You sit up straight, straining your ear, trying to figure out whether the noise you just heard was a figment of your imagination or not.
You rush outside. A couple of bulldozers are tearing your precious house down. You signal violently to them, but they don’t listen. You scream at them, but they don’t listen. You run furiously to them trying to make sense of what they are trying to achieve. Finally, in exasperation, you go and stand in front of the machines and attempt to get their attention. But the bulldozer does not stop, and at the very last minute, you jump to the side to save your life. It dawns on you that your efforts are in vain and that they do not care! Why were they demolishing your house? What had you ever done to them? What if you had not jumped to the side? Would you still be alive?
Greenpeace’s short animation “There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom” depicts this idea with an orangutan as the central character. Rang-Tan hides in a little girl’s bedroom because her own habitat has been destroyed over time due to deforestation for palm oil production. This deforestation causes the loss of almost 25 orangutan lives every day.1
When I first read this, I thought, Why would so many orangutans die for something as insignificant as palm oil? However, palm oil was “insignificant” to me because I was unaware of the huge role it played in my daily life. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), close to 50% of the packaged goods available at supermarkets or grocery stores have palm oil as an ingredient. Pizzas, doughnuts, chocolates, deodorants, shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, lipsticks … the list is endless!2
Rainforests in an estimated quarter of Southeast Asian countries, like Indonesia and Malaysia, have been deforested for vast palm oil plantations. These plantations have been found to deplete soil health, cause a severe loss of biodiversity, and soak up substantial amounts of groundwater. The expansion of this industry will lead to more clearing up of forests which will lead to rising levels of carbon emissions. It is also important to take note of the way this clearing takes place. Unless they are rich enough to afford expensive machinery, companies prefer to burn huge patches of rainforests. The burning leads to the formation of smog not only above the area where it is taking place but also in nearby countries like Singapore, Thailand, and India.3
However, it is not fair to only blame the big companies. It is also the consumer’s duty to search for responsibly-sourced palm oil products. If companies see this shift in their customers’ attitudes, they will automatically shift their marketing strategies to better suit the environment. Seeing the delicate state that our ecosystem is in today, it is crucial that palm oil is produced in a responsible manner that respects the environment and the communities where it is commonly grown. And this is something that can only be achieved through a three-way handshake between the governments, the companies, and the consumers.