
Palm oil can only be sourced in large quantities from several regions, the major producers being Indonesia and Malaysia. The demand for the product is furthering the destruction of tropical rainforest habitats that are cleared to be used as plantations. While many species are threatened through such clearing, the creature that gains the most attention is the associated plight of the orang-utan.
While I’m a big supporter of renewable energy and currently work in the industry, when I hear the words “palm oil” and “electricity” in the same sentence, it sends a chill down my spine.
It seems several companies in the UK have secured planning permission to burn tropical palm oil to generate electricity. Usually it wouldn’t be financially viable to do so, but biofuels in the UK gain green subsidies that triple the value of the electricity produced. Its supporters say that even growing, processing and transporting the oil to Britain still provides substantial reductions in greenhouse gases stacked up against a comparable fossil-fuel oil.
Greenpeace UK has labeled such power stations as being “orang-utan incinerators”.
The deforestation aside, using food as fuel is just not on in my opinion. A few years ago, a UN food expert went so far as to say that using food crops as fuel was a “crime against humanity”.
It’s not as though there are no alternatives. The UK reportedly has the best and most diverse wind resources in Europe. My understanding the problem facing the British wind sector is the red tape barriers to building wind farms.
Wind power isn’t entirely free of problems – but I think it’s a better solution than clearing rain forests. People need to connect more with how their food is grown, to connect more with their energy sources. With that connection often comes a greater appreciation.
Destroying forests thousands of miles away removes that connection – out of sight is out of mind.