Malaysia is disappointing. It’s a good kid that’s fallen in with a bad crowd. Full disclosure: I love Malaysia. The food is sensational (mee goreng, need I say more?), the people are friendly, the language is fun to (butcher) try and speak, and the jungles defy logic. That’s what makes the palm oil situation even harder to stomach.
I was first well and truly confronted by palm oil earlier this year in Malaysian Borneo. We spent six hours on a bus through Sabah and all we saw, as far as the eye could see, were oil palms. For six hours. We were on our way to the Kinabatangan River where a sliver of national park offered some of the best chances at spotting really wild wildlife. It was spectacular: cruising the river at duck and dawn we saw hornbills, monitor lizards, a wild orang-utan building a nest, and even, on a muddy, leech-riddled walk, Pygmy elephant dung. The experience though was marred by the reason we were having such great luck seeing things. The reason was that instead of having hectares of virgin jungle to live in, everything had been forced into a strip of national park along the river. Just one kilometre at its widest. At times, you can glimpse the ubiquitous oil palms group the jungle.
As is the nature of our media-saturated society, we quickly become desensitised to pictures of decimated rainforest and orphaned orang-utans. It hit home on yet another bus trip, this time from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. As soon as the bus crossed the causeway, it was four hours of oil palm plantations. Then again this morning, flying out of KL for Colombo. Flush against the airport fence were oil palms, and then they could be seen blanketing the countryside as we rose into the air.
It honestly makes me really, very sad, because something has to give. And it’s not going to be the endless quest for the almighty dollar. It’s going to be the Oriental hornbills, the Pygmy elephants, the silver leaf monkeys and, of course, the orang-utans.
* I promise the next post will be something fun about Sri Lanka but for now: vote with your wallet! Say no to palm oil.