@algore Your ‘save the planet’ legacy – palm oil – is making Indonesia warmer

WUWT readers may recall Al Gore’s failed Goldman Sachs palm oil fantasy and the subsequent train wreck. Now, it gets even worse. Deforestation to make palm oil plantations is causing the very thing Al Gore rails against – warming of the climate.


Deforestation linked to palm oil production is making Indonesia warmer by up to 10°C !

In the past decades, large areas of forest in Sumatra, Indonesia have been replaced by cash crops like oil palm and rubber plantations. New research, published in the European Geosciences Union journal Biogeosciences, shows that these changes in land use increase temperatures in the region. The added warming could affect plants and animals and make parts of the country more vulnerable to wildfires.

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, appearing in the ingredients’ list of many consumer goods, from chocolate to soap. Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, has seen large swathes of rainforest cleared away and replaced by oil palm plantations at rates that exceed those of Brazil. On the island of Sumatra, which has had the highest loss of native rainforest in all of Indonesia, the changes in land use have meant a substantial loss of animal and plant diversity. However, the impact of these changes on the region’s temperatures had not been studied until now.

An international team of researchers, led by Clifton Sabajo and Alexander Knohl from the University of Göttingen in Germany, have published a new study showing that the expansion of oil palm and other cash crops in Sumatra has made the region warmer. “Land use change from forest to cash crops such as oil palm and rubber plantations does not only impact biodiversity and stored carbon, but also has a surface warming effect, adding to climate change,” says Knohl, a professor in bioclimatology.

The team studied differences in surface temperature for various types of land cover, such as forests, clear-cut land, and cash crops, in the Jambi province of Sumatra. They used satellite data collected between 2000 and 2015 by the NASA Landsat missions and the MODIS instrument, as well as data collected on the ground.

They found that clear-cut land, which is mainly used for agriculture, was up to 10 °C warmer than forests. “Clear-cut land is the phase between forest and other land cover types, such as small-holders [small-scale family farms] or commercial plantations,” says Sabajo, a PhD student and the lead author of the Biogeosciences study. “From field observations, we know that the landscape is so dynamic that there are continuous land use changes all the time, so clear-cut land is always present.”

Video summary of the EGU press release, Deforestation linked to palm oil production is making Indonesia warmer’. It highlights the main points of the Biogeosciences study entitled ‘Expansion of oil palm and other cash crops causes an increase of the land surface temperature in the Jambi province in Indonesia’. Press release: egu.eu/3WAES9 Scientific study: egu.eu/1RJ4F3 The video uses field sites’ photos by lead author Clifton Sabajo, an instrument photo by researcher Ana Meijide, and an elephant photo by vincentraal via flickr. All media are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike license (CC-BY-SA). Music from Jukedeck – create your own at jukedeck.com. Video credit: European Geosciences Union

Mature palm oil plantations were about 0.8 °C warmer than forests, while young palm oil plantations were 6 °C warmer. “Young palm oil plantations have fewer and smaller leaves and an open canopy, thus they transpire less water. Also, the soil receives more solar radiation and dries out faster,” explains Sabajo. Mature palm oil plantations, which are older than 5 years, have a closed canopy and larger and more abundant leaves, which results in a cooler ground compared to a young plantation.

Sabajo says surface temperatures in forests are lower than in palm oil plantations and clear-cut land mainly because of “evaporative cooling”, which is similar to the process that cools us down when we sweat. There’s more evaporation and transpiration of water from plants and the soil into the atmosphere in a forest than in clear-cut land or a young oil-palm plantation, meaning the ground is cooler for that type of land cover.

Overall, the average mid-morning surface temperature in the Jambi province increased by 1.05 °C between 2000 and 2015. Some of this warming is a result of climate change, but some is a direct consequence of the changes in land use. “We compared the average land-surface temperature increase in the province with a site that was covered by forest over the entire period and that can be considered as a control, unaffected by direct land-use change. The land-surface temperature of the forest sites (at 10:30am) only increased by 0.45 °C, suggesting that at least 0.6 °C of the 1.05 °C increase is due to land-use change,” says Knohl.

