Today, the immaculate cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have come to represent the innovative power of mankind and are crown jewel cities of Asia. However, during the dry season (March to August), the skies of these metropolises instead tell your eyes just how evil man can be to our planet. So what is causing this issue? Palm Oil.
Every day up to 300 football fields of lush, biodiverse rainforest is slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations. The practice of “slash and burn” each year generates billions of tons of CO2 and particulate matter into our atmosphere, contributing not only to the ever growing climate change crisis but also to the respiratory health of millions of people.
With unprecedented levels of deforestation in the palm oil industry, Indonesia’s air pollution, during the dry season, has begun to disperse past borders and into foreign cities, such as Singapore. While containing harmful particulates and clogging the lungs of city dwellers, the haze has cost the lives of thousands of innocent citizens. In 2015, Harvard and Columbia researchers discovered that roughly 6,700 people died in response to palm oil induced smog in cities in Malaysia and Singapore. Long-term exposure to polluted air can cause the development of numerous respiratory conditions including pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
According to Tessa Oh, a reporter at Today (Singapore based news source), doctors in Singapore report a “10 to 20 per cent increase in patients with respiratory problems” during periods of high level palm oil smog. Unfortunately, using heavy duty air purifiers for their apartments, buying face masks in bulk for their families, and choosing only to venture outside at the most desperate of times has become a way of life for millions of citizens in southeast Asia. Now, people in these megalopolises have become accustomed to this seasonal blanket of ash, awaiting the next ever encroaching cloud of debris to enter their lungs.
Palm oil chokes directly, but also indirectly. Chew on that next time you eat some Nutella.