Bright young thing

G Magazine

While most kids his age are playing video games or pining over the latest celebrity, Thomas King has become a real-life hero in an international battle between conservationists, politicians and manufacturers over the labelling and production of palm oil.


Credit: Australian Teens Against Animal Cruelty

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It takes courage, confidence and a great deal of passion to stand up for what you believe in. A newbie to activism, Thomas King has stepped up to the mark armed with knowledge of the environmental, ethical and humanitarian issues surrounding palm oil. And he’s only 15 years old.

The trigger for King was seeing an advert for the ‘Don’t palm us off’ campaign run through Zoos Victoria about 18 months ago. Rather than being overwhelmed with the crisis, this budding young activist was inspired to create change.

So far, the young eco-warrior has raised a total of $25,000 towards rainforest protection and wildlife rescue centres in Malaysia and Indonesia. Wise beyond his years, he saw a need to inform people about the devastation, so he made his own website on how to avoid palm oil in anything from cosmetics and food to cleaning products.

“I’ve always had an interest in animals and environmental protection,” he says. “But the fact that there is such a direct link between everyday Australians and the palm oil crisis really got me interested in this cause.”

Around 50 per cent of all products in Australia contain palm oil, and that got King thinking about the amount that Australians must consume everyday. Through his research, he found out that the equivalent to 300 football fields of forest growth is cleared each hour to make way for palm plantations, mainly in South East Asia.

“A palm oil plantation only lasts for about 25 years… at the rate deforestation is going, Borneo and Sumatra will be wastelands within my lifetime,” says King.

Globally, 86 per cent of palm oil is produced in Malaysia, “so it really supports their economy”. King describes
how palm oil advocate groups come up with ridiculous claims. “Things like, ‘palm oil is nature’s gift to Malaysia’. Yet palm oil is native to West Africa!”

In grasp with reality, he suggests alternative livelihoods for locals. “There are projects like what Willie Smits is doing with sugar palms, which can actually be grown and harvested amongst the native trees.”

An expert at the numbers game, King says palm oil production has cleared ninety percent of the habitat of
the endangered orangutan. “It’s shocking, the impact on orangutans – not only from a conservation perspective, but also because of animal cruelty. They’re run over by machinery and buried alive… they’re kept in cruel conditions in captivity… it’s intolerable.”

King has written letters of complaint to over 50 Australian manufacturers and he encourages anyone to get involved, saying “it often takes only around ten complaints for a company to take notice of an issue, because from there it can move quite easily – especially with things like social networking.”

By embracing technology King has created and helps manage the Facebook page for the Australian Orangutan
Project. “My network has grown over the last year or so, and I'm now Facebook friends with close to 150 people in that area… I get daily updates. People who are working on-ground in Borneo and Sumatra have been able to provide me with first-hand information via social-media.”

Cleaning company Orange Power helped to fund King’s first visit to Borneo with his school in October where he saw orangutans in their natural habitat; read his travel story for G here. He will be returning to Borneo in May 2012 with the DeforestACTION Project to be a part of an exciting documentary-film.

For info on making informed choices or to join up to Thomas King’s Facebook page, visit www.saynotopalmoil.com