You open your freezer and stick your nose inside to rifle through half-eaten ice cream pints and packets of frozen peas. You then take out a box of toaster waffles, flip it over and get a good look at the ingredients. Under enriched flour, reduced iron and vitamin B, you see the two words you wished you wouldn’t find: palm oil.
Palm oil, a vegetable oil that comes from the fruits of palm trees, is found in nearly everything we consume, according to Stanford postdoctoral research fellow Ryan Edwards. You’d think that a product with such prevalence would be more well-known, and yet, it’s hardly a household name. Most people aren’t even aware of palm oil’s existence, much less the fact that many consume it in high quantities on a daily basis.
However, the controversy extends far beyond palm oil’s prevalence — even fewer people are aware of palm oil’s environmental impacts, Edwards says. Even Palo Alto, a progressively environmentally conscious city when it comes to waste control and sustainable transportation, can’t seem to apply the same conscientiousness when it comes to seeing the impact of our food on the environment. Our ignorance towards the detrimental effects of palm oil is indicative of the larger ignorance we have adopted in regards to environmental issues in general.
Palm oil is cultivated all over the world, with the highest figures of production coming from Indonesia and Malaysia, two countries whose economies depend greatly upon agricultural success. For the exportation of such great quantities of palm oil, their governments have condoned mass deforestation to make room for plantations. In turn, the animal populations that once thrived in those same spaces have been decimated, and the few surviving animals in these habitats have nowhere to go.
Fortunately, the international community is looking for solutions through a campaign launched by the World Wide Fund for Nature, known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which was created in hopes to source palm oil more effectively.
Yet, once again, we must keep in mind that the palm oil controversy is representative of a bigger, more complicated world issue — the fact that we are oblivious to our large negative environmental impact on the planet.
Why do we stand idly by while trees are ripped up from the ground and the environment is demolished right in front of our eyes? And how is it that we could have spent so much time unaware of the effects of an international import that piles on to the issues of climate change and global warming?
Because indifference has become acceptable.
Republicans have a presidential nominee who tweeted in 2012, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Donald Trump is aggressively for fracking, an environmentally destructive way of extracting fossil fuels by drilling deep into the earth.
And he even made promises to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement, an accord that the United Nations has put into place to accelerate existing anti-climate change efforts and to create positive new ones.
The rallying of support behind a man who simply does not care about the state of the environment epitomizes how our society has become so utterly apathetic towards climate change.
So really, it’s not that surprising that no one seems to know or care about the way palm oil is damaging our earth.
However, as global citizens, we should hold ourselves up to a higher standard than “satisfaction with oblivion.” We won’t have a world in which to live and thrive unless the international community becomes cognizant of the environmental threats we are facing today.
We must step out of the mindset that impassivity is okay. It’s time to learn from our disinterest toward palm oil and to begin consciously searching for methods to take real steps toward supporting a healthier and more conscious Earth, starting with opposing the ignorance that has been heightened by this upcoming election. It’s up to us to take advantage of the opportunities we still possess to better our world — before it becomes too late.