The Amazon rainforest has been called the “lungs of the planet”. It may be the Earth’s most valuable carbon sink, sucking in CO2 and replacing it with oxygen, naturally filtered and breathable. But now, our lungs are on fire. This is the planetary equivalent of lung cancer, and if we don’t act now it will become terminal.
So how do we stop this cancer from spreading? Unfortunately, there’s little we can do to stop the fires that are already burning. But thankfully, we do have the power to prevent more fires in the future, the only question left is if we’ll use it.
Finland’s Finance Minister, Mika Lintila, has proposed that “the EU and Finland urgently look into the option of banning the import of Brazilian beef”. His suggestion is based on the expert consensus, that the record number of fires are attributable to beef farmers intentionally burning forests to make room for cattle.
In fact, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, beef is the primary cause of deforestation worldwide, stating:
“Converting forest to pasture for beef cattle, largely in Latin America, is responsible for destroying 2.71 million hectares of tropical forest each year — an area about the size of the state of Massachusetts — in just four countries. This is more than half of tropical deforestation in South America, and more than five times as much as any other commodity in the region.”
The secondary cause of deforestation is soy, most of which is used to feed livestock anyway. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:
“Growing global demand for meat and dairy products has contributed to the doubling of soybean production in the last 20 years. Soy is primarily used to feed pork, poultry, and dairy cows…Large soybean fields in the tropics, particularly in Latin America, are often planted on newly deforested land — or they may expand onto former pastureland, pushing cattle to the forest frontier. Every year around 480,000 hectares is deforested for soy in major soy-producing tropical countries.”
But really, this is good news. It means that we all have the power to prevent future wildfires in the Amazon, as well as deforestation more broadly. It’s unlikely that the U.S. government will take the Finnish Finance Minister’s suggestion, especially given the friendly relationship between Trump and Bolsonaro. But we can follow the Minister’s advice at the household level — we don’t need Trump’s permission to save the lungs of the planet.
We can do this by ensuring that none of the meat or dairy that we buy is from Brazil, thereby decreasing consumer demand for products that are destroying the rainforest. Better yet, we can stop buying any meat or dairy at all.
Burning and deforesting the Amazon is particularly awful, given what a rich carbon sink and source of biodiversity it is. But at this point, we can’t spare any of the Earth’s forests. In fact, we need to plant more trees to absorb our carbon, not destroy more to make room for livestock. Given the leading role that animal agriculture plays in deforestation, our only option left is to stop financially supporting the industry completely.
This is a classic boycott tactic, reminiscent of the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the South Africa divestment movement in the 1960s to 1990s, supported by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. Boycotts have been an integral part of revolution for decades, especially in capitalist economies where consumers are responsible for creating market demands.
Given the ubiquity of meat and dairy in our lives, consumer boycotts are an amazing source of power against the agribusinesses that are destroying the planet and driving the climate crisis. It’s up to each of us to decide if a boycott is worth it, if saving the “lungs of the planet” is worth giving up meat and dairy for. But either way, the effects of our decision will be felt by everyone. Not only by ourselves and by our neighbors, but by our children, and their children, and their’s, for generations.