Bad news and good news on palm oil

First the bad news: As reported by Sky News the demand for palm oil for biodiesel is contributing to the destruction of some of the world's most precious rainforests. I highly recommend the video included with the article. The article focuses on the rainforest in Indonesia where the rainforest could be gone in just 15 years and the orangutan extinct in 10 years, but the threat posed by palm oil is real in every tropical rainforest. And the impacts are not just on wildlife--clearing rainforest for biodiesel makes the resulting fuel dramatically worse than petroleum based diesel from a global warming perspective.

Now the good news: Reuters reports that the Malaysian palm oil industry is blaming environmental groups and their educational efforts around the environmental impacts of palm oil for a 17.5% decline in exports to Europe. More power to our colleagues in Europe. Nothing like a good drop in demand to wake up the market.

This seems like an area where we should be able to influence the market. To paraphrase the closing lines of the Sky News video, the roads to Hell through cleared rainforests are paved with green intentions. So shouldn't we greens be able to warn people off this awful path? They've got a head start on us here in the US, both in terms of using palm oil and recognizing its downside. That's a large part of the reason that we agreed to work with Hawaiian Electric Company--to get an American company to stand up and acknowledge that biofuels can be done right or they can be done wrong and to commit to doing them right. 

Ultimately, biodiesel is just speeding up a problem that growing population would create anyway. The Sky News video also points out that China is Indonesia's largest customer. Economics being what they are, we also need international agreements that put a financial and regulatory fence around rainforests and other precious wild places. Only when it is in the financial interest of the people that live in these parts of the world will they be safe.

Fortunately, there's even some good news on that front. This post ran on Biopact back in May and tells how Brazil has cut its rate of deforestation in half and how a policy of "compensated reduction" could be part of the package of international agreements..

But with 10 years to save the orangutan and also to get serious about global warming, we have to step up our efforts now.