World's Biggest Brands Are Pushing Indonesia's Endangered Elephants to Extinction
By Emma Rae Lierley
The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia thrums with life. It is an ancient, 6.5 million acres of lush rainforest and steamy peat swamps, and because of its rich biodiversity, is one of the most important rainforests still standing today.
Its clear rivers provide drinking water for millions of people and its lowland and mountainous rainforests are literally the last place on Earth where Sumatran elephants, orangutans, tigers, rhinos and sunbears still coexist in the wild. Globally, we all depend on it for the climate regulating effects such a large carbon-sink can have.
And yet, the Leuser Ecosystem is being actively destroyed for palm oil and other industries.
A new field investigation released by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) exposes how one company is pumping conflict palm oil—palm oil connected to the clearance of tropical rainforests and the destruction of carbon-rich peatlands—into the global marketplace. The conflict palm oil coming out of the Leuser Ecosystem is shipped to the major brands whose products line store shelves the world over.
One of Sumatra's remaining and critically endangered baby elephants peers out from behind its mother's trunk in the Leuser Ecosystem. Paul Hilton / RAN
Palm oil has quickly become the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. It can be found in every room of the house, in products ranging from potato chips to laundry detergent, ice cream to cosmetics and cookies to cooking oil. The boom in palm oil has been driven, in part, by a demand in Western countries for shelf-stable vegetable oils, used to replace the hydrogenated oils now despised for their transfats.
However, the palm oil industry is rife with issues, and conflict palm oil still dominates the market. Child labor, human trafficking, land grabbing, rainforest deforestation, endangered species habitat destruction and massive forest fires are all connected to the production of conflict palm oil.
PT. Agra Bumi Niaga (PT. ABN) clears forests in the Leuser Ecosystem for more palm oil plantations. RAN
An aerial view of the cleared forests by PT. ABN. RAN
This latest report is the second time RAN has blown the whistle on this company. The palm oil company, PT. Agra Bumi Niaga (PT. ABN), was first outed for clearing rainforest in the Leuser Ecosystem—despite an Indonesian-wide moratorium on forest clearance for new palm oil development—in a RAN field report in February 2017.
In this first report, RAN exposed both PT. ABN, the mill PT. ABN was supplying palm oil to, and the companies buying palm oil from that mill—major palm oil traders that supply many of the world's major snack food brands with the palm oil that is used in their products.
Workers load bunches of palm oil fruit on PT. ABN's palm oil plantation in the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN
This latest field investigation found that PT. ABN continued to clear forests even after it was first exposed, and simply moved its palm oil to a new mill, a few miles up the road from the first. And those major traders supplying palm oil to the rest of the marketplace were buying palm oil from this mill as well.
The palm oil company PT. ABN operates a 2,000-hectare plantation in the Leuser Ecosystem, on land that is known habitat for the Sumatran tiger and the critically endangered Sumatran elephant and orangutan. Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry's own field assessment of the plantation—conducted in June 2016, as the Ministry was officially closing the plantation because it did not have a proper permit—recorded 22 Sumatran elephants living on the plantation itself.
Despite this, satellite images show that PT. ABN has reduced the area covered by forests from 420 hectares in June 2016, to a mere 88 hectares in April 2017.
After its first mill was exposed, PT. ABN switched to supplying palm oil from this concession to a mill called PT. Ensem Sawita, five miles up the road from the previous one. Supplier mill lists and maps published by six of the world's largest palm oil traders—Wilmar, Musim Mas, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), Cargill, IOI and ADM—show that PT. Ensem Sawita has a track record of supplying palm oil to refineries, including in the U.S., Canada and Europe, which in turn supply all of the world's largest traders and global brands. Just those six traders alone are believed to have a combined palm oil market share of more than 60 percent.
Workers load trucks with palm oil fruit bunches on PT. ABN's plantation. RAN
This latest report shows that the biggest global brands, such as PepsiCo, McDonald's, Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg's, Mars and Procter & Gamble and many more, are connected to this single deforestation event through their sourcing of palm oil from these palm oil traders.
