greenpeaceIn the lead-up to the international Bali Climate summit, Greenpeace has launched a major direct action in Sumatra, Indonesia, to stop the nefarious PT Duta Palma corporation from destroying a pristine tropical forest (and the habitat for highly endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and oh-so-cute orangutans) and replacing it with a palm oil plantation. Click on the picture to the right to watch the extraordinary video of their action, including amazing helicopter footage of both the glorious and denuded Indonesian landscape.

Torching tropical forests is bad enough, but this one lies atop a peat bog and the Duta Palma’s henchmen are trying to drain it and burn it to grow the palms — releasing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Indeed, destruction of peat bogs in Indonesia alone accounts for more than 8 percent of total global greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Greenpeace’s volunteers have built makeshift dams to stop the water from draining away, which would enable the company to burn the peat. This is exactly the kind of action needed to stop the wholesale destruction of Indonesia’s pristine forests, which once covered almost the whole country and have now been reduced to less than 38 percent of their original extent — with much of that destruction happening just in the last few years, as Indonesian governments have increasingly looked at forest destruction as a cash machine.

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But this is not just an Indonesian problem — the United States and other first-world countries are driving it as well. Companies like Starbucks that wanted to reduce trans fats have replaced the butter in their croissants with palm oil to make flavorless pastry (so described by the pastry chef who makes them!) — even though palm oil has major negative health impacts. It’s basically like eating orangutans for breakfast. It’s also used widely in cosmetics (try to make sure your lipstick doesn’t have it).

Now there’s a huge new threat: companies like Cargill and Seattle’s Imperium Renewables are trying to create a market for palm oil as a biofuel that could be used to produce electricity and fuel cars — creating huge new demand and fueling the destruction of millions of acres of forests in Indonesia and around the world. (What’s up with Seattle-based companies hating on Indonesian wildlife? What’s next, Microsoft starts making its microchips out of baby orangutan bones?)

Greenpeace is calling for the Indonesian government to ban clearing of peatland and tropical forest destruction in general. But all this activity would likely disappear if the Bali climate conference creates powerful incentives to stop deforestation — by giving landowners, government, and communities the ability to trade credits for the massive quantities of carbon locked in tropical forests on the world market. Very quickly, it would be hard for the economic rewards of palm oil to compete with the much greater value of the carbon ($10,000+/hectare worth of carbon and far less for palm oil).

But on a global level, Greenpeace is demanding that the Bali Climate Conference create incentives and regulations to end global deforestation — and do it immediately. That’s vital if we’re going to save the climate, and vital if we’re going to save our fellow creatures.