Is That a Rain Forest in Your Gas Tank?

By Rebecca Horne | December 8, 2010 12:38 pm

While palm oil biofuel production is a major source of income for Malaysia, clear-cutting the rain forest for the palm plantations also has dramatic ecological and social costs. Palm oil biofuel production growth is fuelling the rapid clearing of the most biodiverse tropical forest in the world, endangering species that need this habitat. In addition, forests contain large quantities of carbon which are released when they are burnt to make space for farming. Photographer Daniel Kukla started photographing the palm plantations in Borneo in October 2010:

“For me, the word ‘Borneo’ conjured up vivid dreams of lush impenetrable rain forests teeming with life. Upon my arrival to the island of Borneo I was confronted by the reality of this place where huge tracts of old growth rain forest have been cleared for oil palm plantations. After many long drives through the countryside seeing only palm plantations, I wanted to see the landscape might look like from a different vantage point. I took a small propeller plane around the southern part of Sabah to get this aerial shot. Despite the strange beauty to the verdant parallel lines and snaking dirt roads, I felt a sinking feeling while I was photographing. So much has already been lost and the plantations continue to eat away into the landscape.”

Established and highly productive stands of oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia, 2010.

  • Orangutan Outreach

    Around 90% of the global supply of palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, and this has come at a tremendous cost. The forests of Borneo and Sumatra are being burned to the ground– releasing so much carbon into the atmosphere that Indonesia now ranks only behind China and US in carbon emissions– and it is barely industrialized. The UNEP estimates that the forests of Indonesia are being cleared at a rate of 6 football fields per minute every minute of every day.

    The palm oil industry is guilty of the most heinous ecological atrocities imaginable, including the systematic genocide of orangutans. The forests of Borneo and Sumatra are the only place where these gentle, intelligent creatures live, and the cultivation of palm oil has directly led to the brutal deaths of thousands of individuals as the industry has expanded into previously undisturbed areas of rainforest.

    When the forest is cleared, adult orangutans are typically shot on sight. These peaceful, sentient beings are beaten, burned, mutilated, tortured and often eaten. Babies are torn off their dying mothers so they can be sold on the black market as illegal pets to wealthy families who see them as status symbols of their own power and prestige. This has been documented time and again.

    If nothing is done to protect orangutans, they will be extinct in just a few years. Visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more:

    Thank you for your support. {:(|}

    Orangutan Outreach
    Reach out and save the orangutans!

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  • Uncle Al

    If all 51,843 square miles of Louisiana were filled, graded, and planted with oil palm, 635 gal/acre mean biodiesel production, 5% of America’s diesel appetite would be quenched. W’re talking 2.1 billion gal/year biodiesel repalcing a few baskets of crawfish poppers. Small loss, big gain, do it.

  • Douglas Watts

    Yay capitalism and the invisible hand.

    We live in the best of all possible worlds.

  • Burton Haynes

    Love his work :)


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Visual Science

Science stories, beautifully told.

About Rebecca Horne

Rebecca Horne ( is an artist, multi-platform freelance writer, and award-winning photography director. She launched Visual Science for in March 2010. She also writes about science and photography for The WallStreet Journal. You can reach her at


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