Green? Orangutans, biofuel, and logging
December 6, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Green tells the story of one orangutan captured and brought to a rehabilitation facility after her home is logged and converted to a palm oil plantation. This award winning documentary is a powerful indictment of the palm oil and logging industries in South Asia. It is also another voice in the crowd drawing attention to the potential ecological consequences of growing dependence on biofuels.

The Sumatran Orangutan is one of the top 25 most endangered primates, and like most of the other primates on the list, is especially threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation. Indonesia's forests are being chopped up or burned down to make way for palm plantations. Palm oil is found in an unlikely variety of products - from Ben and Jerry's to Loreal to Campbell's Soup - and has been used as a biofuel to power commercial air travel. Rain forest woods like teak and mahogany are particularly valuable, but come from the same forests orangutans depend on - rain forest advocates suggest avoiding rain forest hardwood altogether unless it has been certified by a sustainable forestry organization like the Forest Stewardship Council.
posted by ChuraChura (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, two orangutan posts in one day!
posted by idiopath at 5:03 PM on December 6, 2009

Two orangutan posts in one day. This isn't going to be like Elephant Day, is it?
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:03 PM on December 6, 2009

The only biofuel anyone should considering using is the sort of upcoming, specially engineered carbon-capture algae Craig Venter (and probably others) are working on. The idea of cutting down a natural rain forest for fuel is just insane. Anyone in the eco movement who's been promoting natural crop biofuels should be ashamed of themselves(I'm looking at you, Al Gore) - they're basically all as bad or worse for the environment as burning oil
posted by crayz at 5:34 PM on December 6, 2009

Just always remember this when conversing with an Orangutan: never, ever call it a monkey. You will be violently corrected in a manner that ensures you never make that mistake again. The Orangutan is a great ape, and The Librarian will be pleased that you know the difference.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:02 PM on December 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

While I agree that we should use the least harmful renewable substitutes possible, I think me and millions of Bangladeshis would agree that global warming should trump other environmental causes.

Hopefully technology will prevent us from needing to choose between orangutans and humans though.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:30 PM on December 6, 2009

I haven't even finished downloading the movie yet, and the first five minutes are killing me. That orangutan looks exactly like my dad in the hospital, getting his stomach prodded, having a cold stethoscope put on it - or maybe dad looks like the orangutan, I don't know.

When this wild creature - that has four times the strength of a human male - reaches out so gently to the tech taking care of her, it's just incredible.
posted by HopperFan at 6:47 PM on December 6, 2009

they're basically all as bad or worse for the environment as burning oil

This is the thing about biofuels that just crushes my spirit. So, instead of burning oil, we should burn food?

How did we cultivate that food? With the help of a lot of burned gasoline, it turns out.

Biofuels are a disaster.
posted by mhoye at 6:57 PM on December 6, 2009

There's been a documentary running on the Asian Food Channel about palm oil for a while now. It purports to be an evenhanded look at the environmental and nutritional aspects of palm oil, but it's really an ad for the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. Some examples of it here.

Malaysia's well on its way to becoming as corrupt as the Philippines so don't count on this changing anytime soon.
posted by awfurby at 7:02 PM on December 6, 2009

I watched this movie eating popcorn that had been popped in palm oil and felt several kinds of bad afterward.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:18 PM on December 6, 2009

Not nearly as bad as you would if you saw what the solid blocks of popcorn-popping "oil" looked like before they hit the heat. They are a most unnatural colour.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:51 PM on December 6, 2009

I just came in to ask if the orangutan took photographs, but I see I'm much too late.
posted by autopilot at 8:03 PM on December 6, 2009

Willie Smits' talk at TED2009 was my favorite, and in 18 minutes encapsulates this entire issue.
posted by peterme at 8:45 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

While I agree that we should use the least harmful renewable substitutes possible, I think me and millions of Bangladeshis would agree that global warming should trump other environmental causes.

Hopefully technology will prevent us from needing to choose between orangutans and humans though.

I don't understand this at all.

Rainforests are carbon sinks. Cutting them down for any sort of farming releases carbon, and palm oil plantations can never match the carbon sequestration of a natural rainforest ecosystem (especially since palm oil plantations have a lifespan of 25 years. Rainforests are the oldest land biomes on earth). Rainforests also release more water into the atmosphere than any other type of biome; this water makes clouds, which help block the sun, aid cooling, rain, &c. Slash and burn farming practices render the formerly fertile forest soil infertile, so then fertilizers are need to grow any crops, including palm oil. Fertilizers come from petrochemicals, and fertilizers emit greenhouse gasses. Processing of fertilizers emits greenhouse gasses. Fertilizer runoff causes algae blooms, and when those blooms die, they release carbon dioxide. The equipment used to harvest and extract palm oil releases carbon. &c.

The plain fact is that environmental issues are all part of the same single environmental system. You can't just focus on one to the detriment of others, and people who don't give a shit about ripping out environmentally sensitive land are unlikely to give a shit about global warming. They just care about profit, not that people all over the world are going to end up as refugees when the oceans rise.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:45 PM on December 6, 2009 [9 favorites]

Biofuel, whether southeast asian palm-source biodiesel or American corn-source ethanol is a dead loser, not least because all the arable land in the world can only supply a couple of percent of global energy needs.

When it comes to food for people, though, oil palm is among the most efficient, productive crops in the world on a tons per hectare basis, 10-30 times more productive than any other oil crop. In a globalized economy, your sugar will come from sugarcane and your cooking oil from oil palm, period. Sugar beets and annual oil crops like soy and corn are horrific wastes of land by comparison. So I'm sympathetic to the huge social and environmental problems of palm plantation development, but freaking out about palm oil in your favorite premium ice-cream brand or hand soap is not going to help anything.

Hey, maybe we can set up a swap system: for every one hectare of tropical forest converted to palm oil, 30 hectares of Iowa cornfields can be restored to Prairie, one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world, surpassed only by the rainforests of Brazil in biodiversity.
posted by BinGregory at 10:15 PM on December 6, 2009

Just care about short term profit.

And unless there's a strain of Christianity going around that claims you do get to take it with you, even those wingnuts that want to immanentize the eschaton can't truly be concerned solely for short term profit at the cost of the long term expense that is going to impact the lives of their grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.

Longer term thinking is what this species needs. I think we've almost got nations — an invention of our species — to the point of thinking about the long-term best interests of its generations of peoples. Haven't quite grasped how that has to fit into a global context due to limitations of our shared and sole source air and water.

Our biosphere is small and sketchy at best. We need to figure out how to fit our needs to its capacities.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:26 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please stop killing animals and/or their environment which in turn kills them anyway. I can't take another orangutan or elephant or polar bear or gorilla or aye aye or tiger or lion or even a raccoon story. My father used to say white people kill everything. But everybody kills everything as long as they can make money.

No more new construction. You want a new house or a McMansion, move to the inner city and convert a crack house or two. Instead of stock options you get S&H-type green stamps of sustainable goods and services. Instead of bragging about second homes, brag about how many trees were planted and how many kids were sent to college. I know this isn't really doable but I want the Star Trek-like utopia of no one goes hungry and we realize our responsibility to the environment and each other.
posted by shoesietart at 7:38 AM on December 7, 2009

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