Are You Paying to Burn the Rainforest?  

Posted by Big Gav

George Monbiot notes that while biodiesel producing soy farms are one cause of Brazilian rainforest destruction (and hence global warming) the worst culprit is beef farming.

The last three years have been the most destructive in the Brazilian Amazon’s history. In 2004, 26,000 square kilometres of rainforest were burnt: the second highest rate on record. This year could be worse. And most of it is driven by cattle ranching.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research, cattle pasture accounts for six times more cleared land in the Amazon than cropland: even the notorious soya farmers, who have ploughed some five million hectares of former rainforest, cover just one tenth of the ground taken by the beef producers. The four Amazon states in which the most beef is produced are the four with the highest deforestation rates.

Cattle ranching, if it keeps expanding in the Amazon, threatens two-fifths of the world’s remaining rainforest. This is not just the most diverse ecosystem, but also the biggest reserve of standing carbon. Its clearance could provoke a hydrological disaster in South America, as rainfall is reduced as the trees come down. Next time you see footage of the forest burning, remember that you might have paid for it.

Many Brazilians, especially those whose land is being grabbed by the cattlemen, are trying to stop the destruction. The ranchers have an effective argument: when people complain, they kill them. In February we heard an echo of the massacre which has so far claimed 1200 lives, when the American nun Dorothy Stang was murdered – almost certainly by beef producers. The ranchers believed to have killed her were, like cattlemen throughout the Amazon, protected by the police.

For the same reason, and despite the best efforts of President Lula, the ranchers are now employing some 25,000 slaves on their estates. These are people who are transported thousands of miles from their home states, then – forced to buy their provisions from the ranch shop at inflated prices – kept in permanent debt. Because of the expansion of beef production in the Amazon, slavery in Brazil has quintupled in ten years.

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