published in the Jakarta-based journal Strategic Review in July 2019
– no solutions here, just added complications.


“Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away” – Frank Sinatra

That was in 1958.
In Dec 2015 there came a new tune. We are, all of us, expected to help reduce the CO2 emissions and global warming – which we can do by not flying!

The UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris was labelled a success, as 174 countries agreed to work on reducing the emissions. How do we do that? Where does the CO2 come from? Is it from flying? Does it mean that I should fly less?

The global CO2 emissions are estimated to be 37 billion tons per year in 2018, a figure we cannot really relate to or place in any familiar context. Not only is it very big, the figure is rising, in spite of efforts to control it. That should be alarming. Some of this is from the burning of coal, gas and oil. Coal production is increasing lately, mostly in China, and the world is producing more fossil oil than ever. “Air and road travel are primary drivers” says the oil industry. While the emissions keep growing, additional countries commit to reducing them: As of July 2018, 195 countries have signed the Paris agreement.

Of the emissions mentioned about 13 billion tons come from oil, and of that 1 billion tons from aviation. The global production of fossil oil in 2018 was about 36.5 billion barrels (or about 5 billion tons). Oil people talk in million barrels per day, sometimes shortened MMbpd. The current global output is around 100 MMbpd. They project it to be 112 MMbpd by 2040. No reduction there, that seems clear. What should we do?
“Every year of rising emissions puts economies and the homes, lives and livelihoods of billions of people at risk,” said Christiana Figueres, who was the UN climate diplomat overseeing the Paris agreement. “We are in the age of exponentials,” “Exponentials?” She means that “factors”, whatever they are, that affect our normal life, are accelerating, galloping away at a tempo we cannot always predict, or imagine – renewable energy and electric cars are spreading rapidly, but the extreme weather impacts of climate change are moving even faster.
The lady should know. The first comprehensive report on CO2 and the risk of global warming was published by the International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, in 1990. The report predicted a global temperature increase of about 0.3°C per decade with “business as usual” – and that seems to have happened. The report suggested a reduction of CO2 emissions. There have been no reductions, but a 60% (!) increase – and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have gone up from 353 to 410 ppm (parts per million).

Some more numbers: Of the total CO2 emissions of 37 billion tons, 28 % is estimated to come from the transport sector, and a similar proportion from electricity generation. Industry contributes with 22% and agriculture with 9. The 28% from transport includes air travel that accounts for slightly more than 2%, an estimate based on the volumes of aviation fuel used up. That percentage borders on the insignificant. If our desire is to reduce emissions and global warming, there must be other CO2-sources than flying to attack with greater likelihood of an impact? So maybe we can continue flying as we are used to, or what?

However, science – as usual unable to leave things alone, that is the nature of science, isn’t it? – has found that emissions from aircraft in high-altitude flights have a stronger greenhouse effect than the figure 2% suggests – perhaps the effect corresponds to 4%. The doubled magnitude would justify an enquiry into the potential for reduction, and probably prompt us to fly less.

Following up on this becomes like walking in a maze. Additional statistical information is expected to clarify the picture, but makes it more complicated as we walk along. It seems that we are facing rapidly moving goal posts, a small forest of them in fact – confusing and in themselves typical of our era of exponential acceleration. For example, by 2035 the number of air trips is expected to double when compared to 2016, from 3.8 to 7.2 billion trips or tickets sold (and that prediction is most certainly arrived at without any regard to COP21). The annual growth is currently 4.7% according to some sources. The industry claims that through its efforts to rationalise, build better planes etc the CO2 emission per flight has been reduced by about 2% annually. But when we look at the totality, it still means that emissions from flying keep growing by some 3% per year. How to reduce emissions then? And more – just consider this: four out of five persons on earth have never flown in an airplane, and would most likely want to try it, and probably soon, also in Indonesia. So the flight trip prediction above may very well be a severe underestimate. In addition, IATA, the International Air Transport Association, with the role of promoting safe, regular and economic air transport, estimates that air fares are 63% lower in 2017 than in 1995. They are expected to fall further. That will of course increase the attraction and the affordability, and will rise the demand. Add to this new, highly competitive low-cost carriers, and a burgeoning middle class in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In sum, we will see the numbers of flights and travellers running up, up and away. It seems the Sinatra call prevails. Can we expect aviation to contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions that the Paris agreement proposes?

