Time’s running out. View from Kalimantan, Indonesia.

To Save the Orang-utans, We Must First Fight the Lobbyists

Who’s responsible for ditching dirty palm oil? We all are, but the lobbyists don’t want us to. Here’s why.

When we think about the devastating effects of climate change, current and future, it’s easy to feel so helpless as to want to forget. Am I to blame? Are my cheap light bulbs accelerating the destruction of our ecosystem? Is my carbon footprint the only lasting impact I’ll have on this planet? Was that packet of Chili Heatwave Doritos I ate responsible for the fiery deaths of tens of baby orang-utans? As I brush the last cloying, guilt-laden crumbs from my — for all I know — sweat-shop-made t-shirt onto the floor of my nicely heated apartment, I think to myself; it’s all too easy. Yes; I alone am responsible for my own consumption and carbon emissions, but the ignorant ease with which I can continue to fund planet-destroying activities, is something I refuse to take full blame for. Something I urge you to do too. It feels good to be righteous.

Talk of dirty palm oil is hip this Christmas, so let me get down to giving you someone to blame other than yourself. We consume palm oil everyday, our purchases contribute to deforestation and all manner of criminal, unethical activities in the name of the free market. But, and it’s a big but, we trust governments to regulate businesses to be sustainable. It’s what we want most, a clean, nature-filled world for our children, indeed it’s what we vote and protest for, but what we get is nuclear bombs and platitudes. Our parents’ generation looked to the government for hope and guidance, no we only give it a side-eye of resentment for our unfulfilled wishes. The answer then? Don’t trust them. Assume we’ll have to fight, just like every minority has had to do for freedom. The natural world has become the latest minority and we need to be its voice.

Corporate lobbyists want to kill your children?

That voice must be directed loudly and clearly towards the lobbyists who push back against environmental reform. These guys are the Nazi officers of the 21st Century, this time, instead of supporting the persecution of the jews, they are supporting the persecution of their own children, and yours, with an entirely unfunny lack of foresight. Our governments cannot continue to be bribed and swayed by these people. We’ve always been suckers for style and confidence — we are so easily blinded by money, which is often why we fail see the truth. The truth is big business wants us to be ignorant, and they’ll pay anything to keep us that way. An ignorant world is a lucrative world, perhaps why the US economy sparkles lately.

Last week UK supermarket chain Iceland released an advert condemning the use of dirty palm oil and announcing its decision to stop using palm oil in all its own brand products. The tear-jerking advert featured a young girl and a cartoon Orang-utan — orphaned probably, his parents likely having been shot by a scared palm oil farmer, sharply highlights the urgent need for consumer awareness on this issue and yet, yet, my friends, the UK advertising regulators have banned the advert on the grounds of its ‘political’ content. By all means advertise all the useless planet-destroying shit no-one needs, do that all you like, but God forbid you advertise awareness of a critical issue. What a fucking world we live in! Thank Sir Tim for the internet, without it we’d have no bloody clue at all. Although I suppose our pre-wifi ignorance goes some way to explaining how we got to this dire point in the first place.

A zoo life or none at all. (Image: Wild Folks)

Let’s talk $$$ — Destroying the Earth for easy profit

In this system of capitalism, we are all consumers, willing or not. We’ve bought into it, it’s ours, we’re stuck with it. Industries within this system profit heavily from the use of the world’s natural resources. Oil, gas, coal, meat, land, paper, you name it. Profits increase in line with the affordability of these resources, and palm oil, dirty or otherwise, is just one example of a natural staple, used by thousands of companies including the likes of Nestlé and L’Oreal , because it’s very incredibly cheap to manufacture.

The downside of palm oil however is that, because of its high demand, huge areas of rainforest across the world, in Borneo, Sumatra and the Peruvian Amazon, are being burnt or bulldozed to the ground.

It’s worse than it sounds. Imagine the amounts of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by burning a 30,000 football pitches of natural rainforest. Then take into account how our rainforests have been working tirelessly for us, and the dinosaurs, since forever, absorbing ever increasing amounts of carbon from our atmosphere and storing it, slowing the inevitable ruin of our ozone, our ocean life, our climate and modern life as we know it. But, hold up… we’re burning them down? The rainforests are ON OUR SIDE and we’re setting them alight! For what? Cheap junk food and bad coffee. Not wanting to depress anyone too much, I won’t even touch on destruction caused by oil rigging, fracking and other fossil fuel purification operations today, but trust that it’s not good news.

Despite the sneaky, Earth-harming methods many businesses employ to make profit, we can’t place the blame wholly on them. After all, they are just giving us what we appear to want; classic supply and demand. If we as consumers stopped buying unsustainably sourced products, companies would be forced to change their methods of money-making. Increased business transparency would do a lot to help us make sustainable decisions, but for now it’s up to us to do the digging.

Those bloody hippies on the frontline (Image: Greenpeace)

Why we need a global ‘carbon tax’

The idea of a ‘carbon tax’, a fee to be paid on any activity which produces carbon emissions, is not a popular one. Laughed out of congress in the US and sniffed at by the average Joe (likely already in debt), the carbon tax will be hard won. But it would be a win. Here’s why:

I’m not one to give an economics lesson, so I’ll tell you what Harvard University professor Robert M Beren told Leo DiCaprio on Nat Geo’s Before the Flood; raise the price of something and people will consume less of it. And if — says me — people are consuming less carbon-emitting products, humanity will survive longer and dare I say thrive. Hooray for humanity!

