Vicky Al­lan

Did Steve Ban­non re­ally come to Scot­land?

The Herald on Sunday - - THE WEEK - Vicky Al­lan

I’M a hu­man in a for­est and I don’t know what to do. That was my feel­ing af­ter see­ing Ice­land su­per­mar­ket’s ad­vert, an adapted Green­peace film, and then look­ing into where we’re at glob­ally in the fight against palm-oil re­lated de­for­esta­tion.

That story is at the heart of the ad­vert that went vi­ral last week af­ter it looked set to be banned from tele­vi­sion. It’s one that starts with Dis­ney-like sweet­ness as a girl finds an orang utan in her bed­room, but turns dark and bru­tal­ist, as the “Rang-tan” tells the story of the burn­ing of his for­est to make way for a palm-oil plan­ta­tion.

He, voiced by Emma Thomp­son, de­clares: “There’s a hu­man in my for­est and I don’t know what to do.”

It’s al­ways dif­fi­cult to know what to do about some­thing go­ing on at the other side of the planet, yet which we are, as con­sumers, part of. Yes, we know some­thing must be done, and fast – not just for the sake of the orang utans, but for the wider planet since trop­i­cal for­est loss ac­counts for 8 per cent of the world’s global CO2 emis­sions – but what? Ice­land’s ad­vert pro­vides what seems like an an­swer in its end-ti­tles. “Un­til all palm oil causes zero rain­for­est de­struc­tion,” it says, “we’re re­mov­ing palm oil from all our own la­bel prod­ucts.” Os­ten­si­bly it seems a good move. Palm oil-re­lated de­for­esta­tion, af­ter all, is a prob­lem. Buy­ing things that don’t con­tain it is surely a good idea. We can sign the pe­ti­tion, de­liv­er­ing Ice­land its PR coup,

and head down to Ice­land for our pal­moil free Christ­mas good­ies and feel smug.

But, though it starts the con­ver­sa­tion, it’s barely the so­lu­tion. For, even if we all be­came green shop­pers and stopped buy­ing any­thing with palm oil in, we wouldn’t be­come in­stantly de­cou­pled from crop-re­lated de­for­esta­tion. It’s not just the palm oil in our pro­cessed foods that is the prob­lem. It’s the palm pro­tein meal in our an­i­mal feeds, the palm oil, un­til the re­cent EU ban, in our bio­fuel.

And even if we man­aged to elim­i­nate it, we still wouldn’t have rid our­selves of the prob­lem, for most likely what would hap­pen is that palm oil would be re­placed with an­other oil, and one that has as much, if not more, im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Many re­searchers and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups have pointed out, a ban on palm oil could too eas­ily just re­sult in a shift in the global in­dus­try grow­ing an­other crop that is even less sus­tain­able, for in­stance soy­bean oil, which has a greater im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment for less yield.

Four com­modi­ties – palm oil, soy, beef and pa­per and pulp – ac­count for half of global de­for­esta­tion.

So the prob­lem here is not palm oil it­self but what Green­peace calls “dirty palm oil”. Given this, it would seem, the ob­vi­ous an­swer is to push harder for a proper sus­tain­able palm oil. But that goal, which is al­ready been worked to­wards through cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, re­mains elu­sive. A re­port, for in­stance, ear­lier this year, by Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don ob­served that genuinely“de­for­esta­tion­free” palm-oil prod­ucts were hard to guar­an­tee be­cause of the na­ture of the sup­ply chains.

It has been pre­dicted de­mand for palm oil is set to dou­ble by 2050. Where will this sup­ply come from? Cur­rently, 90% is pro­duced in In­done­sia and Malaysia.

But it’s spec­u­lated Africa may be a sig­nif­i­cant fu­ture pro­ducer, and re­searchers are con­cerned al­ready about what that might mean for the pri­mate pop­u­la­tions in those ar­eas. Mean­while, in Brazil, pres­i­dent-elect Jair Bol­sonaro has pledged to open the Ama­zon to eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

We hu­mans are in a for­est and it’s hard to know what to do. What’s clear is we can’t fight this merely by be­ing green con­sumers. This is an is­sue that re­quires po­lit­i­cal will and over­see­ing – poli­cies, per­haps, such as France’s re­cently an­nounced strat­egy to ban all de­for­esta­tion im­ports by 2030. Above all, though, we can­not af­ford to do noth­ing.

It’s not just the “Rang-tans” at stake, but the wider fu­ture of our planet and hu­man and wildlife gen­er­a­tions to come. In this con­text, the Ice­land film isn’t just for Christ­mas, but for now and the com­ing decades. We should grasp it, be­fore it’s too late.

Ice­land’s palm oil ad­vert shows up a wider co­nun­drum as we try to pro­tect our planet from ex­ploita­tion

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