The Amazon Is Burning Because the World Eats So Much Meat

The struggle with “Climate Despair” is real. That is anxiety and despair triggered by news of environmental deprivation. Right now, for example, many have shared emotions of helplessness among the ongoing forest fires in the Amazon. This calamity has been going on for weeks, and the fires have become so bad that the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency  this month.

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The problem, though, is not completely out of people’s hands. Studies have revealed that the fires are not initiated by natural events, but by humans--our love for meat, to be exact.

The fires are triggered by burning fallen trees to make way for livestock ranching, a developing industry in Brazil and the wider region. Data from the Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia (IPAM) reveals that the top ten cities in Amazonia with the most fire incidences also had the largest deforestation rates this year. The most real-world solution people can adopt to help is to reduce--or stop--their meat intake.

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Cameron Ellis, Senior Geographer at The Rainforest Foundation told VICE that since cattle need open spaces to feed and grow, breeders clear vast lands by burning forests. These fires frequently get out of hand and “escape into nearby forest, much of which is suffering from famine.” The fires grow and end up consuming areas with trees that have not been cut down.

Though logging (both legal and illegal) and other activities also drive deforestation in the Amazon, animal agriculture is the chief cause by far. The World Bank told that cattle ranching occupies 80% of all converted lands in the Amazon rainforest.

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But it does not end there. The animals on these farms need to eat, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also links the rainforest fires to the production of cattle food through soy farming. Soy is the most vital protein in animal feed, with 80% of the world’s soybean crop fed to livestock. So while soy may not put an end to as much forest as cattle ranching, it is part of the primary cause by permitting grazing.

All this is done to keep up with the growing demand for meat globally, which is caused by population growth and increased affluence in developing countries. This keeps animal farms and soybean plantations locked in a vicious cycle where they depend on each other to grow.

“The livestock and agriculture sectors do not exist in isolation from each other. Rather, they are linked in two primary ways: they act as mutual enablers to access land within the Amazon, and they support each other through integrated value chains,” the WWF said.

It does not help that the present rhetoric of the Brazilian government favors, incentivizing. Up to 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, though. The Amazon is now one of the major cattle ranching regions in the world, and it’s only getting worse. Brazil’s cattle herd grew from 158 million heads in 1996 to 219 million in 2016, becoming the world’s biggest beef and poultry exporter.

Last year, Brazil shipped 1.6 million tonnes of beef, the maximum in history, Reuters reported. The number is projected to grow 1.8 million tonnes by the end of 2019, with China as the main export target. Other major importers of Brazilian beef are Hong Kong, Egypt, Russia, and the European Union. Ellis told VICE that less rain is falling now since there are less forests to capture it. If the deforestation cycle is kept alive, we might reach a “tipping point where the complete landscape changes from rainforest to savanna,” he said.

One person not eating beef for a year saves roughly 3,432 trees, so you are doing the earth a favor by avoiding that burger.