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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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10% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Deforestation

Earlier this week we put on our website a page that explains the best estimate of what percentage of global warming pollution comes from deforestation. The percentage — 10 percent — updates the consensus estimate of 15 percent that scientists and organizations, including UCS, released at the Barcelona climate conference in November 2009. It also explains why the decrease only represents progress in reducing deforestation to a limited extent. Read More

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Brazil’s Deforestation Progress Takes a Step Backward

This morning, Brazil released its annual data on the rate of deforestation in the Amazon over the past year. But unlike previous years, this year’s figure doesn’t show continued progress. 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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Sources of the Haze in Southeast Asia, Fires Are Quickly Located with Public GIS Data

Over the last two weeks, large numbers of fires have broken out on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and once again this has led to massive air pollution, carried to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. This time, however, people could see not only the choking, dangerous “haze,” but also the locations of the fires, including which ones were on lands used by companies to produce palm, oil, pulpwood, timber, and other commodities. GIS technology and publicly available data, rapidly analyzed by scientists, brought a transparency to the issue that is so sorely lacking in the air over Singapore.

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Transferring Forest Land to Communities Helps Reduce Deforestation – and Can Help Government Budgets Too

Who owns the tropical forests? Till recently, the answer has traditionally been “governments,” at least in formal legal terms. But a quiet revolution in forest land tenure has been going on in several countries over the last few decades, resulting in the traditional land claims of forest communities being recognized, not just in law but also in fact. This change, due to struggles by Indigenous Peoples and their allies, has resulted in large-scale changes in tropical forest land tenure, and ironically, could also bring substantial income to tropical governments too.

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Extending the Success Against Illegal Logging to Palm Oil and Other Drivers of Deforestation

The week before last I had the opportunity to go to London to participate in a workshop at Chatham House, on an idea that may turn out to be very important in ending tropical deforestation. Over the past several years there has been important progress in reducing forest degradation, based on a simple principle: if it’s against the law to cut down trees in one country, then it should also be illegal to import the cut timber from those trees into other countries. In other words, we should respect and help enforce the laws that protect forests in the countries that we import from.

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