The fires in the Amazon are burning at a record rate. More than 72 thousand fires have burned the forests this year, an 80 percent increase from the same time last year. Flames destroy almost two football fields worth of rainforest every minute of every day. The smoke from the inferno was so thick that the nearby city of São Paulo was blanketed in darkness at three in the afternoon, and the smoke could be seen from space.
The cause of all this destruction is simple. President Jair Bolsonaro, a right wing politico who also brushes aside climate change concerns, is in bed with the meat industry and has encouraged development of the Amazon rainforest.
The meat industry is behind the big push to open the Amazon rainforests up to new development. Cattle needs to have space to grow, land to graze, and slaughterhouse facilities to be processed. It's common practice to burn down parts of the forest that industry wants access to, so a lot of fires are set all at once. As of right now, the meat industry controls 80 percent of all converted land.
“The fire that we’re seeing today is a fire that’s directly related to deforestation,” Ane Alencar, the scientific director of Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia), told forest news website Mongabay. They cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil.”
What motivates this desire? Our meat-heavy diets.
People are eating more and more meat. With the growing world population, the rise in affluence, and other cultures adopting a more Western-style diet, the demand for meat has gone up. Because of this, Brazil has become one of the largest cattle ranching communities in the world and the largest exporter of beef and poultry.
There's also another issue attached to this problem. All those heads of cattle need to be fed, and that's where soy comes in. Soy makes up the majority of the protein in cattle diets, so a lot of agriculture that could be used to feed humanity is instead diverted to the highly profitable cattle feed market. Soy production has driven up land value in the region, so cattle ranchers can sell their old plots for a big profit as they expand deeper into the Amazon.
“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.
There is international action being taken on this front. President Bolsonaro has taken criticism on the international stage for his catastrophic enabling of the situation, the European Union are working on tariffs or outright banning Brazilian meat. Finland's finance minister called for the European Union to "urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports" over the Amazon fires. Despite this, China and Hong Kong make up 44% of Brazil's beef imports. That means more land burns, the "lungs of the earth" will be reduced to ash, and eventually the damaged environment might wind up producing carbon rather than oxygen, causing more harm to the climate.
If you stop eating beef for a year, you'll save approximately 3,432 trees. The climate crisis is real and its frightening. It's time to change our lifestyles to preserve our future.