Friday, January 24, 2020

My palm oil problem: how can I save orangutans?

Orangs are gorgeous and I would like to save them too -- but there seem to be no good options -- JR

Watching a documentary about orangutans is like seeing a simian snuff movie. In the most recent one I saw with my family, we watched as a baby was orphaned, her mother starved after their forests were burnt down for palm oil. The baby turned her sweet Yoda eyes on the camera. My children, genuinely distressed, turned their eyes on me for moral guidance. It’s at that point that I thought to look at the list of ingredients on the packet of chocolate biscuits we had just eaten. Oh. They had palm oil in them. We were growing fat on baby orangutan tears.

Modern life is complicated. On the one hand we like orangutans. On the other we like chocolate biscuits, possibly, in my case, even more. It’s not that I want my chocolate biscuits to kill orangutans. It’s just that I’m not really doing much to stop it. And I’m not the only one.

So I thought I’d spend a week without palm oil. It feels, if not simple — palm oil is estimated to be in half of all packaged goods sold by UK supermarkets — at least clear and righteous. I palm off my palm oil-filled Nutella and go on a mega shopping expedition to Sainsbury’s and Tesco, accompanied by one of Britain’s leading palm oil experts, Jane Hill, a professor of biology at the University of York.

One of the first things that you need to give up palm oil is super-strong eyesight. That afternoon we make our way around the aisles of the supermarkets squinting at ingredients in micro fonts. Hill takes her glasses on and off, twisting a box of Oreo cookies to the light. I’m yo-yoing the Mr Kiplings in front of my face like a Where’s Wally? of ingredients panels, straining for “palm oil” to come into focus. “Oi, Jane!” I call from the shampoo aisle, “what about sodium palm kernelate?” Together we look like the most neurotic shoppers in north London, and that’s saying something.

The second thing you need, to do the right thing on palm oil, is a strong stomach for complexity and compromise. Hill tells me that she has been visiting Borneo every year or so for the past 15 years, drawn to catalogue its ancient forests. The way she talks, they sound like Eden. But we’re burning down paradise for oil palm, arguably the most destructive crop in the world. Every year she went back, 1.3 million more hectares of Bornean forest were gone. Orangutans are on a fast track to extinction, probably within decades. I nod, my face grave. And that’s why, Hill tells me, I should be eating more palm oil. More nodding.

Wait, what?

“Yes, that’s correct,” she says. “Boycotting palm oil could have the opposite effect to that intended, resulting in forests still being lost and more decline for wildlife.”

It turns out that, confusingly, oil palm is a kind of environmental wonder crop. It needs a fraction of the fertiliser and pesticide of oil crop rivals, and most importantly it requires up to ten times less land. To switch to soya or coconut oil could put more habitat at risk. “Sustainable” palm oil is one way forward, via certificates from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Palm-boycotting — which critics call “palm-phobia” — is the other approach. Some big British shops, such as Selfridges and Iceland, are trying to remove all palm from their own-brand products. They subscribe to the hard line taken by Greenpeace, that sustainable palm is just not achievable.

I’m only on aisle one when Hill hits me with this dilemma and I’m tempted to dump my basket with exhaustion. I’ve taken three granola bars in and out of my basket, for having palm, not having palm and finally the wrong type of palm. The thing I’ve learnt about palm oil: it’s slippery.

I need a moment to understand how we have got into this mess. Oil palm is native to west Africa. Chinua Achebe, in his finest novel, Things Fall Apart, wrote of Nigeria that “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”. As demand for soap in Europe boomed with the Industrial Revolution, William Lever sought out more west African forest to cultivate for palm, using cruel “forced labour” practices to boot. Now Unilever is considered one of the world’s largest users of palm oil and, in recent years, a leader in RSPO palm.

Palm can only thrive in proximity to the Equator: a few Dutch and French fortune-hunters had been drawn to bring African palm to Indonesia and Malaysia at the end of the 19th century, but the Brits were especially successful. Now Indonesia and Malaysia account for more than 80 per cent of global production.

