Rejecting willful blindness: One step towards a more honest life

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Image: www.greenpeace.org

Mahatma Ghandi once said that “to believe in something and not to live it, is dishonest.” The exploitation of animals, wildlife and the environment is one of the biggest and most important social and political issues of our time.

Seeing these images hurts and it should. They’re supposed to inspire you to take action. The problem isn’t the images. The problem is the cruelty, the exploitation and the willingness to turn the other way.

Every 20 minutes, the world welcomes 3, 500 new human lives. In that same time frame, we lose at least one entire species of animal or plant life. That’s the equivalent of at least 27,000 species per year. At the present rate of extinction, we could see as many as 20 per cent of the world’s species gone in the next 30 years (a rate not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago).

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s “Living Planet Index,” exploitation accounts for 37 per cent of the world’s decline in wildlife. Although it goes hand-in-hand, habitat degradation/change follows closely after, at 31 per cent.

So, what can we do to stop this? Well, it all starts with becoming aware.

Did you know that everyday household items like lipstick, pizza dough, shampoo, ice cream, detergent, margarine, chocolate, cookies and peanut butter often contain palm oil? Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the palm tree. As of 2000, palm oil was the most widely produced vegetable oil on the planet, largely because of its versatility and affordability. Worldwide demand is expected to double by 2050.

Sounds perfectly innocent, right? Well, while palm oil doesn’t pose any significant health concerns to humans, its production is responsible for the widespread loss of irreplaceable rainforests and the destruction of natural habitats for a number of endangered species, including orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers. Palm oil plantations do take measures to re-plant palm trees, but this contributes to a loss of biodiversity and, in most cases, the damage to forest-dependent species has already been done. At the end of the day, a “reconstructed” forest looks a little something like this:

Image: www.thebreakthrough.org

Image: www.thebreakthrough.org

Looks an awful lot like a Christmas tree farm, doesn’t it? Or maybe a cookie-cutter subdivision?

Unfortunately, for us, it’s also becoming harder and harder to identify palm oil on traditional food labels. Corporations are becoming wise to the fact that we are educating ourselves and, in order to continue producing the oil, have taken measures to camouflage it, so to speak. On packaging, palm oil now has a plethora of aliases, including alkyl poly glucoside, elaeis guineensis oil and isopropyl myristate. Palm oil is even simply being labeled as vegetable oil. Don’t believe me? Just Google these names in conjunction with the words “palm oil” and see for yourself. Alarmingly, these products are in virtually everything!

I am far from perfect and there are many ways that I could adjust my daily habits, whether that means adopting a more sustainable diet or beauty regimen. In order to practice what I preach, I am trying my best to do just that, one day at a time. Eliminating palm oil from the products that I use and consume is one step in the right direction and, if you are as outraged by the aforementioned statistics as I am, I encourage you to take measures to eliminate this ingredient from your life as well. It won’t be easy, but you can start by educating yourself.

Common items that contain the oil include Aero chocolate bars, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Colgate toothpaste, Clinique beauty products, Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner, Oil of Olay products, and many, many others.

You can find a list of alternate names for palm oil here. We CAN change the course of history by taking a stand and letting major corporations know we don’t want products containing palm oil. Yes, it’s a time-consuming process and it may involve the tedious measure of reading labels before making purchases and spending a little more money on everyday items, but we have a lot more power than you may think. By educating ourselves and taking steps to live a less harmful and more sustainable lifestyle, we can use our collective power to stop irreversible damage to our rapidly-depleting and treasured rainforests. The demand for this product only exists because we are ignorant to the truth or allow ourselves to be willfully blind to its harsh realities.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right? We can do this, guys! It starts with you.

For more information on how your consumer choices make a difference, please watch this video or read the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report. You can also download a wallet-sized guide of alternate names for palm oil here.

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