Few of us will have escaped the media scenes of fiery devastation in the Amazon over the past few weeks. It is a man-made disaster with global effects – and causes.
Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, wants to open up the Amazon for ‘development’. He is doing so by gutting the key Brazilian environmental protection agencies and rendering them powerless to enforce laws which had been successful in dramatically reducing Amazon deforestation over the last decade. He has also accused Brazil’s environmentalists and indigenous organisations of holding the country’s prosperity back.
In this newly permissive political context, big logging and ranching interests feel free to saw away at the remaining rainforest at a ferocious rate, invade indigenous people’s territories and even massacre unarmed villagers, with near total impunity. So far this year, more than 80,000 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil, half in the Amazon, far more than the total for all 2018, and the burning season has another two months to go. Several environmentalists and indigenous leaders have been assassinated.
Not only is this forest destruction terrible for Brazilian people and wildlife, but it will accelerate global heating through a double-whammy. First, climate-changing carbon dioxide is released in frightening quantities by cutting and burning such large areas of forest. Secondly, reducing the Amazon’s tree numbers also shrinks its ability to act as a ‘carbon sink’, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as trees do.
Other countries have been right to criticise the Brazilian government and to offer help to control the forest fires. President Bolsonaro has rejected both criticism and assistance. What is most needed is for the president to have a change of heart. We must pray for this, and for Brazilian Christians, environmental organisations and indigenous people calling for the same and suffering for it.
But many of us must face an uncomfortable truth of our own: it’s the world’s completely unsustainable appetite for meat and dairy that makes torching the Amazon so lucrative. Deforested land in Brazil is typically used to rear cattle for beef and dairy and to grow soy which is itself largely used to feed livestock, particularly pigs and chickens. Much of the beef and the feedstuff is exported, including to the EU. Unless we are vegan or very careful, we probably eat it.
At a time of accelerated species extinction and climate emergency, President Bolsonaro’s attitude to the Amazon looks criminally irresponsible. But out of integrity, we meat and dairy eaters need to confront our own habits and attitudes and sharply reduce our consumption of food that drives destruction – for the love and nature and our global nature.
– Andy Atkins, CEO of A Rocha UK