Don’t go vegan for the Amazon
I spent the last two days writing an article titled “Meat or oxygen? Pick one.” I was happy with how it turned out, it probably would have appealed to you. But I’ve decided not to publish it. You see, my article was built on the fact that demand for meat drives deforestation and the widely stated claim that the Amazon produces 20 percent of all our oxygen, but when I ran my last check to make sure I could back up all my claims I discovered that none of the major news sites who made this claim provided a source. They were just repeating each other. So, I dug deeper and found out that it’s actually not true. It’s not even close to true. The oxygen produced by the living plants is taken in by the decomposing plants, so the Amazon doesn’t affect our oxygen supply at all. And if that’s not enough, I also found out that although there’s more fire activity than usual in Brazil this year, NASA has put out a statement that the amount of fire activity in the entire Amazon is actually close to the average of the past fifteen years. So, in light of all that, here’s an article on why you should not go vegan for the Amazon.
The fundamental weakness
I’m being completely honest here, I’m not going to tell you to go vegan for the Amazon. This is not a clickbait article. I do think there are certain things you should know about the situation in the Amazon, though. Things that are actually true.
You should know that Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is irrelevant to the whole discussion. I think it’s true that he doesn’t care about the Amazon or the indigenous people who live there, he seems totally fine with deforestation, but he’s not the root cause of it. Deforestation has been going on since long before he became president and the reason for it is not political or cultural, it’s basic supply and demand.
This is easy to understand once you know the fundamental weakness of the animal industries. That fundamental weakness is that they’re not producing food. Yes, you read that right. Allow me to explain: When you grow crops you’re producing food, you start with zero calories and you end up with many. But when you’re raising animals, you need to feed those animals first, and you need to feed them a lot more calories than you eventually get back in the form of meat or other animal products.
Worldwide, we use about 7 percent of all land to grow crops for direct human consumption, that’s where we get 83 percent of all our calories from. Because of the animal industries’ fundamental weakness, they can’t even come close to that level of efficiency. We only get 17 percent of our calories from animal products and the animal industries use 30 percent of all land in the world to provide that.
Because the world has yet to wake up to the fact that the animal industries are completely unsustainable, the demand for animal products continues to increase. As a result, the animal industries constantly need more land and more crops to feed to animals. One of the crops most commonly used as feed is soy. This sometimes confuses people, as soy is commonly associated with veganism, but the vast majority of soy that is produced is actually fed to animals.
How is this related to the Amazon?
Thanks to the power of supply and demand, Brazil has taken it upon itself to supply what the world demands. It has become the world’s largest exporter of both beef and soy. This is how they produce it: They burn down a piece of the Amazon in the dry season and let the ashes fertilize the land. Then all they need to do is wait for the rainy season and the land becomes perfect for growing grass for cattle. They raise cattle, slaughter them and sell their meat. Once they’re done with the land, the pastures get replaced by soy plantations while they burn down another piece of the Amazon and repeat the process.
As I said, they’ve been doing this for a long time. We’re talking decades here. 20 percent of the Amazon has already been cleared. And yes, the government has some effect on it, but they’re not fundamentally driving it. Global demand for meat and other animal products is doing that. And because the government also profits when beef and soy are exported, we can’t count on them to stop it. The simple truth is that as long as there’s more demand for animal products than there are animal products in the world, Brazil will keep doing this, until the Amazon is gone.
Thankfully, it won’t cost us any oxygen. But because the Amazon absorbs heat and carbon dioxide while simultaneously pumping water into the atmosphere, which leads to rain in areas that would otherwise be dry, deforestation does actually affect the climate. And with tens of thousands of plant and tree species and millions of insect and other animal species it’s also one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, deforestation will drive those species to extinction and disrupt the entire ecosystem.
It won’t stick
So, why am I not telling you to go vegan for the Amazon? Well, for one reason: It won’t stick.
I could be wrong, of course, but let me just tell you why I think that: The Amazon is probably far away from where you live and the problems are too abstract. I get that you might feel very passionately about it now, but that’s because it’s currently on fire and everyone is talking about it. Pretty soon, people will put out the fires or it will rain and everyone will start talking about something else again. The deforestation will continue, but it will be out of sight and it will be gradual, and the effects will be gradual too. You won’t be able to personally trace any change in climate back to deforestation of the Amazon and you won’t miss any of the countless species either because you’ve never seen them anyway. Most of the people around you will continue to eat meat and if the topic comes up the blame will be shifted onto politicians and corporations. You won’t be reminded of it often and no one will hold you responsible if you eat animal products.
What will stick?
There’s no doubt that going vegan is best for the Amazon. But if you want it to stick you’ll need a stronger, more tangible reason to do it. A reason that will keep you motivated to stay vegan long after this news cycle is over. Thankfully, that reason exists, and it’s been on your plate the whole time. It’s the animal in “animal products.”
Once you focus on the animals you realize how much you’ve been conditioned to overlook them. You’ve been conditioned to such an extent that you literally have body parts of young innocent animals on your plate, and instead of thinking about what you can do to prevent more of those animals getting killed, you’re worried about trees. And you’re only considering saving the animals because it might help to save the trees. Do you see how absurd that is?
The animals in the industries are as sentient as dogs and cats. They have thoughts and emotions and they want to live. Surely we should focus on saving them before we focus on saving trees? Especially when saving them requires nothing more than buying different products.
If you focus on the animals and avoid contributing to their unnecessary suffering and death, everything else will fall into place. Your priorities will be straight, your actions will be aligned with your priorities, and you will find it easy to live in harmony with the planet. Go vegan for the animals, and you’ll save the Amazon in the process.
Need help? Check out these useful free resources: Dominion (documentary on the animal industries), Questioning Meat (my e-book, filled with information), and Challenge 22 (recipes and guidance for aspiring vegans).