“The strong warming effect we show for the Jambi province may serve as an indication of future changes in land-surface temperature for other regions of Indonesia that will undergo land transformations towards oil palm plantations,” the scientists write in the study. The Indonesian government plans to substantially expand the country’s production of oil palm, as the demand for this product increases around the world.

What this additional increase in temperature means for the region is yet unclear, but Knohl notes that “land surface temperature is an important part of the microclimate, which shapes habitat conditions for plants and animals.” In the study, they write that the observed warming may affect ecosystems, reduce how much water is available in the region over the dry season, as well as make the area more vulnerable to wildfires.

“We think that current land-use developments in Indonesia need to carefully evaluate all aspects of environmental and socio-economic consequences. Land-surface temperature and microclimate should be considered,” says Knohl.


The research is part of a large German-funded project, the Collaborative Research Centre 990: Ecological and Socioeconomic Functions of Tropical Lowland Rainforest Transformation Systems (Sumatra, Indonesia).

The publication was in Biogeosciences, link to the paper.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 25, 2017 1:34 pm

“palm oil – is making Indonesia warmer”

Big Al couldn’t give a stuff about anywhere warming up.

Just so long as the money keeps coming in. !!

And so long as he thinks he had importance and influence.

That is ALL that matters to Big Al.

Reply to  AndyG55
October 26, 2017 12:14 pm

“And so long as he thinks he had importance and influence.”
“And so long as he thinks he had importance and influence and income!”

Auto – not one whit cynical [that, Mods, is /Sarc].

October 25, 2017 1:41 pm

I have visited these areas, and can attest to the land use differences. Most of the palm oil plantation I observed were older and had significant ground cover along with the trees. I also observed much clear cutting of land that was NOT intended for palm oil plantations, but common food crops.
So, if anything can be claimed here it is that clearing a mature jungle for productive crop land will have some ground heating effect until the vegetation recovers.
…and we needed a study to determine this?

Reply to  rocketscientist
October 25, 2017 3:23 pm

no they don’t … they need the study to get the money … to do the study.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  rocketscientist
October 25, 2017 7:07 pm

Traveling from Singapore into Malaysia to the north or North-East one sees endless, literally, palm plantations for hours on end that used to be jungle. It is monocropped for Palm oil.

October 25, 2017 1:41 pm

Typical green project, up there with windmills on environmental destruction.

October 25, 2017 2:05 pm

10 degrees……but it’s all CO2 you know

October 25, 2017 2:06 pm

Also destroying the habitat of the orangutan, now desperately endangered. Native language “orangutan” translates as “jungle man…”

Reply to  Michael Moon
October 26, 2017 12:19 pm

Indeed, yes
‘Orang laut’ in Bahasa means ‘man of the sea’ – or seafarer. For what it is worth
And ‘Orang pendek’ means ‘short man’ – and refers to a living, not scientifically described, hominid – probably only in Sumatra, if it still exists at all. Also see Deborah Martyr and her attempts to prove its existence.

Orang Ingeris – English Man in Bahasa.

Bruce Cobb
October 25, 2017 2:10 pm

Who knew that “saving the planet” could be so environmentally destructive? Along with being monumentally stupid, of course.

October 25, 2017 2:27 pm

One thing lefties never get, apart from their marginal statistics and doomsville is the notion of the tradeoff or opportunity cost-

Bill Bracey
Reply to  observa
October 25, 2017 8:04 pm

You do your cause a disservice by making this a left vs right issue.

Reply to  Bill Bracey
October 26, 2017 2:24 am

I agree. If we want our leftie friends to look at the other side of the CAGW argument, it’s getting so that pointing them to WUWT would be a bad move because it often comes off as “obviously” politically motivated.

Reply to  Bill Bracey
October 26, 2017 9:21 am

I don’t agree.

The entire CAGW argument was co-opted by the far left as a way to implement their agenda. It’s been documented in countless quotes from people within the movement.

Why should we not point out the obvious? Are you saying that we are supposed to be sensitive to whether or not they will accept reality?

