The Brazilian Amazon rainforest is suffering tremendously from deforestation and illegal logging, motivated mainly by the drive for animal agriculture. Government reports have shown that between 2017 and 2018, approximately 14% more land was cleared than in 2016 (previously the highest level in the past decade). Satellite images over the past year have also shown that 7900 square kilometres of forest have disappeared; an area more than half the size of Jamaica.
The farming of livestock has such a large environmental footprint that it deserves much more attention than it is receiving. Deforestation is a significant reason behind global warming and its dangers are often ignored in the news or media. In fact, according to the United Nations, deforestation accounts for approximately 18% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, whilst transportation collectively accounts for 13%. Furthermore, animal agriculture also contributes to both land and water degradation, ecosystem decline, acid rain and coral reef destruction, amounting to an impact larger than that of ships, trucks, cars and planes combined.
Brazil’s Environment Minister Edson Duarte criticized the illegal logging which has caused so much degradation over the past year, calling upon the government to increase its security over the jungle to protect the Amazon, its people and all the species that live there. However, due to the size of the Amazon, policing over the area has become difficult and, nonetheless, deforestation has continued. Greenpeace activist Marcio Astrini stated that the Brazilian government are complacent with preserving the Amazon and criticized a recent policy, which reduced the areas under federal government protection. There has also been increasing fear that when Jair Bolsonaro becomes president in January, issues will only worsen.
When looking at the issue collectively, the Georgetown Environmental Law Review stated that livestock and their by-products are responsible for approximately 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide annually (or 51% of all global greenhouse gas emissions). Brazil’s Climate Observatory stated that the increase in deforestation is also causing farmers to expand, massively accelerating global climate change.
The Amazon is an extremely valuable area in need of environmental protection, as scientists have stipulated that it acts as a giant carbon “sink” by absorbing gases. Clearing the Amazon is also considered extremely dangerous because of its rich biodiversity, with several species left to be studied. In fact, the Amazon acts as the largest river basin on Earth, home to most of the world’s species; the forest is known to have up to 75% of its own unique plant species as well as 3,000 species of fish, including the highest number of fresh water fish species on Earth.
Currently, 20% of the Amazon has already been destroyed, making the forest the largest deforestation front globally. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) predicted that by 2030, 27% of the Amazon will contain no trees if deforestation does not slow down rapidly. The WWF stated that Brazil is to blame for half of the deforestation in the Amazon, compared with the Andean Amazon in which countries such as Bolivia and Peru are also contributors to increasing rates of degradation.
According to the WWF, the Amazon rainforest covers up to 670 million hectares, stores up to 140 billion metric tons of carbon and is home to 34 million people. However, years of deforestation have collectively resulted in 17.7 million hectares lost, spanning over Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. If this continues, deforestation could double to 48 million hectares between 2010-2030. This would result in more than 25% of the biome remaining empty without trees or wildlife.
For the issue to get better, it is going to require the collective pressure of many states to stop the main countries causing more destruction. Governments will need to become actively involved in order to ensure that plans are put in place to educate organizations on the dangers of deforestation, as well as the threat it poses to those who live in the Amazon. According to the WWF, one solution could be to introduce protected areas for those living in the Amazon, as well as banning deforestation overall to allow the forest to recuperate from the damage which has been done. This has been known to help both indigenous communities and conserved ecosystems. The goal of the WWF is that by 2020, both protected regions and indigenous communities will be prioritized in the preservation of the ecosystem and the cultural values of the indigenous people.
Education will be key in this, as often these corporations operate for greed, exploiting the environment to sell and raise livestock as commodities. There is nothing humane about what is occurring, and communities, governments, private organizations and scientific companies need to come together to support the end of deforestation. If this does not happen now, future generations will suffer significantly from all the damage that has been done.
The reality is that if these emissions are not lowered and the Amazon continues to degrade, environmental security will become an even more significant problem. There will be increased circumstances of flooding, longer droughts, famine and heatwaves. This will result in an influx of environmental refugees who are not able to withstand the severe weather. Eventually livestock will not even be able to withstand these conditions, making the increase in factory farming futile in the long run.
Although the closing down of factory farming in the Amazon will cause issues, it simply is not efficient or environmentally safe to continue this practice. Meat production requires significant amounts of water and grain to feed the animals, as well as land for storing them. In fact, as stipulated by The Conversation, 1 kg of red meat requires 25 kg of grain as food for the animal and approximately 15,000 litres of water. This is water and grain that is being poured into animal agriculture to make a profit instead of offered to the poor and needy.
An obvious solution to the problem would be cutting down on animal farming, meaning less land would be needed and there would be far less emissions as a result of this. Another important priority would be for governments to talk about the danger of animal agriculture and raise awareness of the dangerous outcomes it possesses, instead of simply blaming the transportation sector entirely for climate change. Even though this is a difficult conversation to have and many prefer to remain uneducated about the issue, it is vital for world peace and the survival of future generations. This does not necessarily mean that all factory farming will end over night, but the continuation of factory farming in the Amazon must come to an end in order to protect important land and environmental security.
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