The demand for palm oil is too high. But there's an extremely reasonable solution.

We need to talk about palm oil.

And I know what you're thinking. "But there's already so many highly saturated semi-solid vegetable fats that I care deeply about! Why should I add palm oil to my long list?"


A worker inspecting palm fruit in Indonesia. Photo by Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images.

Well, for one thing...

Palm oil is in everything.

Palm oil is a highly stable, low cholesterol vegetable oil that is extracted from the pulp of oil palms native to Africa, though it's produced in Southeast Asia and South America. It's used as a cooking ingredient in many cultures and can be found in many commercial foods and products.

Including products that you probably love a lot: like some flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap, many protein bars and soy milks, as well as Girl Scout cookies and Kit Kat bars.


Honestly, I thought the only ingredients in Kit Kat bars were "happiness" and "wafer." Photo via Evan-Amos/Wikimedia Commons.

So, yeah, palm oil is everywhere. Which also explains why the farming and processing of palm oil is expected to be an $88 billion industry by the year 2022.

Palm oil is cheap, easy to produce, and employs people all over the world. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, meeting the demand for palm oil can be highly destructive to the environment.

In order to grow enough oil-producing palm to meet demand, large swaths of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia (where 85% of the world’s supply is produced) have been cleared for farmland.

A patch of peatland forest being burned for a palm oil plantation in Indonesia. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

Rainforests are a key element in healthy biodiversity worldwide, and losing them has historically been a tragedy with very real consequences. The slashing and burning of these forests can release millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere and can cause millions of species of plants and animals to lose their home. This includes already endangered species like Sumatran orangutans, elephants, and tigers.

So ... should we just stop using palm oil? How do we fix this?

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as a product boycott.

"No other crop [besides oil palms] can yield even a third as much oil per acre planted," writes Joe Fassler in Smithsonian magazine.

Basically, palm oil is incredibly efficient. So efficient that boycotting it would only mean that another less efficient vegetable oil would have to carry the burden, meaning more farms would end up slashing and burning the rainforest to create space dedicated to a different, less efficient crop.

A man attempting to extinguish a peat forest fire. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

Another option is that we could all learn to live without Kit Kats. But that's just not something I'm willing to accept.

If a boycott doesn't solve the problem and we refuse to live in a world without Kit Kats and Dove body soap, then what can we do?

Well, generally, the best thing a company can do is find a way to work with the planet that produces their materials, instead of against it.

A palm fruit worker in Indonesia. Photo by Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images.

Companies that use palm oil are going to have to find a sustainable way to keep farming it.

The good news is this isn't impossible and is already being done by many companies.

For example, The Body Shop, a popular health products company, has been sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil since 2011. They also recently announced a sweeping commitment to work with the planet by protecting forests, reducing energy use, and establishing healthy relationships with the communities that farm their ingredients.

Some of the biggest food companies are also already ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable farming of palm oil. The Union of Concerned Scientists' 2015 Sustainable Palm Oil Scorecard shows strong commitments from brands such as Dunkin' Donuts, Nestle, Kellogg's, and General Mills to move toward more sustainable and "deforestation free" palm oil use.

This isn't just good business practice. Finding ways to sustainably produce palm oil may be essential for our future.

Photo by Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images.

We can't just suck materials out of the Earth forever in order to make more Cheetos.

If we want to keep the planet healthy and maintain our quality of life, yes, some things need to change. Otherwise, eventually, the scale, speed, and demand for processed food production will reach a breaking point. The planet's ability to supply us with these raw materials is not without limits.

When you're surrounded by the trappings and conveniences of a modern lifestyle, it's easy to forget that everything, even the most seemingly unnatural things, like your DVD of "Shrek 2," is made of raw materials that can be traced back to nature.

Things like palm oil can and should be produced sustainably. But the lesson to learn here is that all products should be produced in a way that works with the planet's natural capabilities.

Because when we keep our planet healthy, it lets us keep living here. And that's a pretty solid exchange of favors.

Heroes
Facebook / Mikhail Galin

Putting your pet in cargo during a flight isn't always safe. In 2016, the Department of Transportation reported a total of 26 pet deaths and 22 injuries on flights. Because conditions in cargo can be uncomfortable for animals, the Humane Society recommends taking your pet aboard when you fly, or just leaving it at home.

It's not surprising that one Russian man didn't want to put his overweight cat in cargo during an eight-hour flight from Moscow to Vladivostok. What is surprising is the great lengths he took to fly with his four-legged friend.

Russian airline Aeroflot allows pets to fly inside the plane's cabin, as long as the cat weighs under 17.6 pounds and stays in its carrier during the flight. When Mikhail Galin went to check in, he was told he couldn't fly with his four-year old cat, Viktor. Viktor weighed in at 22 pounds and would have to be relegated to cargo.

But Viktor was sick from their earlier flight from Riga, Latvia to Moscow. And besides, Viktor had been allowed to fly inside the cabin during that flight. The airline staff didn't even bother to make Viktor sit on the scales. Galin was unable to persuade staff to bring his fur baby on board.

"To all attempts to explain that the cat won't survive there on an 8-hour flight with the baggage and would haunt her in her nightmares for the rest of her life, she (the Aeroflot staff member) replied that there are rules," Galin wrote in a Facebook post translated from Russian.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Photo by Kelvin Octa from Pexels

Newborn babies don't seem to do much beyond eating and pooping and, of course, hiccupping. A lot. Parenting advice on how to cure a baby's hiccups runs the whole gamut. It's recommended parents try everything from nursing to stop feeding the baby so much, from giving the baby gripe water to letting the hiccups play their course. But when your baby hiccups too much, you shouldn't freak out. There's a good reason why.

A new study published in Clinical Neurophysiology found that hiccups play an important role in a baby's development. Researchers from the University College London found 217 babies for their study, but only looked at 13 newborns with persistent hiccups. Ten of those babies hiccupped when they were awake, and three hiccupped during their "wriggly" sleep. We have no idea how the scientists got any work done with all that cuteness lying around.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / YouTube

Actress Kristen Bell and "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon showed off their vocal and comedic chops on Tuesday night when the performed a medley of 17 Disney songs, spanning nine decades, in just five minutes.

The duo started with 1940's "When You Wish Upon a Star" and ended with 2013's "Let it Go" from "Frozen."

Bell will reprise her role as Anna in Disney's upcoming "Frozen 2."

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Ask almost any woman about a time a man said or did something sexually inappropriate to them, and she'll have a story or four to tell. According to a survey NPR published last year, 81% of women report having experienced sexual harassment, with verbal harassment being the most common. (By contrast, 43% of men report being sexually harassed. Naturally harassment toward anyone of any sex or gender is not okay, but women have been putting up with this ish unchecked for centuries.)

One form of verbal sexual harassment is the all too common sexist or sexual "joke." Ha ha ha, I'm going to say something explicit or demeaning about you and then we can all laugh about how hilarious it is. And I'll probably get away with it because you'll be too embarrassed to say anything, and if you do you'll be accused of being overly sensitive. Ha! Won't that be a hoot?

Keep Reading Show less
popular