The truth is that the true believer, cult-level, CAGW proponent will *never* admit they are wrong. Nothing you can say or do will sway them because for them, it’s *bigger* than “climate change” – it’s “social justice” that they seek. And fear is the best vehicle they have to get there. CAGW is the “moving van” of vehicles for them…

Sites like this are for the intelligent independent types who might be on the fence about the whole “global warming” thing and are looking for real data.

Pointing out that the whole belief system was co-opted by left-wing politics as a fear vehicle is real data.

October 25, 2017 2:44 pm

Crop soil hotter than previous forest, because of less evaporation? They forgot to credit captain Obvious.
Next they will discover that cities are even hotter than plantation

October 25, 2017 3:21 pm

The only constant in nature is change. This results in ‘moral outrage’ on both sides of the debate. Something changed OMG!

The worst offenders seems to those that have turned their corner of the world into a concrete cesspool. City folks are so proud of the island of trees they call a park.

After reading about ‘mountain top’ removal for coal mining in the NY Times, I went to the worst area to see for myself. From a vantage point I could see pristine National Forest land and reclaimed strip mines on the other side of the highway. I could not tell them apart. It appears the both sides still had mountain tops.

It is the use of inflammatory language that is a clue. I always wonder how you ‘destroy’ the environment. The best I can tell, it has only changed.

My father used to tell stories about visiting his grandfathers farm during the depression. Then the farm was seized and turned into a cesspool. Literally, it was turned into a sewage treatment plant. I could understand his moral outrage. Years later when he was a grandfather, he came back from a visit and told that the area had been turned into national recreation area.

I think there is a progression subsistence living to advanced societies that values things like parks.

To a certain extent, ‘global climate change provides an excuse for ‘advanced’ societies to tell others how to live.

October 25, 2017 3:41 pm

“It is the use of inflammatory language that is a clue.” – Absolutely! it follows the same patterns as advertising language – get your attention, sell you the product whether it’s worthless or otherwise, and move on, having done as much damage as you can.

R. Shearer
October 25, 2017 3:57 pm

California is contributing to this deforestation for low carbon diesel. They have to destroy the environment in order to save it.

Reply to  R. Shearer
October 26, 2017 11:01 am

What it really shows is that CA doesn’t have a clue about what they preach. They virtue signal with wind and solar but keep the grid supplied from sources elsewhere. They brag about biodiesel but don’t take responsibility for creating the market for palm oil. Neither do they take any responsibility for the vast waste of corn. Then they raise NGO monies to save the ogalala aquifer and orangutans.

Gary Pearse
October 25, 2017 4:25 pm

Could all of these anti alarmist papers just have come into existence coincidentally with Trump cancelling the global warming quilting bee? Have the gatekeepers fled? Was ENSO timed to go cold? There must have been a logjam of skeptical papers piling up at the gate.

No wonder the the hysteria has reached such a pitch. There is a roster of the top cliSci personalities who are basically unfit for purpose. Empirical science is a mystery to them. Statistics a machine spinning gold from straw. Their arrogance blinded them to the changes afoot politically that would in a stroke close down the Paris Accord and maybe Paris itself.

October 25, 2017 4:54 pm

I think if there is a comparison of biofuels, then converting virgin tropical jungle rain forest to biodiesel via palm plantations is orders of magnitude worse than utilizing corn for ethanol here in NA. Even the corn becomes distillers grain for animal feed after the fructose sugars are removed for the ethanol, so sure isn’t an apples to apples comparison no matter what anyone’s opinion is on corn ethanol. Palm plantations from native jungle, with all their infinite diversity of animal life and plant diversity, is just plain wrong. That the plantation is significantly warmer than any remaining tropical jungle/forest is evident by common sense, not least by actual measurements.

Ray B
October 25, 2017 9:58 pm

I bet the thing NOT considered by these researchers, is the temperature of the air above the forest canopy prior to it being cleared. No weather station is ever installed under a forest canopy, so the temperature there is not relevant to the temperatures recorded in the same location after the forest is gone. Basically, Sumatra has not become hotter because the forest was cleared, but the area between the forest canopy & the ground certainly has.

