The Amazon Rainforest may soon go from being one of the most effective buffers for the effects of climate change into one of its largest driving forces. Often referred to as the ‘lungs of the Earth’, the Amazon helps absorb 25% of the carbon emissions captured by all of the Earth’s forests and in turn, releases oxygen back into the atmosphere. However, given the increase by over 80% in the number of fires that took place in Brazil alone this year, the Amazon’s title as the world’s largest carbon sink may soon be taken away.
Since January 2019, over 80,000 forest fires have started in Brazil. To put this into perspective, this means that over 1.2 billion trees in the Amazon Rainforest have been burned down. This alarming and devastating story remained a secret from the public eye for quite a while, and when it finally came to light, most people had the same questions in mind: What caused these fires, and why haven’t they been stopped yet?
To address the first question, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, claimed that the fires were caused due to the dry weather, wind, and heat. However, what is worthy of noting is that even in the dry season, forest fires are not a natural phenomenon in the Amazon Rainforest. In other words, the vast majority of these fires were intentional. If you are wondering why, the answer is rather unexpected – the massive global demand for beef.
Cattle ranching is responsible for up to 80% of the deforestation because people are burning the land purposefully to create more pastures. Even though the country has laws to protect the environment, the overwhelming political corruption and corporate greed allows these laws to go unenforced. In fact, Jair Bolsonaro (the current president of Brazil), has indicated that his priority is to uplift his country’s economy, and he views the Rainforest as a huge source of potential revenue. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of coffee, sugar, soybeans, orange juice, and most importantly – beef. Agribusiness in Brazil accounts for almost ¼ of the country’s economy and as a result, in needing to sustain its profits in that sector, agribusiness has become one of the largest drivers of illegal deforestation. Out of the global demand for beef, roughly 76% is from America alone. When thinking this through, one can realize that the only reason that the Amazon is being burned for raising cattle is because of the large demand for beef. However, if people tried to consciously reduce their intake, the overall demand would decrease, and the politicians who allowed the forest to burn, disregarding the environment, would likely stop deforestation as there would be no reason to continue doing so. I am not saying eliminate meat intake, I am saying it’s best to reduce it – for if you can’t make that small sacrifice now, the consequences later on will likely be far more severe.