The Amazon is burning because of our gluttony for meat

The Amazon is burning because of our gluttony for meat
© Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Citizens around the world have been horrified to learn about fires burning in the Amazon rainforest. This important ecological system, which has been called “the lungs of the planet,” absorbs greenhouse gasses and plays a critical role in mitigating threats of the climate crisis. 

It also provides vital habitat to millions of plant and animal species, which could be threatened with extinction. 

Public outrage over the destruction of the rainforest is entirely appropriate, but outrage is not enough. Our shared anguish needs to be transformed into collective action. We should support activists and indigenous communities who are fighting to protect the planet and engage with our elected officials.

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But, it’s also critically important to address the underlying drivers of this devastation and for people who live in affluent societies to stop contributing disproportionately to the problem. 

We need to become more conscientious global citizens and recognize the deleterious impacts of our habits and resource-intensive lifestyles. Everyday, we make choices that have profound consequences, especially when it comes to our food. 

Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to the loss of rainforests and other precious ecosystems, and consumers who purchase meat, milk, and eggs bear significant responsibility. Exploiting animals for food is inherently inefficient and requires inordinate amounts of land and other precious resources. 

In the U.S., we use 10 times more acreage for animal agriculture than for plant-based agriculture, and this untenable pattern is being replicated around the globe. The excessive demands of animal agriculture are putting the Amazon is at risk.

The fact is, we can feed more people with less land and fewer resources, while drastically lightening our ecological footprint, by eating plants instead of animals.

Our species’ gluttony for animal foods contributes more to the climate crisis than the entire transportation industry, and it’s also a leading cause of the loss of biodiversity. 

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When scientists conducted a survey of species living on earth, they found that 96 percent of the land mammals were either human beings or domesticated animals, primarily farm animals, while only 4 percent were living in the wild. 

Tragically, rainforests and other diverse ecosystems and habitats are being destroyed in order to feed farm animals, either through grazing or for the production of crops like soybeans. 

Many things are outside of our control, but every day, we can make conscientious choices that will make a world of difference, and that can start on our plate. Instead of allowing our anger to turn into despair, let’s use it to motivate action. Now is the time to stop contributing to the problem and to work on becoming part of the solution.

Gene Baur is president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal rescue and advocacy organization.