The Amazon Is Burning for Beef

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest – the world’s largest rainforest responsible for 20 percent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere – is burning at an unprecedented rate right now. Often referred to as “the lungs of the planet,” the Amazon is home to more than three million species of animals and plants, and one million indigenous people. It is also a vital carbon storage that slows the pace of global warming.

New Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) now shows an 84 percent increase in fires in the Amazon when compared to 2018.

The fires seen from space via NASA

While some wildfires are natural this time of year in the region, fires are also purposely set by farmers to clear land for cattle ranching. The World Bank estimates that up to 91 percent of all Amazon deforestation is done for animal agriculture; not just to raise cattle but also to grow monocrops like soy to feed cattle. Brazil is the world’s second-largest beef producer just after the United States.

Many are blaming Brazil’s new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, for the recent fires. Much to the dismay of conservationists, Bolsonaro has relaxed environmental protections in favor of business and development in the rainforest. Scientists claim that since Bolsonaro took office in January, the Amazon has suffered losses at an accelerated rate due to burning and clearing.

A man works in a burning tract of the Amazon as its cleared
Photo credit: Reuters/Bruno Kelly
A charred section of the Amazon after burning
Photo credit: Reuters/Bruno Kelly

Bolsonaro actually fired INPE’s lead scientist, Ricardo Galvão, for defending satellite data that proved deforestation was 88 percent higher in June than it was last year. Bolonsaro flat out called the data “lies.” The satellite imagery shows an area about the size of one and half soccer fields being destroyed every single minute of every single day.

In addition to decimating the Amazon, beef production exacerbates climate change in other ways as well. Because cows produce massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas thirty times more powerful than carbon dioxide, it is a major contributor to the climate crisis. The UN’s recent IPCC report found that 22 percent of greenhouse gas emission are the result of animal agriculture, forestry, and other land use – animal agriculture being the main culprit, specifically beef production. 

São Paulo is thrust into darkness due to smoke from the fires
Photo credit: Nilton Fukuda

While this devastating tragedy in the Amazon unfolds, it is up to all of us to speak out and take action. First order of business: Stop eating meat. It is hands down the most important personal decision you can make to help safeguard our planet from the catastrophic effects of climate change.

And with all of the incredible plant-based alternatives on the market today, there is simply no excuse. In fact, a recent study found that one vegan Beyond Burger requires 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, 90 percent less greenhouse gases, and 46 less energy to produce when compared to one beef burger. The planet can’t wait.