Tropical Forests | The Moral Minefield of Ethical Oil Palm and Sustainable Development

Tropical Forests | The Moral Minefield of Ethical Oil Palm and Sustainable Development

There is much at stake and the often polarised views offer little scope for flexibility. According to some commentators, oil palm is a gift from god, a way to bring development and the benefits of the modern world to communities that would otherwise struggle with poverty. According to others oil palm is a scourge on the earth and a crime against humanity—and those buying palm oil have blood on their hands. How then can oil palm developments be judged? If we choose to set foot in this moral minefield are there principles that can help us?

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Frontiers | The Moral Minefield of Ethical Oil Palm and Sustainable Development

Frontiers | The Moral Minefield of Ethical Oil Palm and Sustainable Development

The environmental impacts of the palm oil industry are widely recognised. Unsurprisingly, many people, including many conservation pundits, consider oil palm a major evil. What is less widely recognized is the extent to which this industry has benefited people. Oil palm development, if well-planned and managed, can provide improved incomes and employment and generate investments in services and infrastructure. These alternative viewpoints fuel a polarised debate in which oil palm is alternatively seen as a gift from god or a crime against humanity. Stepping outside this rhetorical extremism is necessary if we seek resolution and pragmatic advances. An important question is how to plan, guide, and assess oil palm developments to foster the greatest benefits and least harm. Such questions are particularly relevant in a global context in which many voices call for constraining oil palm developments and boycotting palm oil, but also for adhering to sustainable development goals. What opportunities are available to people in tropical forest regions if oil palm developments are prohibited? Broader ethical questions also play out in the contexts of biofuels and food security and of competition among oil crops, especially the crops at higher latitudes (e.g., soy, maize, sunflower, rapeseed, olive), vs. the tropical oils (oil palm and coconut). We here explore some of the questions of ethics related to the production and use of palm oil and other vegetable oils. The goal of this article is not to answer these contested questions but rather to highlight some of the nuances that are often omitted in current debates. Judgements will reflect perspectives with, for example, tropical producers and temperate consumers often framing and assessing the issues differently. Addressing gaps in understanding on ethics of palm oil production will help find a shared framework for development involving oil palm and other oil crops. A commitment to ethical consistency, where double standards are recognised and avoided, offers a potential way forward.

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Jack “Humpty” Dunphy had a great fall…

Jack “Humpty” Dunphy had a great fall…

Hard-core flerfer Jack “Humpty” Dunphy (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClchUlR1KQErN_WdNb0IPHg) decided to reply to my comments on a YouTube video by my favorite flerfer Jouke (https://youtu.be/K-CLgG9uyD4). No surprise, he took the bait of my channel name (Jack of all Trades) and flaunted his ignorance of the full line it refers to. Yes, there is indeed a part stating ‘master of none’ but there is more, so much more! Watch till the end as the trap closes and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men cannot put Humpty together again.