Amazon Fires

Aug. 25, 2019

I thought to blog about the Amazon rainforest fire and climate change, but as I started to read about it online, I found the reality of it is: these fires are not directly caused by climate change. As a matter of fact, the rain forest is so damp it is extremely rare for a natural fire to occur. Currently, the Amazon is on fire because people chose to do so. The rainforest is on fire due to political and economic factors. But those factors seem to me to be the root of the environmental dilemma as well as other issues such as social justice. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a statement Friday the Amazon rainforest "is being burnt because of the irresponsible behavior of a small number of international politicians and corporate executives." Also, it’s difficult to make the argument to a dirt poor rancher that burning the rainforest to meet his family’s immediate needs is less important than the generations that are not yet born.

What’s amazing to me is that Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef. (The United States does not import meat from Brazil, the main importers are Russia, Europe and the Middle East.) Cattle are actually plains kind of animals- adapted as grassland grazers. Obviously, the rainforest must be adapted to make way for ranching. But one of the biggest problems is that rainforest soils are not the best soils for grasses. So, more and more forest must be burned out because the soils are easily exhausted. Currently much of the land that was set fire was not old growth, but land that had already been cleared of trees and set for agricultural use.

Cattle account for 14.5% of total global emissions of greenhouse gases. I don’t often talk about the environmental impact of eating lower on the food chain. One reason is that I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I must admit that I am a carnivore. I do strive to buy free range meat, because I believe the agribusiness practices of feed lots is inhumane and also unhealthy. Unhealthy because the animals must be dosed with antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to slaughter during the feedlot fattening process. That’s about maximizing profits and living things shouldn’t be only about maximizing profits. But eating lower on the food chain is one thing that would have a tremendous positive impact on the environment. Also, most of our lifestyle illnesses, heart disease, stroke, can be reduced by less animal fats in our diets. We would be healthier too. It’s a win-win situation except for the enjoyment of a good steak.

So, the Amazon rain forest is not on fire due to climate change, although it will contribute to climate change. It is adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and less trees mean less carbon sequestering. So rather than being a carbon sink, it is adding to the carbon in the air. In addition, the Amazon rain forest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen supply. These are the reasons why so many people are concerned about forest fires across the world.