Most movable people like our readers hesitate at the thought of cutting down on air travel, It has become natural, convenient, a habit. If we look at commercial activities, in large, sprawling countries such as Russia, the United States, Canada, China, India and Indonesia, business and social/technical development would be seriously constrained if domestic flights somehow were to be restricted. So not a good idea to intervene here. It is more productive to let that sector follow its course – and it is reasonable to expect increased flying.

But what about tourism! Tourism has been estimated to represent 88% of all plane tickets sold. Many see leisure travel as an unnecessary and even harmful luxury, so here should be room for emission reductions. In line with this, environment activists have focused their criticism on frivolous vacationing in faraway places. In Sweden, (I will refer to Sweden below, as an off-centre example of the reasoning in part of the Western world) – as it seems a country with a passion for clean international conscience – well, more on that later – the debate has reached such heights that in 2018 the word “flight shame” was incorporated into the daily vocabulary. The word implies that a responsible Swede should be ashamed of flying to Thailand (a favoured winter-vacation destination among Swedes for the last 40 years!) for a sun tan, generating 1.23 tons of CO2 in the process (according to an app conveniently available on your smartphone). So maybe here is the opportunity we are looking for to reduce flying.

Meanwhile Thailand, like Indonesia, Vietnam and other SE Asian countries, are working as hard as they can to attract more tourists from the USA and Europe, and recently also from China. In the destination countries tourism is seen as an important source of income, plain and simple. So the supply side expands – and so does the demand; the Americans and the Europeans are more interested than ever. This looks promising, and visitor numbers are growing! A win-win situation if ever there was one. Were it not for the CO2 emissions.

To go back to Sweden – by air of course, what else? – as an illustration: the suggestion to the Swedish vacationer that she/he should modify her/his travel habits for the sake of reduced greenhouse gas emissions is not really received with enthusiasm. But it cannot be brushed away. Nor can the sinister forecasts of what continued CO2 emissions might bring about. Do I have to sacrifice something here? Activists tell me yes. On the side lines, a discussion on a socio-political or philosophical level has cropped up. Is it realistic to expect citizens of a liberal-democratic society to voluntarily cut down on air travel and fossil fuel consumption of a meaningful magnitude, when we are so accustomed to the conveniences? Camps have formed, accusing each other of denial and delusion on one side, and crypto-totalitarian scheming towards limitation of free choice on the other. Here is clearly a deeper dilemma, a dilemma that any political system eventually will have to face. A change in a pleasant life-style, no matter how urgent, cannot be imposed without resentment. It needs to be brought about through cultivation. And that needs time. But here come the scientists from the IPCC, that supply the information basis for the Paris agreement, to say: sorry, we do not have time. Significant reductions must be achieved within 10 – 12 years, starting now. – So now what?

Some changes are underway though. Still some examples from Sweden. (Btw Stockholm International Airport, Arlanda, is expanding. For your comfort. You are all welcome of course! – Your comfort and the urgency of growing tourism revenues over-rule our conscience we might say.) The information manager Anna Hagberg, at Ving, one of Sweden’s biggest travel agencies, says that the company does not notice any tendency towards decreased flying, but environmental and sustainability requirements from passengers increase. “Conscious travel” is the big trend she says. She does not say exactly what that involves, but it could mean savings here and there, like no printed menu on the plane, no plastic straw in the drink, less aircon and less of high-powered speed boats at the destination – . Just green-washing to relieve one’s not so good conscience? Or a sign of insight that goes with a general desire among ordinary consumers to contribute to reduced greenhouse gases in everyday life. – Per J Anderson, editor of Vagabond, a Swedish travellers’ monthly, believes that few people will stop traveling, but that in the near future many will opt out of flying – when practical alternatives are available. And Greta Thunberg takes the train. So does climate professor Kevin Anderson. They both conclude that flying must decrease. They form a category of their own though. At present, all signs are that the voluntary reductions in flying will be far from enough. So what should we do?