Palm, under a dizzying range of names, is a staple of our bathroom cabinet, from toothpaste to lipstick. But up until the 1990s the preferred fat of choice in the food industry was animal, high in saturated fat, or margarine, riddled with trans fats. The industry was looking for something better, and palm oil was perfect. Unlike runny sunflower oil, it’s sticky and rich, like delicious thick cream (with a rather symbolic blood-red colour).

Unilever’s European food factories began going heavy on palm oil in 1995 and the rest of the food industry followed suit. Now two thirds of palm is used for food, from ice cream to bread, and our appetite is only whetted. When McVitie’s swapped palm oil out of its digestives in 2010, a public outcry over “dunkability” had the palm oil — RSPO-certified — returned. At present rates, the land used for palm oil, so often competing with virgin forest, is forecast to double by 2050.

“When we talk about palm, two things always come up,” Hill says. “Orangutans and Nutella.”

Ah yes, Nutella, the first product I dumped and public enemy of the palm-phobes. About two thirds of the reviews of Nutella on Ocado are spitting with middle-class fury about palm: “Stop using palm oil!” and “Won’t buy until palm oil goes.” Hill disagrees.

“Is Nutella sustainable? The answer is yes. Unilever has been driving the sustainability agenda for years.”

At this point I drag Hill over to the Nutella jar on the supermarket shelf. Nowhere does it mention its palm is sustainable. She sighs. She has worked with the RSPO for years, as well as researching how trustworthy it is. It’s far from perfect. “RSPO standards are a work-in-progress,” she says. “Commitment to zero deforestation only came in last year.”

Hmm. Is it just me, or is hacking down forests stretching the definition of sustainable? Last week, in its latest review of the impact of palm oil manufacture, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found big food retailers to be falling short on their commitment to eliminate the environmental damage being caused by the supply chain. Still, Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, scored 21.5 out of 22 on the WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard, and M&S and the Co-operative Group featured among the top 10 per cent of those rated, so at least that’s progress.

Hill says that if I want to do right by the orangutans, I need to consume more RSPO palm because “it produces a lot of food very quickly and efficiently”. It is better to eat sustainable palm oil, Hill says, than to switch to less sustainable fats.

Yet almost no manufacturers, that of Nutella included, label their RSPO products. Normally companies shout about every tiny “eco” gesture, however trivial, but in the world of palm there is a reverse twist. When companies attempt to do the right thing, they make it hard for the consumer to find out. When does that ever happen? It is a perplexing economic case study.

This means that hunting for “good palm” requires not only laser focus to spot it on the packet, but also a phone at the ready, possibly using the array of new palm-oil shopping phone apps to cross-reference parent companies. For example, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk uses RSPO palm in Europe and no palm oil in the US recipe. Most of the big UK supermarkets have committed to RSPO palm oil in their own-brand products, but we search in vain for any sign of this on their products.

Packaging is littered with logos: packets of Maltesers have the Fairtrade symbol and Tesco own-brand chocolate is stamped with the Rainforest Alliance logo. Sainsbury’s does use RSPO palm oil, but its own-brand chocolate cake would rather advertise its cardboard “comes from a sustainable source” than mention its sustainable palm. After examining dozens of products, we come across our first RSPO logo on a packet of Jordans Country Crisp, and even there it’s muted; the one for the Wildlife Trusts is far more prominent.

Why is such a confusing area made even more confusing by a lack of labelling? The RSPO logo is a palm frond, nicknamed “the green spider”. Some joke that it looks too much like a cannabis leaf — you may think that breakfast cereal will give you a mellow start to the day. An investigation last year by the website Eco-Business found that 70 companies in the UK were licensed to use the RSPO logo (the second highest in Europe, after Germany), but few did. Their inquiries to these companies got no answers as to why, but palm experts suspect that these brands are so aware of palm negativity, they want even responsible palm use to slip by unnoticed. The RSPO logo only alarms when it should reassure.