The path the palm oil truck takes, from the plantation to the mill that supplies the rest of the supply chain. RAN
As reported in The Guardian, a representative for the mill, PT. Ensem Sawita, confirmed the findings of the report. Expressing regret for the failure of sourcing from PT. ABN, they claimed confusion over a past name change for the palm oil company, despite the fact that the name change was previously reported as well. Many of the palm oil traders and global brands have corporate policies and commitments in place that are meant to ensure they do not source palm oil connected to deforestation, development on peatlands, or exploitation. Yet time and time again, corporations fail to do the due diligence necessary to ensure conflict palm oil is never a part of the products they sell.
An aerial view of PT. Ensem Sawita's mill, which turns the palm oil fruit bunches into crude palm oil.RAN
Satellite images show that PT. ABN has reduced the area covered by forests from 420 hectares in June 2016 to a mere 66 hectares in June 2017. Sixteen additional hectares were lost in June 2017 alone. Above, deforested areas are shown in red and the map dates are from top to bottom: June 2016 — August 2016; June 2016 — November 2016; June 2016 — January 2017; June 2016 — June 2017.
Palm oil is big business. It's found in half of all packaged goods in the average grocery store. RAN's latest field investigation illuminates the dirty supply chain of palm oil, connecting some of the biggest brands in the world with active bulldozing of endangered elephant habitat in the Leuser Ecosystem. From this one case of ongoing deforestation, plantation company PT. ABN pumped conflict palm oil all over the world, as the graphic below illustrates.
Some companies are working to solve the problem with palm oil, including those working with the Palm Oil Innovation Group, which demonstrates that truly responsible palm oil is possible. Responsible palm oil is produced without the destruction of rainforests and sensitive peatland areas and also upholds labor and human rights. Through the combined pressure of groups like POIG, international and local NGOs and concerned consumers, the palm oil industry will hopefully reform itself, before it's too late.
One of the remaining herds of the Leuser Ecosystem's critically endangered Sumatran elephants.Paul Hilton / RAN
But companies must do more. RAN's latest report exposes the actors involved in, or profiting from, the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem. Despite the wave of "No Deforestation" commitments that have been made by countless corporations, the global palm oil supply chain remains tainted with conflict palm oil grown at the expense of the Leuser Ecosystem.
If more immediate action is not taken to enforce "No Deforestation" policies, these brands will be remembered as the corporate giants responsible for the destruction of the last place on Earth where Sumatran elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers roamed side by side.
Voice your concern. Tell PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, Mars, Kellogg's, McDonald's and Procter & Gamble to put elephants over profits and end the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.
Emma Rae Lierley is the forest communications manager at Rainforest Action Network.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
- Solar Employs More Workers Than Coal, Oil and Natural Gas ... ›
- The Truth About Natural Gas: A 'Green' Bridge to Hell - EcoWatch ›
- Why Natural Gas Is a Bridge Fuel to Nowhere - EcoWatch ›
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- EPA Warns Against Fake Coronavirus Cleaners - EcoWatch ›
- What to Do if There's a Disinfectant Shortage in Your Area - EcoWatch ›
For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
- Trump Neglects Climate Change in State of the Union While ... ›
- House Democrats Hold First Climate Change Hearings in More ... ›
- If the Democratic Party Is Serious About Climate Change, They Must ... ›
Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup ... ›
- Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - EcoWatch ›
By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
- Elephant Poaching Is on the Rise in Botswana, Study Confirms ... ›
- In 'Conservation Disaster,' Hundreds of Botswana's Elephants Are ... ›
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
The Trump administration began the formal process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO), a White House official said Tuesday, even as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the country.
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- WHO Suspends Trial of Trump-Touted COVID-19 Treatment ... ›
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- What Does 'Recovered From Coronavirus' Mean? - EcoWatch ›
- Black and Hispanic Americans Suffer Disproportionate Coronavirus ... ›
- As Trump Pushes U.S. to Reopen, Internal Document Projects 3,000 ... ›