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Calen May-Tobin

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About the author: Calen May-Tobin is a lead analyst with the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative and conducts research on palm-related deforestation and how to reduce the land-use carbon footprint of the palm oil industry. He holds a Master’s degree in ecology from the University of California, Irvine. See Calen's full bio.

Is Palm Oil-Driven Deforestation the Secret Ingredient in Your Favorite Products?

Like most Americans, I’m really devoted to the products I buy. I’ve been using Old Spice since I was 15 and entered my “Frank Sinatra” phase, on a bad day nothing cheers me up quite like a bowl (or six) of Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and seeing a Taco Bell sign or McDonald’s golden arches on a long car trip never fails to reinvigorate me. For better or worse, we Americans have developed an attachment to these brands and the companies that make them. Read More

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Palm Oil: To Boycott or not to Boycott?

I get asked a lot whether you should stop buying products with palm oil altogether. The answer is “no,” for three major reasons.

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The Facts About Peat Soils in Sarawak, Malaysia

As you may have seen, there has been a lot of news from the palm oil industry in recent months, with companies like Hershey’s, L’Oréal, Kellogg’s, and Unilever committing to source deforestation- and peat-free palm oil.  But it’s the announcement by Wilmar, the largest trader (and one of the largest producers) of palm oil, that is likely to have the greatest impact on the palm oil industry. Read More

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Palm Oil: From Plantation to Peanut Butter

A couple of years ago, as I waited for my morning coffee to brew and my toast to, er, toast, I was reading the label of my peanut butter jar and had my entire organic, fair trade world thrown for a loop when I saw that my peanut butter contained palm oil. Read More

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What’s in a Name? Why the RSPO’s Definition of “Sustainable” Falls Short

Words are living things. Their definitions and meanings change as society changes, as evidenced by the Oxford English dictionary bestowing official word status to “selfie”, “unlike”, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) in its latest update. Likewise, as society progresses, the definition of some words change entirely. Back in the day, for instance, an “awful” stage play would have filled you with a sense of awe and wonder, while today an “awful” movie is just plain terrible. Unfortunately, after a vote earlier this year by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the word “sustainable” might need to be added to the list of words that have lost their meanings. Read More

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Into Africa: Palm Oil’s Next Frontier?

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and blog posts recently about the expansion of palm oil production into Africa. As near as I can tell, the recent flurry of attention is being caused by Seeds of Destruction, a new report from the Rainforest Foundation UK that highlights a series of large land deals in Africa for the expansion of palm oil. Although most of today’s production is in Southeast Asia, those who follow the palm oil issue are concerned with oil palm’s expansion back to its home continent. It is troubling for a number of reasons. Read More

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The 78%: The Majority of Orangutan Habitat in Borneo is Under Threat

On a recent trip to Chicago, I took some time to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo. The highlight for me was the Great Apes Hall, and while I enjoyed seeing the chimps and the gorillas, they didn’t have the ape I was hoping most to see, an orangutan. It may not be too surprising that there are no orangutans in Chicago in winter, but even in their native habitat they are increasingly difficult to find, as their populations have declined by 50% on Borneo and 80% on Sumatra. A recent paper published in the online journal PLOS ONE helps shed some light on the current distribution of those few remaining wild orangutans. Read More

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Tropical Forests in 2012: A Year in Review

It’s that time of year. Holiday decorations line the streets, days are getting short, and temperatures are falling (well, theoretically at least, it’s still been in the 50’s and 60’s here in Washington). It’s also the time to step back and reflect on what’s happened since the last time the earth was on this side of the sun. Read More

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“Sustainable” Palm Oil Should Not Drive Deforestation

We all know that “sustainable” is a good thing but the word is only as strong as its definition. Right now, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has a huge opportunity to strengthen its definition by adding critical forest and climate protections to its standards. The world is watching and waiting to see if “sustainable” palm oil will be a truly sustainable solution for the future. Read More

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Hurricane Sandy: The Map Is Not the Terrain

Like most of you, I’ve spent the last few days staring at maps. And now that the issue of red and blue states is settled (mostly) for the next few years, I’m turning my attention back to the maps that will have ramifications well beyond the next election. These maps also contain red and blue, but here red indicates evacuation zones or destruction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and blue marks the extent of storm surge and the slow steady drumbeat of sea level rise. Read More

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