“The public are cynical about trusting big organisations to do the right thing,” Hill says.

I go home. My conversations with Greenpeace have me convinced that the RSPO has a long way to go, but my conversations with Hill have me convinced that sustainable palm is worth fighting for, especially in the context of feeding the world’s booming population in the most efficient way.

I speak to Bhavani Shankar, a professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), University of London, who has been studying palm oil for years. He believes that we should get real about palm: few, after all, get freaked out by soya bean oil as an ingredient, yet it’s the second most popular edible oil in the world, just behind palm, but with the same, or worse, deforestation issues. Instead of a world dominated by cheap palm and soya oils, or “unrealistic” bans, Shankar says that we should aim for a diversity of more local oils. In other words, demand olive oil in your food, the way you would free-range eggs.

“The unsustainability is the dominance of a single oil,” Shankar says.

The Nutella comes back on to our shelf after I give my children the, er, gold-standard reassurance that it’s “probably OK”. Every other product has me tapping at my laptop, doing the kind of deep research on multinationals that is far from “sustainable” alongside the packed-lunch rush. It’s just about possible for food, but checking for palm oil derivatives in washing powder and shampoo requires a scientific thesaurus. It’s an eye-straining if not eye-popping week.

If the “green spider” RSPO logo isn’t being used, I wish the government would legislate to label harmful palm. Similar to cigarettes, dirty palm products could display an orphan monkey or similar. And why stop at palm, for that matter, when meat fed on cheap, deforesting palm and soya crops are part of the issue? I finally check out with Hill. What feels wrong, I tell her, is that I am allowed to kill orangutans with my chocolate biscuits. It feels wrong to put the fate of these precious forests in the hands of us consumers who can’t read all the small print.

“Yes,” Hill says. “But that’s the same with so many decisions that are left up to us: cheap flights, cheap meat, fast fashion.”


Climate policies harm black and brown communities

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the most recent candidates’ debate in Iowa repeated the canard that climate change “particularly hits black and brown communities.” On this Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, it should be alerted that it is climate change policies promoted by her and fellow alarmists that would particularly hit black and brown communities by raising their cost of living and eliminating many of their jobs.

The several proposals for a “Green New Deal” for America have the common central feature of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy on the assumption that such energy is feasible in the near-term, and that carbon emissions will decline to lower the Earth’s temperature.

Carbon emissions and temperature data, in fact, have risen far more slowly in recent decades than what is claimed by the climate models posited by the alarmist camp of scientists, as CFACT recently explained. Accordingly, the Earth and its inhabitants do not face an “existential threat,” nor are we sooner facing the “point of no return.”

If America is to turn away from fossil fuels and transform to more carbon-free renewable energy sources, there is plenty of time for further research and development to make it practical. This would allow a far more seamless transition over decades as technological advances continue apace.

Instead, the current political effort to rapidly destroy America’s fossil fuel and gasoline auto industries through premature government mandates for non-fossil fuel use is reckless and harmful – particularly to black and brown communities. Upper income households can afford the resulting rise in energy and utility costs for heating our homes or driving our cars. By contrast, lower income households will struggle making financial ends meet.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line in 2017. Disaggregated by race, the poverty rate for black and brown Americans is substantially higher, at 21 percent of blacks and 18 percent of non-white Hispanic Americans.

The laws of mathematics are simple: poor people have less disposable income than wealthy people to absorb inexorable higher energy costs resulting from climate policies. For people living in poverty this will exacerbate their condition, especially for black and brown Americans since greater percentages of them already are poor.

Then there is the baleful effect of climate policies on jobs, particularly in fossil fuel and related manufacturing and transportation industries, which are heavily cost-sensitive to energy. Curtailing fossil fuels would result in less extraction and increased transportation costs, resulting in fewer jobs overall, which would particularly hit black and brown Americans.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 5.4 percent of Americans work in construction and extraction industries (mining, drilling, etc.) and 6.4 percent work in transportation and material moving industries.

