What's really happening in the Amazon rainforest and what you can do about it


By Andrea Loftus


Image via Pexels

When you google Amazon fire, what’s the first result? A handy little plastic stick that allows you to use YouTube and Spotify on your TV, of course.

And what’s the second, you ask? Oh, just a few queries about the consequence of the Amazon Rainforest, the “lungs of our planet”, currently falling to the mercy of a frantic flurry of flames caused by manmade deforestation efforts.

It is not surprising that a profit-hungry company’s product comes before news about our planet, but these forest fires had been raging for weeks before there was any media coverage. We apparently revised our priorities after the outcry surrounding the media circus when Notre-Dame burst into flames, compared to radio silence following the horrors in Sudan, but we appear to be in the exact same position just 4 months later. Here we have the earth’s lungs turning to dust, victim of the same culprit that took down the cathedral, only this time it’s our fault and the Amazon can’t be rebuilt. Nevertheless, backs are turned as the suit clad snakes trade the green glory of the rainforest for the green greed of political power and profit.

So, what exactly is happening?

Amazonia is ablaze, and although wildfires aren’t uncommon, especially with the rising temperatures experienced in the past few years, it’s truly out of control. It’s believed the peak day of fire this month had a rate 700% higher than it has been in the last 15 years, with the ash and particulate rate at its highest in nearly a decade.

The crux is that these fires are illegal and demonstrate the alarming increase in unsolicited deforestation to encourage the development of the Amazon. Ever-increasing need for cattle ranches to supply the worldwide demand for beef, means that an area of land essential for eliminating carbon from the atmosphere is being destroyed to aid an industry that is a primary contributor to climate change.

The shocking statistic of a football pitch size area of rainforest being lost every minute has been thrown around for years. However, in July it was registered that the clearing had escalated to around 5 times that amount, resulting in a devastating 10,000 sq/km of theAmazon expected to be lost this year. Special ‘fire days’ were being held by ranchers to clear land in the Amazon, but mass objection is being voiced and the public outcry is represented by large groups of ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and ‘Animal Rebellion’ protesters joining the indigenous groups outside Brazilian embassies in major cities worldwide.

Jair Bolsonaro, the current Brazilian president, is under fire from the media for his role in the encouragement of illicit land clearing.

Bolsonaro previously attacked conservation NGOs and promoted the development of the Amazon for farming and logging during his winning campaign. However, the process has escalated in the past 5 years due to the agricultural lobby in Brazil steadily dismantling the protection system that was successful for almost a decade since 2005.

The G7 summit in France this weekend is said to prioritise the Amazon, but isn’t it a bit late lads? I completely agree that it should be a priority, but I also think the priority should have been taking preventative measures to ensure this level of devastation never happened in the first place. People are losing their livelihoods, and indigenous Amazonians have lost part of their home, and people are vocally horrified as they take another bite of their steak and Boomerang an oozing cheesy burger. There is still a consistent global demand for meat despite all the explicit links between global warming and the meat industry.

As a nation which only has to sidle down shiny supermarket aisles stacked floor to ceiling with every cut of meat imaginable, the level of disassociation between the gravy doused roast beef we complain is dry, and the process undergone to get there is kind of wild. Us Brits love to shout COWS! out of the car window when we pass them grazing in the fields, yet continue to contribute to the profit of big industries who disregard their impact on the planet because they know, even with the facts in black and white, we’re stuck in our carnivorous ways.

I know what you’re thinking, what about those damn vegans who just can’t get enough of soy, another crop that is mass produced on land that’s currently masked by embers. Well the fact is that this soy could sufficiently feed us and be converted into nutritious (delicious) food, yet we use about 70% of it as direct food for livestock so we can eat those instead. The cattle pastures are often in a yearly rotation with soy, thus the two are inextricably linked, and agriculture is accountable for about 80% of the deforestation worldwide. 

“But I’ve seen the adverts, ‘British beef from British farmers’, I’ve seen their flat caps, I know where my food comes from!”

The UK currently imports about 35% of its beef and veal, and though the main supply is from Ireland, improvements in methods of preservation and transport have resulted in an increase of products being imported from Brazil, the country that makes up 25% of the industry.

This is then being used as a bartering tool for political negotiations, with Michael Gove threatening UK trade with Ireland by considering the introduction of non-tariff quotas for Brazilian beef. With 90% of the land cleared in the rainforest already dominated by cattle ranchers, the EU-Mercosur trade agreement that sees lower EU tariffs for things like cars met by increased exports from Brazil, including an estimated 99,000 tonnes of beef, could make things even worse.

I know of people cutting beef in an effort to reduce their impact, which is really great, but replacing beef with substitutes like pork isn’t entirely leaving you with a clean climate conscience as ⅓ of all soy imported to the UK is fed to pigs.

As a nation, and a species, we need to reclaim our food sovereignty and responsibly coordinate our use of land to meet our needs and not abuse man’s position in nature. Eating seasonally, growing the bulk of our food and ideally eating a plant-based diet will eliminate the need for livestock farming and consequently remove any emission from transporting beef thousands of miles overseas just so you can burn a burger on the BBQ.

What does it mean for the people of Brazil?

The biodiversity of the area is irreversibly impacted by what’s happening, not to mention that this area is home to large numbers of indigenous tribes who are watching their precious paradise go up in smoke. The carbon released by a fire this size has resulted in sky-high emissions, and thick smoke shadows over São Paulo. The compromised air quality came as a result of the levels of ash, carbon and particulates present that have come from plumes from fires around South America, including Paraguay and Uruguay.

Women and girls are statistically the most impacted by industrialisation in the Amazon, with even less recognised rights than indigenous men when it comes to agribusiness. This is why tens of thousands marched in the capital to denounce Bolsonaro and call for unity to safeguard the land. Student and activist part of projects for UN women, Rayanne Cristine Maximo Franca, when interviewed by DAZED Digital, recounted her experience of racism in University but how it didn’t detract from her goal. She proudly prepared to partake in an indigenous rights demonstration, painting her skin with “parts of the Genipapo tree”, found in the Amazon basin, only having time to do one arm before making it to class.

What can we do?

I’m sure you’ve seen many Instagram posts and stories regarding what we can do to try and help to put pressure the government to act, but here are a few different ways you can do your bit in one handy place.

  1. Who to follow:

Living in the technological age means social media can be a Chinese whisper of facts and fear mongering, so following some of these organisations will help to sift through the chaos:

2. Action to take:

-Eating beef certified by groups like the Rainforest Alliance is a better step to take when purchasing meat, as links to imported meat aren't always explicit. However, the ideal move to make is to reduce your consumption of animal products.

-Eating consciously is a privilege; it’s undeniable that not every household has the social or economic freedom to grow their own veg or eat a certain diet. However, sharing any information you have on how to eat less meat and still meet all the necessary dietary targets, with those who may not have access to enough information, is a great way to spread the message through the power of the people. If you feel horrified about what’s happening, make sure your hard earned money isn’t fuelling the fire.

-Going plant-based may seem impossible to do, and believe me, my favourite meal was BBQ ribs and I’d fight anyone who suggested I eat beans on toast without a thick spread of butter and a duvet of grated cheese. Yet after several years vegetarian and over a year vegan, I wouldn’t even think of going back. My meals are more interesting, I’m so much healthier and it turns out animal products are the ones that make the Morrisons shop spenny. It’s not only a dietary change but a lifestyle choice, and thankfully you’d be making the transition in a time when menus are more varied and there are vegan options for milks and meals in almost every cafe and restaurant around.

3. Add your name to the outcry:

Words by
andrea loftus

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