On the other hand: Is it right to look at the matter as just a quest to reduce flight tourism? Is a reduction in tourism only positive? How does that sit in a globalised world and a contemporary context? A basic point to consider is that when it comes to long-distance destinations – as it almost always does for people in the North, and as it is evolving for tourists from the South – other means of travel than flying are not realistic. The choice then stands between flying or staying home, or staying in the region. The way it looks we need to accept growing long-distance tourism-flying as a fact.

To look at tourism from another angle: I like to contemplate the situation when the Swedish Tourist Association was founded in 1885, by pioneers who knew they had a mission. The Association settled for the motto: Know Your Country! (Not very original, but sound; we should think of it as an extension of the motto from ancient Greece: Know Thyself.) It shouldn’t be different now! Although today the perspective has widened to a planetary one; Know Your Earth! We should consider that the better people understand other people’s way of life, and the interaction man-environment, and the issues that go with that interaction, the better it is. The easier will it be in a democratic society to gain acceptance of the interventions in everyday life, and the reductions in energy and raw materials, that we now understand are necessary to bring down CO2 emissions, and our “foot print” as a whole. – But we should also consider the positive impact that carefully managed tourism can bring to the residents at the tour destinations. (Note that aside from the CO2 issue, local and central governments need to regulate – foreign agents cannot do that, – for example to prevent “over-tourism” in the most popular destinations. A much publicized case is Boracay, in the Philippines, where the government eventually decided to close down tourism to the island for half a year, to clean up and to establish the infrastructure required to maintain the site’s attractiveness. Just recently the Indonesian government took a similar decision regarding the Komodo island in Komodo National Park.) Anyway, the conclusion is that we should appreciate air travel for the good things it brings.

This less chemistry-oriented and more human-interest angle to the issue was forwarded in the Swedish evening paper Expressen last February, when the national parliamentarian, and soon to be EU parliamentarian, Emma Weissner (Center Party) wrote in an inspired tone: “The climate issue is not about fighting curiosity and adventure.” We should reduce our flying, all right, and adapt our behaviour, but it is the transport sector as a whole that should be scrutinized. To reduce mobility, traveling, and trade is wrong. As to technology, alternative solutions should be pursued, and we should stop subsidizing fossil fuel. (Here she refers a massive complex of arrangements that are simply too convoluted to dive into in this write-up, but also to the fact that aviation fuel – different from any other fuel – is tax exempt, based on an international agreement under the auspices of IATA. She would find any attempt to change the subsidies to be met with resistance.) Her conclusion is that shaming is not right, and we should not cut too deeply into tourism. This is a quite powerful message that sounds more like: don’t worry, things will be all right. – But no matter how pleasant this sounds, it does not reflect the essence of the Paris agreement. And the “alternative technical solutions” are de facto not operational. So where does this lead?

Now we approach territories where policy decisions by governments are necessary to move us ahead or upwards or downwards, as the case may be, on the issue of greenhouse gases. We have already noted that restrictions are likely to be unpopular. To continue with the Swedish example: the government has confirmed in the state budget a general tax on air travel introduced some time ago. But it looks more like window dressing – the tax is so low that most travellers will not be deterred. According to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, this tax may already have led to a slight “decrease in the rate of increase” in flying in Sweden – yes, a decrease of the increase – which unfortunately does not mean much, especially in the global context. A general tax makes the entire business more expensive, with no incentive towards specific improvements, – but might lead to risky cost cutting. Fuel cost represents 30-40% of the total operating cost. Tax on fossil fuel should therefore be preferred, since it will prod the industry towards reduced fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. As mentioned, IATA opposes such taxation, and IATA does not depend on the governments that signed the Paris agreement. There is no tax on fossil aviation fuel at present, certainly not in Sweden. Where does this lead us?

