Fire, Fire Burning bright, how much of the Amazon will be destroyed tonight? OK, I’m not much of poet in case you didn’t know it. But there’s an ecological disaster brewing in the Amazon and raising livestock for meat is the primary cause.
There has been a catastrophic clearing of the Amazonian and Central American rainforests, which has largely been done to create grazing land so that cattle can be raised for export. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, beef exports have accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The total area destroyed increased from 102.5 million acres in 1990 to 145 million acres in 2000. In only 10 years, an area twice the size of Portugal was destroyed, almost all of it to clear pasture for cattle. David Kaimowitz, Director of the Center for International Forestry Research, says, “Cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil’s rain forests.” To make matters worse half of the Central American rainforest has been destroyed as well to raise meat.
Recently, the Amazon has also seen a rise in soy production, with farm animals raised in Europe as its largest customer. It’s important note that, according to the Nature Conservancy, 80% of the world’s soy production is used for farm animal feed, so even the soy production is primarily meat driven.
The rainforest is home to a large number of animals and plants, including many rare and endangered species, that are being destroyed by cattle ranching. Almost as bad is the fact that tropical rainforest land cleared for pasture is very susceptible to soil erosion, given the special nature of rainforest soil and the special climate in tropical regions.
According to National Geographic, scientists fear that an additional 20 percent of the trees in the Amazon will be lost over the next two decades. If that happens, the forest’s ecology will begin to unravel. Intact, the Amazon produces half its own rainfall through the moisture it releases into the atmosphere. Eliminate enough of that rain through clearing, and the remaining trees dry out and die.
With attention focused so much on global warming, it’s easy to forget other ecological crises that are related to meat consumption. The environmental effects of raising meat are many and include water pollution, soil erosion, as well global warming and ecological destruction. As world meat consumption continues to rise, and the damage to the environment rises with it, the value of a vegetarian diet in sustaining the planet becomes ever more clear.