With news of raging fires in Amazon rainforest dominating the news cycle, I thought I’d step back from the current carnage and write briefly about the driving forces behind deforestation in the region more broadly – How bad is it? What are the main causes? Are we simply eating it out of existence?
It’s a tiny article so please read it, in fact you’re 20% of the way through already…
Current State of Affairs
Logging in the Amazon rainforest is not practiced sustainably and the virgin forests don’t contain a huge variety of trees valuable for timber (mahogany is probably the most well known). With this in mind, suitable trees are cut down for export and the remaining land is deliberately burned to enrich the soil for use in agriculture, leaving little prospect of the forest cover returning.
Staggeringly, 80-90% of all logging in the Amazon is illegal, but it’s nearly impossible to monitor and police. What’s most terrifying about this is that we may be only tens of thousands of square kilometres away from a tipping point, after which the Amazon could be on a fast track to desertification with incomprehensible consequence for our lives and climate. When we reach that point we won’t even know, and it will already be too late.
Whilst the growth of our urban environment, subsistence agriculture, and logging, play their parts, the biggest driving force behind the land clearance is cattle-grazing and crops, particularly soya beans.
There are 200 million+ heads of cattle in the Amazon, a staggering amount considering there were just 5 million in the 1960’s, and 80% of land cleared in the Amazon is converted to pasture for cattle.
A lot of people find it hard to digest but, aside from donating to charities that are working to plant trees and protect our environment 😉, the number 1 way you can help fight the decimation of the Amazon is to eat less meat. Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter, and whilst western countries may not be their primary export market, it is the western diet/lifestyle – high in meat – that influences consumption patterns in rapidly expanding middle classes such as China’s.
Note: We’re only talking about deforestation in this article, but I think everybody already knows that cows are also responsible for huge quantities of methane gas emissions, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming!
In 2016, 33 million hectares of land were used to produce 100 million tons of soya bean (source, and a nice interview, can be found here). Just like cattle exports, soya is booming for Brazil, and even more so in light of Chinese sanctions placed on US soya exports in the ongoing trade war (leading to a 30% increase in demand for Brazilian soya). With the Brazilian savannah already decimated by soya farming, vast inroads into the amazon have already established, with expansion set to continue unabated.
Many will be thinking ‘Soya, what the hell do we need so much of that for?’ or ‘Isn’t that the stuff that vegan’s eat and drink? Shame on them’ – but actually the answer is fairly simple, if unexpected: meat production.
Around 90% of the world soya production is used to feed livestock and poultry, all destined for your dinner plate. Just like the expansion of cattle ranches in to the Amazon, cutting meat from our diets will have tangible benefits for the Amazon region and beyond.
That’s it, end of article. In case you missed it: we are eating the Amazon, let’s stop it please!