Last summer, thousands of fires raged across Indonesia. Visible from space, they destroyed forests, emitted more greenhouse gases than the entire U.S. economy, and left rhinos, tigers, and elephants without homes. A recent study estimates that the ensuing haze contributed to more than 100,000 deaths across Indonesia and neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore.
What could possibly drive that much destruction? In part, the demand for processed food and personal care products.
Many of the fires cleared land for plantations that produce palm oil, the world’s most popular vegetable oil. Palm oil is a key ingredient in about half of the processed and packaged foods in our supermarkets, from cookies and instant noodles to lipstick and soap.
When palm oil is produced unsustainably, wildlife, natural habitats, and our climate can suffer detrimental consequences. However, when it is produced in ways that protect the environment, palm oil production can help meet demand for edible oil more efficiently than other plants.