Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

The Ethics of Palm Oil

Posted by Michael Dickens on April 9, 2010

This is a more logical analysis of the subject of Green The Film, which was brought to my attention recently. The movie is about an orangutan named Green who used to live in the rainforest, but her home was destroyed when it was chopped down to harvest palm oil. I presume that it is a true story. Unfortunately, though, there was a distinct lack of information. Sure, you could garner what you needed to, but it was very vague. There were no words at all. The message was not entirely clear. That wasn’t the real problem though; I was able to pretty much figure out what the point was: don’t buy palm oil, because it destroys the habitat of the cute orangutans. The real problem here is the word “cute”, and everything else like it. The entire argument that the film seems to be presenting is that orangutans are cute. Or maybe that orangutans are humanoid, so we should be sympathetic towards them. It’s basically one giant appeal to emotion, and as you may know, that’s a logical fallacy.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a superb film. It does a great job of manipulating people’s emotions. Unfortunately, being good at manipulating people’s emotions is not a morally sound way to getting people to stop using palm oil.

So should we stop using palm oil? Well, palm oil requires the cutting down of rainforests. That part is not in dispute. But what we don’t know is how much it requires the cutting down of rainforests relative to other activities and products — ethanol, lumbering, etc. In addition, we don’t know much about the alternatives. What if alternatives to palm oil have even worse side effects? I don’t think this is likely, since palm oil tends to be in food products — it’s not hard to find food with a low ecological impact, if you’re willing to pay more for it.

Does the cutting down of rainforests even matter? Well, I certainly think it’s bad that the orangutans no longer have a place to live. But that’s not really the only issue. There are other animals in the rainforest as well. I believe that we only have a moral obligation to maximize the welfare of the sentient animals, but that still leaves a lot of species other than orangutans.

It seems that avoiding palm oil is a rather small sacrifice for what is at least a moderately significant investment. Hence, I have decided to stop eating palm oil, or at least try to avoid it. I have noticed how little palm oil I actually eat; a rather significant portion of my diet is raw fruits and vegetables. (That’s my secret to staying thin, kids.)

My own health habits aside, the Utilitarian thing to do is to avoid palm oil.

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2 Responses to “The Ethics of Palm Oil”

  1. Matt said

    Best way to stay thin: Eat lots of raw fruit and veggies. Also eat lots of meats and fattening foods, and run for 20 minutes every day. Trust me, I eat so much food and so much of what I eat has a lot of fat (naturally, not like cakes but meats, etc.) and I’m not fat at all.

  2. Matt said

    Off topic: This picture from one of the Gray’s Anatomy books would make for the best fingerless gloves! http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Gray424.png
    It’s just gotta extend a bit further…

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