The aviation industry works on fossil fuel savings through three approaches: technical development of airplanes and engines, shortened routes and more economical ways of manoeuvring the planes, and mixing biofuel in the tanks. At present the industry may be at a plateau what regards planes and engines. But it should be possible to reduce emissions by mixing in biofuel. (A percentage mix of up to 25 is suggested, Btw there seems to be two ideas put forth: one to really mix fossil and bio-fuel in the tanks, the other to keep separate tanks and alternate the two types of fuel as conditions like speed and altitude change – this is only said to indicate some of the complexity in both aviation and fuel chemistry.) If produced in specified ways from suitable raw material, biofuel burns more or less like fossil fuel – although the power output may be a bit less. The desirable point here is that biofuel will not increase the atmospheric content of CO2 (in the long term at least) since the corresponding CO2 amount is absorbed by the plants that produce the feed stock for the biofuel. We conclude that technical development needs to turn towards biofuel. Let the governments provide the right incentives. So that we can continue flying.

But we need to note that in the global perspective a 25% reduction in fossil fuel will soon be eaten up – in 10 years or so – by the big increase in traffic we predicted above – we estimated it to be about 4.7% per year. So for a more long-lasting impact we need a higher biofuel content. The jet engines can be made to accommodate that.

Now we are definitely into a territory where we as individuals cannot really influence development. The governments and the airplane manufacturers need to work with technical innovators. – Our discussion needs to shift track. Biofuel can be divided into two types: “Conventional” and “Advanced”. The conventional ones are essentially vegetable oils, whereas advanced biofuels are produced from biomass like farm residues in the form of straw, leaves and stalks, or from “garbage” that otherwise goes to landfill. This requires relatively sophisticated chemical processes (that must not be costly) where the desired final output is a carbo-hydrate liquid. Can the production be made sustainable? And can we find big enough volumes of feed stock for full-scale implementation? Positive answers of course mean that the climate will not be jeopardised, and that air traffic can continue to expand – which is de facto what governments and airlines and tourist operators and agents and almost all want – and we passengers as well!

The only example of conventional aviation biofuel production on a routine basis mentioned in the news until now, is a plant in California that refines used cooking oil from french-fries eateries into something that can be mixed into aviation fuel. That may not fly us very far. (Until now, other vegetable oils like palm oil, allocated to traffic, go into trucks as biodiesel.)

As to Advanced Biofuels many R&D projects are underway, and that is indeed positive news. An example is the Airbus Jetblue project in Alabama, USA, where biofuel from farm residues, not including soybeans I assume, is refined into aviation fuel and used in regular flights. Airbus seems very confident about the future of this kind of fuel extraction, and plans to expand soon to new supply centres in Europe. A challenge is how to straighten the supply chains to keep down the cost of feedstock, and also how to minimse the cost of the process. The all-important question right now – in the face of steadily rising CO2 emissions – is: how fast can this production be scaled up? No clear answer has been given.

Let us look at Sweden again, a small country where the dimensions of the problem may seem manageable, and where it should be easy to see what we are up against. A major potential for biofuel is considered to rest in the forest, more precisely in tree tops and branches from felling sites. An advantage here is that the food-conflict does not arise. Those residues, until recently left to decay on the forest floor, are estimated to correspond to about 40 TWh of energy per year, About 20 TWh of this is already taken though, for municipal heating through direct burning – a simple process when compared to the production of biofuels. The truth seems to be that a technically feasible process for extracting biofuel from Swedish forest residues is available but has not yet shown that it is economically competitive, and can be scaled up. Add to this that the power reserve in Swedish forest residues (the 20TWh mentioned correspond to less than 12 million barrels of oil per year) are so to say a drop in the sea, as they would reduce the fossil emissions from aviation by no more than 0.5%. The total consumption of aviation fuel for 2019 is expected to be 2.3 billion barrels. Clearly the search for biofuel sources of sustainable volumes is a challenge and needs to be extended all over the planet. – We have not really come very far at all in our search for that something that is scalable, sustainable and so much emission-reducing that we can continue flying. So now what?

Under the category Conventional Biofuel, Indonesia and Malaysia are supplying palm oil to the world market. The total export volume is in the order of 60 million tons per year. Of this about 55% is produced in Indonesia and 30% in Malaysia. Of Indonesia’s export to EU more than half goes into biodiesel! The potential of the already planted areas is considerable, and there is space for planting even more.

