Have you recently enjoyed a chicken sandwich for lunch? If so, chances are high that your lunch contributed to the global rise in carbon emissions and the destruction of one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
Wildfires fueled by global appetite
In 2020 alone, an area of the Amazon forest burnt down that was larger than Fiji. While fire is often a natural process to manage vegetation, nine out of 10 of the Amazon fires in 2020 followed the intention to convert tropical rainforest into commercially used land. The Amazon is the world’s largest, most diverse tropical rainforest and Earth’s largest carbon sink, covering an area of 5.5 million km2, and it is often referred to as the world’s green lung.
individual fires in 2020
of primary forest loss
people hospitalized due to respiratory illness in 2020
people affected by harmful levels of air pollution
However, an increase in meat consumption, particularly in the European Union and China, in combination with local political decisions and limited monitoring and enforcement, has led to a record rate of deforestation and wildfires. In the Amazon, wildfires are used as a tool for clearing land and converting forest vegetation into mostly agricultural land for livestock and soybean production. Around 77 per cent of these soybeans are then used for animal fodder, especially for poultry like the one in your chicken sandwich. Even if meat is not directly produced in the Amazon, through the interconnections of global supply chains, meat consumption is a root cause of the destruction of the Amazon.
The deforestation of the Amazon, especially through the use of wildfires, strongly decreases local rainfall. The effect of this rainfall decrease has already been felt: in the year 2020 it caused human-made fires to go ‘wild’, leading to a vicious cycle which presents the very realistic threat of a tipping point being approached, after which parts of the rainforest will no longer be able to sustain themselves and will transform into grassland. Today, the Amazon is in steep decline and as more and more trees are lost, there is increasing risk of the region changing from a net carbon dioxide capturer to a net emitter.
From 2002−2019, 142,000 km² of Amazon rainforest was destroyed. In 2020 wildfires raged in regions around the world, including Australia, Indonesia, United States (California) and Russia (Siberia).
Wildfires will most likely become more frequent, longer and more severe due to an increase in global meat demand, greater accessibility of untouched areas due to road expansions, the recent decline in commitment of national governments to forest protection, and the change in weather conditions due to climate change.
The impacts of forest fires and widespread deforestation are already felt globally. They exacerbate climate change, threaten biodiversity and reduce many of nature’s benefits that are central to the livelihoods of indigenous and local groups.
Pressures related to increasing consumptive demands for goods, such as food, energy and industrial materials
Cases where maximizing profit is prioritized over other social concerns, increasing risk
Lack of coherent national/global governance, unregulated exploitation of low and middle-income countries, limited governmental capacity
Pursuit of economic or developmental interests with a lack of consideration for impacts on the environment
A lack of perception, awareness or preparation in governance relating to risk management and response
Gases released into the atmosphere by human activities contribute to increasing global warming and climate change
Absence or ineffective enforcement of regulations connected to other risk drivers
Intentional mass removal of trees, often for resource extraction or changing land use.
A prolonged shortage of water supply, often due to extended periods of insufficient rainfall.
Increasing temperatures in the ocean or atmosphere, for example from climate change
Even those surviving disasters or tipping point impacts when they occur can be at risk of short- and long-term health impacts cascading from pollution, damage of critical infrastructure, livelihood disruption or other consequences of systems being affected
Reduction of people’s ability to support themselves or their family, both temporarily or permanently, is an impact that is interconnected with many others, including health and food security
Just like people, nature also feels the impacts of systems tipping and various hazards resulting in threats to health and physical damage to individuals, populations, communities or entire ecosystems