For Hispanics, 11.4 percent of them work in construction and extraction industries, more than double the overall percentage of Americans, while 8.2 percent work in transportation and material moving jobs, nearly one-third higher than the overall percentage of Americans. For blacks, 10 percent work in transportation and material moving occupations, nearly double the overall percentage of workers.

For black and brown males, the percentages that work in these energy sensitive industries are even higher. Accordingly, they will suffer greater harm from climate policies that target these job sectors.

Another way to examine the economic and societal harm of climate alarmist policies on minority workers is to understand their disproportionate representation in those affected industries. For example, a BLS study of 2014 industry data showed that Hispanics comprise more than 43 percent of farming, fishing and forestry employment, the latter category of which is particularly vulnerable to climate policy restrictions on logging. Hispanics also comprise nearly one-fifth of the workers employed in mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction.

Industry and job sector transformation in America is not a new phenomenon. It is part of our history and the natural outcome of technological advances. Agriculture employs a much smaller percentage of Americans than a century ago, and manufacturing employment, while having increased in recent years, has declined in recent decades as a share of the workforce.

Still, the climate policies that prematurely force the declination and destruction of fossil fuels will unnecessarily raise costs and accelerate thousands of job losses, especially for blue collar workers, as former Vice President Joe Biden recently acknowledged. As the data shows, greater economic harm will result in more vulnerable black and brown communities by worsening their poverty and employment opportunities.


In State of the Commonwealth speech, Baker presses for more aggressive climate action

[Massachusetts] Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday pledged more aggressive action in tackling climate change and the region’s transportation woes, using his State of the Commonwealth address to press for increased MBTA funding, quicker cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, and stronger support for a hotly debated carbon pact.

Addressing lawmakers and a television audience, the second-term Republican laced his 35-minute speech with new initiatives and attempts to rally the Democratic-led Legislature behind many of his biggest priorities.

Baker vowed to move the state toward net-zero emissions by 2050, effectively accelerating the goals already laid out in law. His pledge won early plaudits from advocates who’ve pushed for more ambitious action on climate change.

Baker, who has generally opposed calls to raise taxes to funnel more money into the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, proposed $135 million in additional funding in the coming fiscal year for the beleaguered agency.

And he previewed a new $15 million partnership with vocational schools that he said would “turbocharge” the training provided to both adults and teens, changes he estimates will better prepare tens of thousands of would-be trade workers.

Without invoking President Trump by name, Baker leaned into his trademark calls for pragmatism as the country barrels into a divisive campaign to elect a president in November.

“People who deal with much greater troubles than ours will rightly question us if we waste our time, and theirs, on the politics of personal destruction,” Baker told a packed House chamber. “They want us to be better than the yelling they see on TV and across social media.

“We all know campaigns are contests, and the siren call of sloganeering and cheap shots will be everywhere this year. Let’s rise above it,” he added to a lengthy standing ovation, one of 15 he received during the night.

In many cases, Baker’s address cited his administration’s accomplishments as much as it posed new arguments for proposals. He framed his push for a long-stalled bill to help ease the housing crunch in terms of equity, saying the status quo “has been hurting families for years.”

“Our current zoning laws aren’t working. They’re a wall between the well-off and the up-and-coming,” Baker said, adding: “Let’s find the common ground on housing policy that must be in here somewhere.”

He also refocused his argument for complex health care legislation that he said would put a greater emphasis on primary care and behavioral health services. He said the system should reward clinicians who “invest in time and connection with patients and their families,” but it does not. “And this is a major problem,” he said.

It was transportation and climate change, however, that made up large parts of his address.

The state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, signed in 2008, includes a target of 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050. Baker’s commitment to net-zero emissions by then was immediately hailed by environmental groups, many of which have been critical of him in the past. The pledge is a “crucial directive [that] puts Massachusetts in the vanguard of states and nations combating climate change,” said Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation.

The Senate is preparing to unveil on Thursday its own bill addressing climate change, which Senate President Karen E. Spilka said Tuesday will include the accelerated 2050 goal. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo indicated he, too, supports the new target.