However, it is noted that land clearing of rainforest for palm plantations is causing forest destruction and biodiversity loss, loss of habitat for orangutan and other wildlife, erosion, landslides, deteriorated water quality, forest fires lit when clearing the land etc etc, Planting of oil palm has been identified as one of the key drivers of rainforest destruction and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia. This causes release of CO2 from the forest land due to burning and natural decomposition in the wake of land clearing. Especially the clearing and drainage of peat forest for conversion to plantations accelerates the decomposition of the peat soil. The peat stores CO2 captured during thousands of years of forest growth, and it should best be kept where it is. The use of palm oil as fuel can therefore on balance not assure reduced CO2 emissions. It may even make them increase. In this light the palm oil does not help us in our to-fly-or-not-to-fly agony. Private ventures working on biofuel development for the aviation industry agree with this. And this is also a reported sentiment among ordinary customers.

This is a side-track – but of interest to Indonesia. Against the background above Norway (not an EU member), as the first country in the world, has declared that it does not intend to import palm oil for use as biofuel. The net CO2 reduction is not secured as outlined above. (The move takes a skilled diplomat to explain. Norway’s main export is – fossil fuel. But that is another story.) Based on a similar reasoning, on 13 March 2019, the European Commission concluded that palm oil cannot be counted as renewable fuel in the Union’s sustainable fuel balance. A draft Delegated Regulation was adopted, which classifies palm oil as a high-risk, unsustainable commodity. – Now we have definitely moved from individual responsibility and choice, into international politics.

The Indonesian Government has formally expressed objections to the European Commission’s decision, on ten counts. Quite understandably the ban is seen as a way of the EC to protect the market for vegetable oils produced within Europe. The Indonesian Government points out, among other things, that oil palm requires much less land to meet the market needs. There is no question that palm oil has brought much economic progress to Indonesia. The Indonesian Government places the oil palm plantations in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, and intends to bring the case to the attention of the World Trade Organisation. How this plays out against the Paris agreement’s target to reduce CO2 emissions remains to be seen. This can only be sorted out among governments.
The total world consumption of fossil oil at present is about 5 billion tons per year and as we have seen it continues to rise, in spite of efforts to reduce it. 315 million tons are used in aviation. More numbers; if we wish to replace 25% of the aviation fuel with biofuel, that means we need to find biofuel that corresponds to almost 800 million tons of fossil fuel. (As said, all numbers here are estimates – but hopefully they show the proportions and can guide our conclusions.) We can now see that palm oil could at most cover 10% of the present aviation need, so it would not make much difference. And that becomes even more apparent when we remember that all other sectors, and especially road transport, also look for biofuel to reduce CO2 emissions. (A representative of an enterprise working to produce aviation biofuel from farm residues, claimed recently that there would be a need for 50 new biofuel plants every year to keep up with air traffic demand. I have no idea how such a number is arrived at, nor how realistic such a target could be – I just mention it as another illustration of the magnitude of the challenge.) Where is the way forward? Will this tiresome “on one hand – and on the other hand” see-saw exploration help us out?
The big question that will not go away is: do we have enough of biofuel sources, and can we mobilise enough biofuel processing capacity in time to maintain air travel, while reducing CO2 emissions? No, it does not look like that, at least not in the short term.
Let us take a look from another side. Reducing CO2 emissions is the agreed target, with the eventual objective of reducing CO2 content in the atmosphere. If the content is above a certain value the global temperature will leave its current relatively comfortable level, and rise, perhaps to dangerous levels. IFCC suggests we should not let it rise above 1.5°C. So, instead – can we reduce the CO2 content by capturing some of it and storing it in a safe place? – Up till now our forests have done that for us, by storing CO2 in the wood and in the forest soil. But many forests have been cut down and the area is reduced, with a double effect: when they were cut they released CO2 that now remains in the air, and the forest area that still stands has less capacity to capture CO2. But as it is, forest is the best machinery we have available to do this. Expanded forests may be the best guarantee for our survival! Open land all over the world could be planted with trees for carbon capture. It will be costly and time consuming. There are studies showing that unfortunately it will not be enough, given the enormous amounts of carbon that have been released since the beginning of industrialisation. But we must keep in mind that it will be an important help.

In some fashion it is already being done. The airline Garuda Indonesia, as part of its Garuda Green Strategy, sets aside money for the establishment of tree plantations in areas where there is land and an organisation capable of doing the field work. The growing trees will absorb CO2 from the air, and in that way compensate for the increase in traffic and emissions. This is called carbon off-set, and there is even a certain trade developed where emission-generating industries, for example in Europe (with less land and labour available) pay an organisation in another country to plant and protect trees that absorb CO2. The volume growth of the trees can be estimated and compared, what regards carbon, to the quantities of fossil fuel the industry is consuming. (Someone joked: we pay somebody else to diet for us. That is not entirely fair, because if the trees survive and grow, they very much serve the purpose.) So far, the idea has not gained an extent that has any measurable impact – and the carbon content keeps on rising.

There are also methods for CO2 capture by means of chemical processes, like “enhanced weathering” where a mineral rich in calcium is made to bind the atmospheric coal as carbonate. This is a “natural” process well known from geology. In a way it is the reverse of burning a carbon-rich fuel, which means that much energy has to be applied. Normally we would get that energy from burning fossil fuels, which would of course not make sense. The energy must be found elsewhere. There is a pilot plant functioning in Iceland using geo-thermal energy to drive the process. The scaling up to a measurable impact will be costly, and it will be lengthy unless governments take drastic action. It still looks like we do not have a solution that can be applied in time. As I hope I have shown above, it more looks like “one damn thing after the other”, things that are interdependent, and require consensus on restrictions, and somehow slip out of the decision agenda.

What have we learnt?
The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. This is a measurable fact. The effect of this phenomenon on our climate is not yet fully agreed on. But a consensus has crystalized, not least at the COP21 in Paris, accepting the warnings of the scientists that we have a problem. And that we need to do something about it. Who needs to do what?

Individuals can reduce their flying and lead by example. But to reach effect governments need to offer incentives to biofuel production and technical advancement as suggested. On the other hand – strong interests are at work to expand air traffic, in the name of economic growth. We have mentioned IATA as a trade organisation of the aviation industry, working for more and cheaper flying. And where is the government that wants to slow down tourism or business in general? Big famous banks continue to finance an accelerating extraction of fossil fuel including oil, because it is profitable. (To what extent this profit is genuine is another story. It is known that a system of direct and indirect subsidies are at play, that seem to favour fossil rather than renewable fuels.)

To try another tack: We know now that the richest 10% of the world’s population causes about 50% of the world’s consumption-derived emissions, meaning not only from traffic but also from the production of consumer goods and general life style. We can safely assume that this population stratum also does most of the flying. It has been estimated that if the 10% could be convinced to reduce their general consumption to a level corresponding to for example that of the average EU citizen – then the global CO2 emissions could be reduced by 30%. That would have a significant impact. Combine that with tree planting and gradual conversion to biofuel . . .

Can we get together as a global community and sort this out? Develop the production of carbon-neutral energy. And convince the richest 10% to reduce their emission-generating activities to the level of the average EU citizen? This will need what is called a reframing of values.
Or will we stop in front of the old adage: Yes!!!! Right! But hold on, not here, not now, not me . . .

If any conclusion can be drawn from all the above, maybe it could be something like this:
The challenge is enormous, as I am sure the numbers above show, and there is no quick and easy solution in sight
What we can do as individuals, will only have a marginal effect. Even so we should consider cutting down on our flying, to set an example in front of our leaders, and for the reason that climate issues in all likelihood will just get worse. But to have a real effect we need to support the scientists and to push our leaders to draw up the right policies.
Restrictions on flying will not be appreciated. Other approaches need to be found. (We all know what to do, says J C Juncker, President of EC, we just do not know how to get re-elected after we have done it.)
The policies need to focus on incentives that promote a shift from fossil fuels to the use of sustainably produced biofuels in quantities that meet the big and growing demand.
The policies need to influence the wealthiest 10% who are best placed to make an early difference.


I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag.

The truth is of course our bucket list isn’t getting any shorter. And that is precisely the way it should be. We are never done. Curiosity stays with us, new minds enter and new ideas come up. We will not say Game over.


