September 15, 2008
Palm Oil For Food And Energy Threatens More Rainforests

Biomass energy with conventional tropical crops is a bad idea because rainforests get destroyed to make room for more palm plantations resulting in habitat loss.

The continued expansion of oil palm plantations will worsen the dual environmental crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, unless rainforests are better protected, warn scientists in the most comprehensive review of the subject to date.

Lead author, Emily Fitzherbert from the Zoological Society of London and University of East Anglia said: "There has been much debate over the role of palm oil production in tropical deforestation and its impacts on biodiversity. We wanted to put the discussion on a firm scientific footing."

Palm oil, used in food, cosmetics, biofuels and other products, is now the world's leading vegetable oil. It is derived from the fruit of the oil palm, grown on more than 50,000-square miles of moist, tropical lowland areas, mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia. These areas, once covered in tropical rainforest, the globe's richest wildlife habitat on land, are also home to some of the most threatened species on earth.

The review, published today in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, singles out deforestation associated with plantation development as by far the biggest ecological impact, but finds that the links between the two are often much more complex than portrayed in the popular press.

Growing palm oil demand threatens to wipe out yet more of the dwindling rainforests.

Within countries, oil palm is usually grown in a few productive areas, but it looks set to spread further. Demand is increasing rapidly and 'its potential as a future agent of deforestation is enormous', the study says.

Most of the suitable land left is within the last remaining large areas of tropical rainforest in Central Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Where oil palm has replaced tropical forest the impact on wildlife depends on what species survive in the new oil palm habitat.

The study confirmed that oil palm is a poor substitute habitat for the majority of tropical forest species, particularly forest specialists and those of conservation concern.

The coming of Peak Oil will boost the demand for biomass energy and speed the destruction of rainforests and other habitats. We need more environmentally friendly energy sources to replace dwindling fossil fuels.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 September 15 11:09 PM  Energy Biomass


Comments
James Bowery said at September 16, 2008 5:15 PM:

I just submitted my video for The Oil Prize to the X-Prize foundation's green prize proposal contest. I feature prominently the distribution of Amazon rain forest fires -- many of which are being set for biofuels plantations.


Wolf-Dog said at September 17, 2008 5:18 AM:

How about genetically modifying the palm trees so that they grow in deserts and other totally useless lands? It seems that once algae (which already yield more than 50 % oil) are fine tuned to grow fast in cheaper environments instead of expensive pools, then the energy problem of the world will be solved. There will be no need for palm trees or ethanol.

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