In a thinly veiled shot at the Trump administration, Baker said there have been “significant steps backward in Washington” in addressing climate change. He also trumpeted a stalled proposal he called critical to helping fund climate-resiliency projects through a tax hike on real estate transfers.

He devoted part of his speech to pitching lawmakers on a regional pact known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI. It’s designed to curb carbon emissions but would probably raise gas prices. Without action, he said, the state won’t meet its objectives on reducing all greenhouse gas emissions.


Obama's crooked EPA administrator still spouting off

She's obsessed.  I guess it gives her life meaning

Recently, as meteorologists from around the country assembled in Boston for their annual convention, Gina McCarthy took center stage, carrying an even darker forecast than those of epic storms like the Blizzard of ’78, which she keenly remembers.

It’s nothing less than an urgent bulletin. Our planet is warming. It’s not an opinion. It’s real.

And the consequences are more dire than canceled school classes or thousands of cars stranded on highways from Marshfield to Marblehead.

“The big deal is that global warming is changing the entire system of the way energy is distributed in the planet,’’ McCarthy told me the other day at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is a professor.

“Our climate is temperate. It’s not going to be anymore. The climate isn’t tomorrow. Or five years from now. The climate is forever. It’s a system of change over 30 to 40 years. So you are literally going to see places that flourish as farmlands today that will be deserts tomorrow. This is an entire shift in how the globe’s going to look if we don’t do something about it.’’

Gina McCarthy intends to do something about it.

And those who know her track record — her long and well-earned reputation for no-nonsense, plain-spoken advocacy, her tenacity in the face of nay-sayers or climate-change deniers — say she is a formidable weather system all her own. Inexorable. Relentless. Blunt.

“Gina is a rock star,’’ said Jenni L. Evans, president of the American Meteorological Society. “We see climate change. It’s there. She will talk about how to think about it. How do we give people a sense of self-determination and not a sense that they should slit their wrists?’’

There is nothing academic or hypothetical about this. Evans grew up in Australia, parts of which have been blackened by historic wildfires.

Last year, record temperatures were broken in France and Germany. Greenland’s ice sheet saw historic melting. Average global temperatures were the second highest on record, less than one-tenth of a degree cooler than 2016.

So Evans knows what hangs in the balance. And so does McCarthy, who has made this work the centerpiece of her professional life.

As a young woman, she was the health agent for Canton’s Board of Health. Governor Michael Dukakis named her to a hazardous waste facility site safety council. After that, she served four Republican governors in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut, Jodi Rell.

In March 2013, President Obama nominated McCarthy as the nation’s 13th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, which she led until 2017, becoming the chief architect of Obama’s plan to combat climate change.

And now, the Natural Resources Defense Council has named McCarthy as its president and chief executive, calling her one of the most effective environmental champions of the modern era.

The challenges, particularly in the age of Donald Trump, are daunting.  According to a recent New York Times analysis, Trump has rolled back more than 90 environmental rules and regulations, raising the prospects for a significant increase in greenhouse gases. That means dirtier air. It means weaker auto pollution standards. It means looser rules governing toxic industrial emissions.

“We haven’t reached the point of no return, but we don’t have as much time as we thought we had,’’ said Mitch Bernard, NRDC’s chief counsel. “The next 10 years will be critical in terms of trying to avert the most severe catastrophes from the changing climate.

“Gina is going to try to mobilize the energy and enthusiasm that is out there, especially among young people, for appropriate and vigorous action on climate. Climate change is not out there on the horizon. It’s creating misery and huge health problems.’’

Still, amid all those storm clouds, McCarthy finds a way to be optimistic. For one thing, she’s shut off the endless cable TV chatter, a limitless electronic feedback loop of bad news, an echo chamber that serves only to reinforce embedded political views on the right and the left.

