The scale of the crisis is unfathomable: the skies of Sao Paulo darkened with smoke from the Amazon aflame thousands of miles away. A terrifying climate double whammy is upon us: As the forest burns, the trees release stored carbon in the form of greenhouse-gas-inducing carbon dioxide; and as these forests vanish, we lose the carbon-storing potential of the trees. It may seem there’s nothing we in the United States can do, but the drivers of this destruction, including agribusiness and their financiers, are more closely connected to us than we may realize—heightening our responsibility to act.
In response to the global fury at these fires, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has played up his nationalist rhetoric: What right does the rest of the world have to tell us what to do with our forests? But this is not about foreigners telling Brazilians what to do with their natural resources. This is about people around the world standing up for the Amazon’s globally vital ecosystems in solidarity with indigenous people who call those forests home.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that the global food system is a significant contributor to the climate crisis, to the tune of nearly one-third of all emissions. Most of that is from what climate experts call “land use change,” when, for instance, formerly biodiverse Indonesian peatland is converted into plantations for oil palm destined for the bellies of cars in the form of biodiesel fuel or the bellies of people in the form of processed foods. Or when carbon-rich rain forest is cleared to make way for cattle or soy destined for industrial meat operations around the world. Land-use change is on hyperdrive as the Amazon burns.