Amazon rainforest burns; solution found in veganism

Illustration by Hannah Franklin

Illustration by Hannah Franklin

Maia Schwallie, co-opinions editor

When I was in fourth grade, my class spent a full school day celebrating the wonders of the Amazon Rainforest. We praised the majestic animal kingdom that inhabits the forest walls and thanked the “lungs of the planet” for giving us life. Home to countless animal species and hundreds of indigenous people, my grade school teacher engrained in my mind that this lushious forest should be protected at all costs. But the Amazon is not safe; it is burning and has been burning for years.

Contrary to popular belief, Amazon fires are not a new issue. An article published in National Geographic on Sept. 5 stated that since record-keeping began in 1998, hundreds of thousands of fires have enveloped the Amazon every year. These numbers are only increasing. More than 93,000 fires raged through the Amazon so far this year, up 80 percent from 2018.

Many of us have assumed these fires were a byproduct of global warming, yet most Amazonian fires are intentionally set by cattle ranchers, hungry for monetary gain and increasing their farm land to satiate that wish. The irony that this green wonderland, perfectly crafted to house magnificent and diverse creatures will now be used to raise cows for slaughter is devastating. Deforestation and increased animal farming are completely detrimental to our planet—something needs to change. I believe the first step in this change is altering our diet.

As a vegan, meaning I obstain from wearing, consuming and purchasing all animal products, I concern myself greatly with the condition of the environment. I have watched countless documentaries, suffered through disturbing slaughterhouse footage, and thoroughly researched the effects of the agriculture business on climate change. While educating myself on these problems consistently breaks my heart, the grim statistics that fill my mind motivate me to advocate for vegan lifestyles- the kind of lifestyle that could save the Amazon and our planet.

Greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of climate change, and as the private research organization, Worldwatch Institute, reports, animal agriculture accounts for 51 percent of those emissions. When the majority of climate change is a direct result of the agriculture business, it is naive to negate the immorality of a carnivorous diet.

A meat-eater has a carbon footprint more than double that of a vegan, and in a world where we can not afford to increase our carbon emissions, a vegan diet is absolutely necessary. According to a 2014 study published in Climatic Change, an international journal devoted to unpacking climate change and its causes, a meat-eater has a carbon footprint more than double that of a vegan, and in a world where we can not afford to increase our carbon emissions, a vegan diet is absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to deny how deeply eating meat is ingrained in our culture. According to the U.S. department of Agriculture, Americans consumed 17.4 pounds of red meat and chicken last year, more than any other country. This troubling statistic highlights how truly difficult it will be to undo our nation’s dependence on meat. However, there is an exigence to eradicate this culture. The study also predicts that in the next forty years, the environmental effects of the food system will increase 50 to 90 percent, sailing beyond the limitations of what constitutes a safe, hospitable environment.

Humans need to acknowledge that we are the reason the climate is changing and the Amazon is burning. Every time we order a hamburger we are contributing to our planet’s exorbitant demand for animal products. Every chicken nugget we pop into our mouths, every Thanksgiving turkey and every slice of bacon we consume is shooting greenhouse gases into the air and shortening the life span of our beautiful planet.

I know how easy it is to remove ourselves from the problem, to falsely believe that since we are not in Brazil holding the torch and setting the Amazon aflame that we are still doing our part. I understand that it feels good to post on our Instagram stories spreading awareness like wildfire, but we can not let convenience overrule integrity. Feeling bad for the Amazon is simply not enough. Sending thoughts and prayers or sizeable donations will never negate the fact that our society is based on a culture of meat-eaters. This culture is killing our planet and if we do not change it, our posterity is in danger.

I am scared for our future. We can no longer sit idly by buying “cage-free eggs” and “humanely slaughtered” animals, convincing ourselves that that is enough. In a time where our glaciers are melting, our species are going extinct, and our forests are on fire, we need to take action.

But amidst this fear that our descendants may not have a planet to call their own, I am hopeful  that humanity will do what is right for our home. I believe that now more than ever a rejuvenated sense of morality is sweeping our society  and will soon propel us in the direction of a more plant-based diet. Hopefully one day there will be no need to destroy the Amazon, but for now, I just ask you to evaluate what you are eating, think about its consequences, and wonder, “Is it really worth it?”