On the business side then, the importance of the carbon tax is significant. If the company is not already thinking of its environmental footprint, a tax will cut dramatically into profits, making their carbon emissions and earth-harming activities impossible to ignore. It’s this incentive that will lead some of the world’s biggest companies in energy, manufacturing and agriculture to invest in sustainable, earth-friendly business strategies and future development. It’s this investment from big business that could make all the difference in reversing the damage of the past and ensuring our climate doesn’t warm to apocalyptic levels within the next century. Lobbyists however, will do anything to avoid the implementation of a climate tax. This leads me to my next point…

Lobbyists: humanities biggest threat

The solution to our global problem then, doesn’t rely on consumers buying a new light bulb, it relies on government taking action to ensure that industry and the public alike are all working towards a sustainable, low-carbon future. It’s up to our richest nations to lead the way, investing in renewable energy ahead of cheap, quick methods of fueling society and lining their pockets.

The flies in the ointment lie in our old, corrupt systems of power, which allow government officials and policy makers to be bought by big business and their interest groups, all who serve to halt environmental progress and keep the law favorable to the richest industries in the world.

You’d be in good company thinking that your government works in your interest, but, if you’re American at least, you’d be wrong. In 2017, over $3.3 billion was spent on lobbying , 100 million of that in Agribusiness alone (you might also wanna take a look at the mouth-watering spending within big Pharma, but that’s a problem for another day). Analyses, from the Center of American Progress (CAP), show that over a third of US Congress — the very people who should be putting through progressive carbon tax laws (as well as everything else to stop the free market from self-destruction) — are firm climate change deniers. That’s 144 politicians in the house and 38 in the senate who believe, through pure idiocy or good, old fashioned bribes, that climate change is one big hoax.

While you can ponder all day on the madness of a system that allows said people to govern a nation and make key societal decisions, the most pertinent issue I want you to focus on, is how million-dollar payoffs are made to officials, essentially turning them into industry mouthpieces. Likewise, it’s the big business-backed lobbyists, interest groups and other wealthy influencers who seize any official debate about trade restrictions and policy changes proposed to help the Earth, in order to stop environmental sustainability and keep on profiting. The question becomes; who’s in charge here? Is our democracy actually a plutocracy?

How to stop lobbyists: Who’s in charge here?

Congress: obstructing progress for profit

In straight numbers, from the people at CAP, you’ll see that a total of US$73,294,380 has been received by climate deniers in current congress by the energy sector. This is nothing but dirty money and is something we should be livid about. Instead, we’re confused. These lobbyists pose as scientists of ‘prestigious’ institutions and the deniers are often in positions of authority, published, and very, very rich.

But who cares about Earth’s tomorrow when you’re a billionaire today? Why would you allow your future profits to be heavily taxed when you have the money and connections to stop the tax in the first place, and the legal loopholes to get away with it?

Why do we trust our governments and media establishments to inform us, when those very institutions are joeys in the pockets of big business? The only reason we feel so helpless to stop climate change is because the problem is bigger than us, the problem is systemic. It’s the commercial view of trade and profit as more important than the planet we live on; and it is that view — sold to us by our government, figures of authority and the media — which we must fight.

So who’s messing with our planet?

Of the companies named and shamed by Greenpeace in a recent report on dirty palm oil are Unilever, Reckitt Benkiser, PZ Cussons, Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, Nestle Mars, L’Oreal, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Hershey, General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive and Mondelez. These guys are the big dogs. Pull any item off a supermarket shelf and I’ll bet you a fiver one of these fellas is listed on the back. That should give you some indicator into the kind of conglomerate clusterfuck we are currently witnessing. These people almost have enough money to pay off every government official worldwide — it’s time we push back and tell them it’s unacceptable. There are some things more important then profit. Our planet being one of them.

What can I do to stop deforestation?

  • Boycott companies. Consume less. Drink water (soda gives you acne anyway). Eat fresh produce, avoid processed foods.
  • Check what you buy is palm-oil free — Read the ingredients, stay woke!
  • Spam companies on social media, they hate that. It’s ‘bad for the brand’. Currently you can jump on the bandwagon and attack Oreo for doing business with Mondelez.
  • Tell your friends, online and off. Get angry together.
  • Sign and share climate change petitions and promote global action to stop deforestation on 350.org. While there are many petitioning sites, 360 operates internationally aiming to push the environmental sustainability worldwide. To petition against palm oil deforestation, head to Rainforest Rescue.
  • Read up on the Paris Climate Agreement and hold future policy makers in your country to account.
  • See the full list of threats to our forests and natural habitats over at Greenpeace. Accept that this bunch of hippies might actually have a point.
  • Think I’m overreacting? Go watch Before the Flood — a brilliant (if terrifying) 2016 National Geographic documentary on the effects of climate change along with optimistic solutions, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. Available for free somewhere online because there are some things more important than profit!
  • Or, to get the facts on climate change and our impending doom from actual scientists, head over to NASA.

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