Why boycotting palm oil is as shortsighted as me without my glasses on.
I know that it is the season to be jolly, good will to all men (including men of the forest AKA Orang Urans) but spare me the crap arguments for banning palm oil please.
Yes I do know that there are massive problems out there.
Yes I do know that Orang Utans are being slaughtered, displaced and otherwise tortured.
Yes I do know that monoculture farming on a grand scale even with protected ‘areas of high diversity’ is a pants solution.
Yes I do understand the dynamics of commodity supply chains and the difficulties that the Round Table face
Yes I do get why various Non Government Organisations and charities are all pushing the ‘boycott palm’ mandate
Of course I would like nothing better than to see the rain forest returned back to its former glory (impossible but we could at least try).
A boycott will achieve nothing unless it represents a full stop rather than a comma.
Palm is probably the singularly most efficient oil crop that the cosmetics and food industry have ever found and with a global population that just keeps on growing on a planet that refuses to get any bigger it has to make sense to grow more, not less of it. What if the people boycotting palm (like some of my cosmetic customers) opt to replace it with another feed-stock crop such as soy, cotton, olive or coconut (coconut and palm are the most similar oil and yield wise)? Do they not then become more of a part of the real problem than before? No, in the eyes of a surface dwelling public they are heroes, their products sell better, they get invited onto talk shows, festivals and forums to share their wisdom of how they helped save the world. Probably.
So, full stop time.
The only way that boycotting palm or any other land-consuming cash crop is going to make a difference to the environment is if we reduce our non-essential product consumption. We (in the Australia and the UK – the only countries that I’ve lived in) live a life of privilege and choice. We eat, drink and wear too much in terms of resources, resources that we don’t even think to value on a core level. It is very easy to get sucked in to TV and news reports of Orang Utans being slaughtered or maimed and think that swapping our Unilever product for a ‘no palm natural’ is ‘doing our bit’ but the reality at the coal face is very different.
Swapping is not stopping.
But I can hear you say that by swapping from palm to a cruelty free product is ‘doing something’ and that matters and I’d say “are you sure”? How necessary was that product to you anyway? Could you have lived without it? Does the new product represent a more efficient proposition than the former? Does it perform more functions maybe or work better or last longer?
What would you say if instead of boycotting palm oil you opted for products made with palm oil that was sustainably farmed on land that lost its virgin rain forest tag long ago or maybe never even had it? There are palm crops all over the world including a largeish operation out of Ghana that has been adopted by Dr Bronner and their magical soaps. How much sense does boycotting palm oil make then?
Don’t make the real problem harder to find.
By boycotting palm the danger is that palm or indeed any farmers with dubious morals just ditch the palm and start planting goodness knows what just to jump on the latest marketing band wagon. The cruelty doesn’t stop and neither do the ill gotten profits but what is sicker than that is that you, the innocent product maker, buyer or activist are supporting this – at least for a while until the new reality sets in.
I know that in writing this there will be comments from people either on here or on Facebook that don’t get where I’m coming from and think that I am some kind of animal hating hypocrite or whatever but that is not the case.
My position is and has always been one of land management, resource value and respect – a philosophy that goes before any cash crop, cute animal or beauty product that you care to care about. If you overlook the prime philosophy in favour of a secondary emotional result then evil will triumph.
So, let’s get our glasses back on, let’s evaluate the small print and work together to model a more conscious, moderate and thoughtful consumerism this silly season.
PS: I will be back in Malaysia late Jan to survey the situation.