Native Malaysian tribespeople are taking to traditional methods of battle — including the use of blowpipes — to combat the destruction of their homeland to satisfy the exploding worldwide demand for palm oil.
The rate at which virgin tropical rainforests are currently being cleared to plant palm plantations to supply the ravenous growth of worldwide palm oil demand is staggering: In Indonesia alone 4.4 million acres of rainforest disappear each year. Given that one American football field is roughly one acre, that’s just about 4.4 million football fields. Truly staggering.
Together, Malaysia and Indonesia account for 80% of worldwide palm oil production, but they also contain more than 80% of the remaining virgin rainforests in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, the only remaining lands in Southeast Asia that are also the best for palm oil production are these vast swaths of virgin rainforest.
As a result, hundreds of native Malaysian Penan tribesmen have started taking matters into their own hands by blockading roads armed with their weapon of choice – the blowpipe. The tribespeople claim that their very way of life is threatened by the expansion of palm plantations. Indeed, recent research suggests that the biodiversity of oil palm plantations is far lower than that of tropical rainforests and that no amount of plantation management changes could ever possibly make them come close to replicating rainforest diversity.
To this point the Penan have been successful, forcing the police and local politicians to cease palm plantation operations and negotiate with the Penan. But, knowing how these things usually seem to go, it’s probably only a matter of time before the situation breaks down.
Look, I’m certainly a proponent of biofuels, but there are definitely much better solutions than biofuels from palm oil. Even corn ethanol is better than that. The situation in Malaysia and Indonesia is out of control and will require the world to wean itself of palm oil products to be resolved — a feat that, at this point, could be almost as hard as weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels.