While biofuels may seem like the answer to the pollution/global warming/energy/consumption crises facing the world, they’re certainly not environmentally friendly. While technology already exists (and is ever-improving) to create cars that run solely on electricity with greatly reduced emissions, many keep pushing biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells, technologies that are still very far away from being practical and will not solve the problem (nor will electric cars, but they’re a step in the right direction). What’s this have to do with one of my favorite primates, the Librarian, I mean, Orangutan? Well, one of the most popular biofuels right now in Europe requires palm oil, which necessitates slashing and burning of peat and rainforest habitats in Indonesia (ramping up the carbon emissions for the area as well). Thus, orangs are beaten or killed by plantation owners and their home habitat is being destroyed (forcing them into more contact with people and higher likelihood of being killed), and some are speculating that we could lose this relative to extinction in as little as 5 years. What a tragedy it will be when we can only see the molded, mannequin-like faces of orangs in dusty museum displays and confined to zoos instead of in the habitat they belong in. I’ll put it simply, if we cannot save one of our closest living relatives in 2007, an animal with known intelligence and emotions, then I don’t see what hope we have for many others. If it is so easy to ignore the death of a primate that is so like us, how can we ever hope to save other less-charismatic or related animals?
I’m not sure where I first picked up the idea (perhaps David Quammen), but it is curious that man seems to have a tendency to destroy the creatures closest to him. Animals that are intelligent, social, and have emotions are often killed without remorse, primates often looked upon as detestable and inferior holdovers rather than relatives. Perhaps, through our evolutionary history, our hands became stained with the blood of other apes and hominids so like us they were perceived as a threat, but that is not a question I am fit to answer, much less gave an informed opinion about. Indonesia and other Pacific islands are home to a far greater diversity of life than we could ever have expected, not to mention many long-known creatures that deserve a reprieve from the relentless devastation we’ve wrought on the islands. People should be getting upset about this and clamoring for a stop to the slash and burn tactics, but instead it’s easier to ignore it and hope the WWF or some other organization will take care of it. Not only do we need to support organizations like the Sumatran Orangutan Society, but to hold “good-intentioned” biofuel manufacturers accountable and demand an end to the rape of Indonesia.