By Bronwyn Slater
More than 26,000 fires ravaged Brazil’s rainforest during the month of August – the highest number of fires since 2010. Satellite images of the fires caught the attention of news outlets around the world, with the story garnering headlines for many days.
There are annual burns in Brazil during the dry season. While some may be accidental, the vast majority are caused deliberately in order to clear land for farming – mainly cattle grazing and soy, palm oil and timber production.
The Amazon rainforest generates more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and is home to 10% of the world’s known biodiversity. The region is referred to as the “lungs of the planet” and plays a major role in regulating the world’s climate. The Amazon basin covers 7 million square miles and covers the territory of 9 countries – 60% is located in Brazil where president Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to open the region up for development.
To date 17% of the Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed, with forests being cut down at the rate of one football field every minute. 91% of land deforested since 1970 has been used for livestock pasture. Brazil is the world’s largest beef producer and exporter. It is also the world’s second largest producer of soybeans, with 25 million hectares devoted to this crop, 90% of which is exported worldwide as animal feed for cattle, pigs and chickens. Less than 1% of agricultural land is used for palm oil.
Environmentalists are concerned about loss of biodiversity that will result from destruction of the forest, and also about the release of the carbon contained within the vegetation, which could accelerate global warming.
The rainforest is also home to many indigenous people who are being pushed off their land to make room for large soy and beef operations. You can read more about soy in our article here.
The EU–Mercosur Free Trade Agreement has been denounced by environmental activists and indigenous rights campaigners because they fear the deal could lead to more deforestation of the Amazon rainforest as it expands markets for Brazilian beef. Finland’s Ministry of Finance has urged the European Union to consider banning the import of Brazilian beef in view of the recent fires.
The G7 countries at their meeting at the end of August agreed on a $20 million aid package to help Brazil and its neighbours fight the fires. Brazil rejected the offer, telling Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies”. Richard George, head of forests for Greenpeace UK, said: “The offer of $20m is chump change, especially as the crisis in the Amazon is directly linked to overconsumption of meat and dairy in the UK and other G7 countries”.
Brazil and Indonesia spent over 100 times more in subsidies to industries that cause deforestation than they received in international conservation aid to prevent it, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The two countries handed out over $40bn (£27bn) in subsidies to the beef, soy, palm oil, timber, and biofuels sectors between 2009 and 2012 – 126 times more than the $346m they received to preserve their rainforests from the United Nations’ (UN) REDD+ scheme, mostly from Norway and Germany. In comparison the €20 million offered by the EU is just a bad joke.
What is the solution?
Going vegan is the single most powerful action you can take. It will eliminate your demand for beef and for other animal products like pork and chicken that depend on soy imports from Brazil. While the vegan diet does consist of many products that are soy-based, it is worth noting that 85-90% of the soy grown on the planet is fed to animals. The remainder is used as an ingredient in common everyday foods. You can read more about soy production here.
You can also donate to the following charities which are fighting deforestation in the Amazon:
(1) The Amazon Forest Fund was set up by Hollywood actor Leonardo diCaprio. The charity recently announced a $5 million pledge to help reduce the number of fires in the Amazon.
(2) Rainforest Trust was founded in 1988 and buys land to save it from deforestation and development and to preserve habitat. Its previous campaigns have included raising $100,000 to buy 1,992 acres of rainforest to help protect the Southern Woolly Spider Monkey.
(3) Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit working with local communities as well as companies, and certifies businesses that engage in sustainable practices. In just two days this group raised $310,670 for five Brazilian organizations on the front lines of the fight to protect the Amazon and the human rights of the indigenous people who live there.
(4) Amazon Conservation says its focuses on preventing fires by partnering with local landowners to implement sustainable forestry practices. The charity says: “Continuous uncontrolled fires of this scale will bring the forest closer to an irreversible tipping point — a degree of deforestation at which the Amazon basin will no longer be able to generate its own rainfall and will become a fire-prone savanna. Some estimates place the level of deforestation needed to reach this tipping point at 20% to 25%. Current deforestation is at 17%”