Amazon deforestation and ethical consumerism: This is WWIII

I’ll get to the main topic of how to save the Amazon rainforest in a moment. First, (bear with me!) I often wondered what life would feel like to live during WWII. Over the last few years I’ve had this growing feeling that we are entering a conflict that’s as close as we are going to get to World War III. Although it has roots in Bush/Cheney and their reactions to 9/11 and climate change, it really got started in 2016 with the double whammy of Brexit and Trump, and has escalated since then. Sociopaths have gained control of many countries and are targeting two main enemies:

  1. The planet, or more accurately those pesky hippies and nerds who’s hand-wringing over climate change and animal habitats threatens corporate profits.
  2. Poor people, non-white-heterosexual-men, immigrants, and refugees.

You might think that these are two quite disparate fronts but I’m fairly confident that they are actually related. My hypothesis is that right-wing leaders like Trump are fully aware that climate change is real and their psychotic plan is to ride it out for a while in order to weed the world of undesirables (i.e., anyone who can’t afford to insulate themselves from the impact of climate change). This is apparent in Trump’s pretty obvious lack of empathy (or action) for people in Puerto Rico and the southern states who have been hammered by hurricanes. Perhaps he and his cronies gather in red velvet rooms, surrounded by animal trophies, debating projections on population decimation over their cigars. They have contingencies for riding this out – the elite will become even more exclusive and the poor will disappear – it’s a win-win. And this is not limited to just making ‘merica great again – it’s spreading like a cancer.

Examples of this onslaught are all too common in our daily news, worldwide. To pick a random example that you may not know of, Doug Ford cancelled 227 clean energy projects as well as the greenhouse gas emissions cap and trade program in Ontario. But the right-wing-led planetary assault that’s on everyone’s mind at the moment is the acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon. Before tackling the question of what we can do to save the Amazon rainforest, let’s take a look at what’s driving the deforestation.

What’s driving Amazon deforestation?

Take a look at the map below showing the world soy trade: the major routes in 2014 were from the US and Brazil to China. Trump’s irrational trade war against China has changed this – China has cut imports from the US and is more reliant on soy from Brazil and other South American countries, hurting the American farmers that Trump purports to love. The same goes for Brazilian beef exports to Asia. This works out perfectly for Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro (self-dubbed “Captain Chainsaw”), who has decided to open up the Amazon for business.

A world map showing arrows to depict trade routes for soybeans, mainly originating in the US, Brazil and Argentina, and the main destinations being China and the EU.
Global trade in soybeans and soy-based products in 2014, from a Chatham House 2016 report on Agricultural Commodity Supply Chains. The trade map for organic soybeans would look fairly different, with China, the US, and Canada being significant exporters (followed by India, Austria, and Italy).

While campaigning for president last year, Mr. Bolsonaro declared that Brazil’s vast protected lands were an obstacle to economic growth and promised to open them up to commercial exploitation. – NY Times

When I touched on the subject of Amazon deforestation just a few months ago, I was heartened by the reduction in deforestation rates over the last decade, thanks to efforts such as the Soya Moratorium. Everything has changed since then.

The rate of Amazon deforestation increased by around 34% between May 2018 and May 2019, and that’s even before the fires got going. Meanwhile, as Trump has idiotically stymied the US soy industry and strengthened Chinese demand for Brazilian soy and beef, the EU is also adding fuel to the fires by debating approval of the Mercusor agreement, which would increase EU agricultural imports from Brazil and other South American countries.

This is war, folks, but it’s not your normal war; the enemies of the planet include political figures who were elected by a substantial portion of the population. Conflict is not the solution – the onslaught needs to be countered with logic, science, and ethics. It is pretty much the ultimate test of humanity, whether our mindsets can evolve in time to save the planet. The actions we take as consumers are paramount.

A large part of the problem is rooted in the way most of the world’s food ingredients are traded: commodity markets. The size and lack of traceability of these markets allow large corporations to meet their supply needs in the cheapest and most anonymous way possible.

In 2006, Greenpeace identified commodity giants Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and Bunge and fast food giants such as McDonald’s as major culprits of Amazon deforestation. The Soya Moratorium was put in place soon after that but I wonder will they take advantage of this rise in free-for-all-capitalism-at-the-expense-of-the-planet and go back to their old ways? I’ll be taking a look at them in future posts : )

A central facet of ethical consumerism is to know where your stuff comes from. This isn’t such a big deal when your diet is composed mostly of fruit and veg, but becomes more complex when dealing with processed food and consumer goods that are often derived from commodity markets. Let’s take a look at some actions that can help save the Amazon rainforest.

An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest on a sunny day, showing mainly trees and small waterways.
Amazon rainforest, aerial view. Photo credit:  CIFOR

How to save the Amazon rainforest

I’ve covered ethical consumerism issues related to tropical forests in the past. Here’s a quick reminder of a few of them:

  1. Kick the meat habit, and especially beef. And most especially beef where you don’t know its origin. For inspiration, take a look at the recent posts on alternatives to meat, like Beyond Meat and Tofurky.
  2. For soy products such as tofu, make sure to choose organic brands of known origin (a few US and EU brands that deserve a high Green Stars ranking are mentioned in this post).
  3. For coffee, avoid generic multinational brands that buy on the commodity market and opt for direct-trade or fair trade certified shade-grown coffee.
  4. Same deal with chocolate – avoid the huge companies that make generic chocolate from commodity bought cacao and support smaller brands that offer shade-grown cacao that supports a forest canopy.
  5. Palm Oil has devastated tropical rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia but Brazil is also a minor producer of palm oil and has plans to expand. I still have a policy to avoid palm oil, except in a few cases where a sustainable supply chain (and not just RSPO-certified) is established.
  6. Chewing gum ranges from either end of the sustainability spectrum, with biodegradable gum that’s sustainably harvested by skilled workers in the rainforest ranking on the high end of the Green Stars scale.
  7. Similarly, rubber used for items like shoes can be made from petroleum or tapped from tress. There are brands out there, like Veja, that aim to support sustainably-tapped rubber from the Amazon.

So make no mistake: time is running out and it’s really important that we start treating this seriously – as seriously as you would respond to WWIII. Because, for all intents and purposes, that’s the situation we’re in.

Besides the ethical consumerism actions above that support indigenous people and avoid corporate exploitation, there are also other ways to make a difference such as supporting forest conservation and tree planting. Here’s one very easy way to make a change as a consumer that will positively impact global forests: change your search engine to Ecosia.

More on that in the next post!

19 thoughts on “Amazon deforestation and ethical consumerism: This is WWIII

      1. A very informative read. It’s really terrifying how little we know about what politics is doing to us.

  1. I agree with you about the wealthy and powerful just trying to get as much money as they can out of our natural resources before citizens start revolting. Whether they’ll revolt in time to save the planet is debatable.

  2. Excellent post! Glad you tackled this, and great that you have listed such specific actions. The difference in export origins between organic and non-organic soy is very interesting and not much talked about – looks like this alone could have a huge impact on the Brazilian deforestation issue. Thank you.

  3. Grateful for your information sharing. I hope you have a very large audience. We MUST make these important changes as soon as possible! Thank you for speaking truth about the facts in an era when both are in short supply among this country’s so-called leaders.

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