Thursday, July 26, 2012

Palm Wonderful

With Worldwide in Malaysia, I thought I'd take a look at the country this morning. It had visitors from India and China has early as the first century, was colonized by the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, and the British, gaining its independence in the 1960s. After reading Caribbean earlier this year, and watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy the other night, I'm particularly struck by the scale of recent progress in the world. Or maybe I'm getting old. To think that, in my lifetime, British intelligence was jockeying with the Soviets for "crucial" geopolitical information, and countries around the world were finally achieving independence from their colonial carpetbaggers; it seems like another era, which I suppose it is.

Anyway, talking to Worldwide yesterday, celebrating our 15th anniversary yesterday and today due to our 12 hour time difference, she mentioned that everyone in Malaysia wants to produce palm oil, a product that is used in cooking oil, for industrial baking, margarine and elsewhere. Well, like almost anything, if you Google the product, you find that there is a heated debate on the subject.

Who to believe, the American Palm Oil Council, which asserts the health benefits of the product (no trans-fats) and the ecological benefits of its cultivation, or the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which counters with accusations that the product contributes to heart disease, and that its producers are destroying the rain forest. Do the Girl Scouts know they put this evil liquid in their cookies, the Rainforest Action Network wants to know?

I tend toward the belief that the link between fat and heart disease is tenuous at best, and that logging, if properly regulated, is generally good for the world. But it's hard to shout that from the rooftops.


  1. I tell you, it was very strange, flying into a country that seems to be, except in its most heavily settled regions, blanketed with palm trees. It's what you call a competitive advantage, I suppose ... Malaysia's aging farmers have ripped out their cocoa crops and don't want to grow staple foods anymore because the money they earn on palm is easy, predictable, and significant. And in 30 years, the country has indeed marched itself out of of poverty. Still. All these palm trees are kind of weird.

  2. Logging is the second resource-extraction issue in a week that you've said would be beneficial if it was "properly regulated." The other was your post on fracking. But when I read the words "properly regulated", I mentally substitute in the words "magical ponycorns prevent regulatory capture." So, I read your statements as "...logging, if magical ponycorns prevent regulatory capture, is generally good for the world," and "fracking, if magical ponycorns prevent regulatory capture, is safe."

    And I don't necessary disagree with either of those statements, its just that I think that experience from the myriad regulatory failures of the Bush administration has shown that, even in cases where magical ponycorns may briefly exist, all it takes is for a "business friendly" administration to come to power to make all those nasty 'ol job-killing, regulation-loving ponycorns go away.

    Proper regulation is great, but I think that, because it so often falls short, it is too thin of a crutch to lean on as a suitable palliative to the ecological damage caused by resource-extraction industries.