Among UK-based orangutan conservation supporters, palm oil consumption boycotts are widespread, due to the ecological impacts of oil palm cultivation on orangutan habitat. Yet these boycotts are largely at odds with the stances of orangutan charities. Drawing on interviews with orangutan supporters, this article explores why some Global North consumers are so consumed by palm oil. Palm oil is viewed by orangutan supporters as insidious, invasive and cheap, and forces a bodily complicity with orangutan suffering. It is mobilized as a metonym for human greed and capitalist destruction. This metonymic relationship mirrors broader Anthropocentric framings of human-nature relations, which emphasize humanity as a universal actor. Yet the practices of 'species guilt' associated with these framings largely mitigate against a decolonizing model of conservation, as they have the potential to deny agency to workers and villagers enmeshed within the oil palm economy. Despite these unpromising circumstances, this article explores the unintended value of palm oil boycotts in terms of agency and ecological consciousness and addresses the potential to align such boycotts with a decolonial analysis, through centering the human dimensions of orangutan conservation.
Keywords: orangutan, decolonizing conservation, ethical consumption, boycott, palm oil, Anthropocene
How to Cite:
Fair, H., (2021) “Feeding extinction: navigating the metonyms and misanthropy of palm oil boycotts”, Journal of Political Ecology 28(1), 928–944. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.3001
- European Research Council Starting Grant (no. 758494)