Hereward Corley
October 26, 2017 12:02 am

Most oil palm has replaced either other crops or forest severely damaged by unscrupulous logging, not primary forest. Most palm oil is used for edible purposes, not fuel. The loss of forest in Indonesia and elsewhere greatly exceeds the area of palms planted. Alternative oil crops produce less than a fifth of the yield per unit area, so to meet dietary vegetable oil needs with other crops (eg. soybean in Amazonia) would be much more damaging. So all in all, oil palm is not so bad. A 1 °C rise is not so bad either.

Reply to  Hereward Corley
October 26, 2017 2:05 am


Les Francis
Reply to  Hereward Corley
October 26, 2017 2:45 am

Not to mention “Transmigrasi”. This was a program to relocate people from highly overcrowded Java to outlying provinces.
It worked like this.
Find an area with very profitable timber assets.
Declare it a transmigration area.
A suitably qualified “connected” logging company goes in and harvests all the Mahogany, Teak and Meranti trees from the area.
Another connected company goes in and clears the land of any other left over material that can be used for wood pulp.
The topsoil peat is burned off.
Transmigration Housing estates are built.

I have aerial fotos of some of these transmigration estates taken when I flew over them.

This transmigration process was supported by foreign aid projects. probably from a country where you live. Certainly from my country.

Then there was forced transmigrasi of farmers.
Javanese farmers who had lived with wet rice farming for generations were moved to areas in Sumatera and Kalimantan that didn’t support wet rice.
Logging contractors harvested timber from virgin rainforest. What was left was peat and rubbish.
Wet rice farmers resorted to slash and burn methods to get enough substance in the soils to support dry farm rice.
A few years of dry rice depleted any goodness in whatever soil was left in the ground.

Often Palm oil is planted afterwards. Palm oil requires great gobs of fertilizer. The trees rob any goodness out of the soil. There is some debate whether or not the fertilizer costs outweigh the reaped palm oil value.

Les Francis
October 26, 2017 2:21 am

The Governor of the province of North Sumatera commissioned a study into rising temperatures in that province – back in the early 2000’s. Some U.S. consultants were used.
The same conclusion came through,.
Clearing of ancient rain forests produced altered weather patterns and reduced monsoonal rain areas.

In the 1970’s / early 1980’s I made many low level flights over Kalimantan (Borneo) island.
Thousands of square miles were covered in virgin rainforest. The rainforest created it’s own weather.
You could see the trees were standing in swamp.
Hundreds and hundreds of miles of virtually uninhabited rain forest.

The ElNino weather pattern of 1981 was a criteria and land clearing operations caused a forest fire on Kalimantan where 5 million hectares of rainforest was burnt out.

Next. Much of the ancient rainforests were built up on peat layed down over millennia. When the forest fires went through the peat layer started to burn. The peat burnt for years and years.

A tragedy. These rainforests can’t be replaced. They were formed on hundreds of years of laying down of the peat base meters thick.

Palm oil is a crime.

Les Francis
Reply to  Les Francis
October 26, 2017 2:26 am

This latest study is old news. The problems has been known about for almost 20 years. The Governor of North Sumatera expressed his fears and the study to the Jakarta government way back before Gorbbels came out with his movie.

October 26, 2017 7:47 am

When was the period of maximum clear-cutting in the continental U.S.? How does it co-relate with temperature?

Dr. Bob
October 26, 2017 8:18 am

Also blame the European Union for their biofuels mandates. The EU has 50% diesel vehicles and has supported both FAME and hydroprocessed fatty oil (so called Hydroprocessed Renewable Diesel, HRD) use at 7% of all fuel. This created a demand for palm oil as Neste Oyl built a number of plants to convert fatty oils into HRD. The Singapore plant processes something like 100,000 bbl/day of palm oil ostensibly from “old” plantations thus avoiding the wrath of the Greenies by claiming that their oil is not from deforestation. A large portion of that product goes to California as Neste gets both Renewable Diesel RINs and California Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits for diesel fuel of over $2/gal. Such a deal for them. Not quite a good deal for the rest of us that have to pay the taxes to support this endeavor.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
October 26, 2017 9:49 am

Governments, as a collective bunch, are highly destructive criminal enterprises whose own “profits” are tantamount in their concern.

%d bloggers like this: