Choose to have a positive impact on the Amazon Rainforest! Deforestation is a response to the market driven demand of several products that can be easily found in US stores; namely palm oil, soy bean, and cattle. All three industries operate in the Amazon region and are responsible for the majority of recent deforestation. While the individual may not have a say implementing policy changes to protect the Amazon, they can cast their vote as a consumer.
Product: Palm oil, produced from the fruit of the African Oil Palm, has an unusually high melting point, lending it to a multitude of versatile uses. It is also cheaper than animal fat and more productive than soy, which is why it constitutes such a significant portion of the global food market: World Wildlife Fund estimates that up to half of all supermarket products now contain palm oil or palm oil derivates. Palm oil can be found in cosmetics, detergent, chocolate, margarine, ice cream, pizza dough, etc. Unfortunately, the African Oil Palm can only be produced in tropical rainforests and the industry has an infamous history of driving deforestation in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil plantations have expanded into the Eastern Amazon of Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador.
What you can do: Research a bit about which brands have committed to sourcing sustainable palm oil, and look for the RSPO certification on products in the supermarket.
Product: Soy bean production is one of the most culpable industries involved in Amazonian deforestation. After extensive amounts of primary forests were converted to soy bean plantations in the early 2000s, the soybean industry voluntarily agreed to a moratorium which constricted traders to only purchasing soy from areas which had been deforested before 2006. While largely successful, soy still operates as a driver of deforestation. As soy plantations replace cattle pasture, cattle pasture pushes further into the forest. The majority of soy bean exports are used as animal feed in livestock production. Soy is found in almost all commercially produced meat in the United States. As the world’s economy develops, the demand for meat, and thus soy, increases, putting pressure on invaluable forest ecosystems.
What you can do: Cut down on the amount of meat and animal products you consume, or choose meat that is local and grass fed.
Product: Cattle ranching is responsible for 80% of the current deforestation rates in the Amazon Basin. Beef is an increasingly lucrative market, the demand rising as countries develop. Yet it is a low yield industry; it takes approximately one hectare to produce one cow. Pasture now occupies approximately 450,000 square kilometers of deforested Amazon in Brazil. This current trend is unlikely to improve, as the US recently began importing Brazilian beef in 2016, after many years of banning it due to food safety concerns.
What can you do: Again, adopting a less beef intensive diet or opting for locally sourced meat is the way to remove oneself from systems of deforestation and environmental degradation.
Brown-Lima, C., Cooney, M., Cleary, D. An Overview of the Brazil-China Soybean Trade and its Strategic Implications for Conservation.The Nature Conservancy Latin America Region. Retrieved 27 July 2017 from: https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/southamerica/brazil/explore/brazil-china-soybean-trade.pdf
Fearnside, P. M. (1993). Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: the effect of population and land tenure. Ambio-Journal of Human Environment Research and Management, 22(8), 537-545.
Global Forest Atlas. (2017). Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Region. Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Retrieved from http://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/cattle-ranching
Boucher, D., Elias, P., Lininger, K., May-Tobin, C., Roquemore, S., & Saxon, E. (2011). The root of the problem: what’s driving tropical deforestation today?. The root of the problem: what’s driving tropical deforestation today?
USDA (2016). USDA Announces Reopening of Brazilian Market to U.S. Beef Exports. Retrieved from: https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2016/08/01/usda-announces-reopening-brazilian-market-us-beef-exports