And then she looks for silver linings.  “The environment has had tremendous improvement,’’ said McCarthy, who, at age 65, is old enough to remember wiping oily residue off her legs after taking a dip in a polluted Boston Harbor. “But it didn’t improve by people saying, ‘We can’t do it.’ It improved by saying, ‘OK, we’ve got to do it.’ That’s my attitude. I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to claim defeat.

“I’m not going to focus on President Trump and his nonsense, which I know I can’t fix right now. We can fight it. And one of the reasons to go to NRDC is because that’s what they do. They fight it every day so we can get into the courts. And in most cases, we’re winning.”

During the Trump presidency, the NRDC has sued the federal government 96 times, fighting his administration on issues ranging from efficiency standards for lightbulbs to endangered species. Its track record? The NRDC says it has emerged victorious in 54 of the 59 cases so far resolved.

“Those are pretty good odds,’’ McCarthy told me. “I’m optimistic because they don’t govern well. So even on the stuff they’re rolling back in the courts they think they’ve stacked, we can win.’’

What does McCarthy want? More electric cars and buses. Energy efficient lightbulbs and toilets. More trees and playgrounds. Public transportation systems that work. Farms that don’t contaminate drinking water supplies.  “I need people to be motivated to act,’’ she said. “Not to be hiding out in their closets.’’

There are no closets in her future. No sandy beaches either. Retirement, she told me, will have to wait. “I can’t let it go,’’ she said. “How do I do that? I don’t just have three kids, I have two grandchildren. And I listen to the young people now. And they’re all debating, and many of them deciding not to have children. That breaks my heart. They don’t see a future.’’

From across the table, she shook her head slowly and sadly. And then, with resolve, added this: “So somehow the energy they’re generating needs to be channeled into something more meaningful than giving up. I just think we have to figure out where the positive energy is. It’s out there. We’ve got to nurture that and at some point you’re going to see people who, like this president, prey on people’s most negative thoughts and amplify those as if that’s a path to the future.  “And I’m not going to buy that. And I’m never going to buy that. And I’m never going to stop fighting it.’’


Australia: How a tiny group of Greenie protesters managed to stop backburning in East Gippsland over worries baby birds would die - before fires ravaged the area killing four people and forcing mass evacuations from the beach

Greenies fighting to save baby birds blocked vital hazard reduction burns in a tiny Victorian town two months before residents had to be evacuated as a deadly bushfire closed in.

Holding placards that read 'be firefighters not firelighters' and 'spring burns kill baby birds', the protesters refused to leave the planned burn area in Nowa Nowa, Victoria in September.

Firefighters were forced to abandon what they considered a necessary step in bushfire mitigation before the government reduced the planned burn area by more than 97 per cent to appease activists.

The backdown has played out in similar scenes across the country with devastating consequences as hazard reduction burning drops to dangerous levels.

'Burning in spring is the worst time because the animals are breeding and trees are flowering and it is still so dry,' Mary from Nowa Nowa told her local ABC outlet during the protest.

'The Department of Environment, Land and Water and Planning (DELWP) is dividing the community because they are telling us this has to be done to save our lives but in fact they're just destroying the environment.'

The department scaled back the planned burn from 370 hectares to just nine in what would prove a disastrous move as Australia entered a summer of disaster.

Just two months later, the town's 200 residents would have to be urgently evacuated as the East Gippsland bushfire - which killed four people, destroyed 340 homes and burnt 1 million hectares - raged. The insurance bill from the Gippsland area alone is expected to surpass $100 million.

The ABC has since blurred the faces of the activists to protect their identities, having become a target for trolls in the wake of the East Gippsland fires. 

But also coming under fire online was the Victorian government and its agencies for bowing to the wishes of Greens and reducing its planned burns in the Nowa Nowa area by roughly 97.5 per cent.

A Royal Commission into the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires found that 385,000 hectares of hazard reduction needed to be carried out annually across the state.

But DELWP's annual reports reveal only one-third of that goal was accomplished in 2018/19, with 130,000ha burned.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


1 comment:

Small l said...

How about you update the graph in your heading. The data is available.