The author is a retired forester from Sweden, who enjoys flying, with decades of experience of forestry in SE Asia including Indonesia. The article should be seen as an attempt to grapple with a number of issues related to our habits, awareness and tendency to disregard the world we depend on. The interrelationships are oftentimes confusing between nations, business sectors and special interests. We need to see the remarkable technical complications and causalities behind what we walk through in our daily life. In all this is as usual opportunities, and ways ahead, that need to be discovered.
The many numbers I quote are almost certainly “incorrect” – in spite of crosschecking. The intention is not exactitude but to illustrate magnitude, for the sake of the discussion. – I will appreciate updates or corrections as well as general reactions. And I want to live long enough to see us through all this.


Like the little girl in Iceland Food’s video (Nov 2018) about the displaced orangutan Rang-tang “I don’t know what to do”. But not knowing what to do does not help anybody! So I decided to learn more. Not an easy job. My findings come in instalments! Here is one that I already posted on Linkedin:

Lars-Gunnar Blomkvist

promotor #Sayitonthewrapper
In December 2018 I started my own survey in Sweden of products that contain palm oil, specifically certified oil. The trigger was the Iceland Food video that you have most likely seen. I asked on FB for help with observations. Not many replies – and very few products; traditional Xmas give-aways like ginger snaps and chocolates. Then came Valentine’s day – with more chocolate, but no comments at all regarding palm oil in that chocolate. The Iceland video was obviously forgotten (although it might come back). We know that opinion moves in waves – nothing new there. Only that this time we may be at a crossroads.
Without a sophisticated survey I conclude that consumers in Sweden are aware of ongoing environmental degradation and generally object to it. They want to avoid products deriving from activities that lead to poor resource management, including degradation of the environment and wildlife habitat. If the planting of oil palm causes such degradation, they want to avoid products containing the oil. The recent “landslide” of warnings about global warming and the need for better resource care has added to the engagement. (Greta Thunberg appeared outside the Swedish parliament and has since stepped up on the global stage. And young people in other countries are following.)
Swedish law obliges producers to provide a clear declaration of ingredients of food products, and the law is generally respected. If a product contains palm oil the consumer can find out in the grocery (a magnifying glass is handy 😊 since the print tends to be very fine).
I and the persons who contacted me could however only find two or three products (ginger crackers and chocolate) that declared on the packing that the palm oil in the product was certified. Alternatively some products had the explicit text that there was no palm oil at all. – In addition, one or two producers said that we can find information on their web site – where they tell that their palm oil is certified (but I sense that this info passes almost entirely un-noticed by most customers!)
Consumers who wanted to take a stance and act by choosing products containing only certified palm oil were thus left with next to no choice – and it is quite likely that they refrained altogether from palm oil-containing products. (But we are very far from a boycott.)
With this background my personal assessment of the consumer view is that for conscious consumers, certified palm oil is in practice not an option, for the reason that few products and very little information are available.
A more generalised summary of the observations above (admittedly “anecdotal” but according to me pointing in one direction only) could be: 1) consumers are partly aware of the sustainability issues involved, and want to “make the right choice”, but they are not provided with much information to base their choice on, and 2) the certification concept, its procedures and agent(s) like RSPO, are for all practical purposes unknown, and related information needs to be disseminated in more effective ways. (Again, I am referring to Sweden, and food products. And in the global perspective the Swedish market is of course of little significance.) Both points are definitely made more urgent in the light of what is now said with increasing intensity about global warming and the urgency of protecting remaining forests.
Moving back to the sidewalk, there is not really a lot to see!
And this leads to more questions, like: who is to provide the info that consumers need to have about product ingredients, and how should the info be disseminated? How can the consumers verify the information? The questions beg for answers all the more when we are informed – for example – that most edible products on the grocery shelves contain palm oil (and then there are cosmetic products too), that oil palm is a superior producer of oil for food when compared to any other plant species, that small-holder plantations of oil palm in Indonesia and Malaysia and elsewhere help lifting farmers out of poverty, that palm oil certified for sustainability (e g by RSPO) is available in bigger quantities than what the Western markets demand – only a quarter of the palm oil imported into Europe is certified, and that controlling deforestation remains an issue in the global warming and biodiversity context.
This deserves follow-up. Comments pls!

Are we pushing the rope?