As ever, our decisions about how we spend our money are crucial.
The main impact is from food production. We saw the terrible fires in the Amazon in 2019, when over 80,000 fires were recorded. This was an increase of 80% on the previous year, and 2020 looks set to break the record again. Most fires are started deliberately by farmers clearing land for pasture, or to grow crops to feed their cattle. Brazil dominates the world’s beef markets. Buying beef from S America has a direct causal effect on the destruction of the Amazon.
However, we vegetarians shouldn’t feel too virtuous, as soy production, to meet growing demand particularly in Asia and Europe, is quickly catching up with beef farming as the main cause of rainforest destruction.
The lesson for us all? We should check the provenance of the food we buy. In how much destruction are we prepared to be complicit?
Similarly, palm oil production destroys huge swathes of rainforest every year. Although the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), established in 2004, has created a ‘sustainable palm oil’ accreditation, Greenpeace argues that this is virtually meaningless, that their standards are not enforced and that fires and clearance occur as much on accredited plantations as on others. It’s extremely difficult to avoid the ubiquitous palm oil, but any reduction we can achieve is worthwhile. Read more here.
However, there are less obvious ways in which we inadvertently encourage the capturing of and cruelty towards wild animals. In East Asia, the market for wild animals as ‘pets’ is thriving: people have learned that showing these ‘cute’ creatures on their You Tube channels can be lucrative. We should not watch these. Instead, we must report them.
There are other ways we might unknowingly cause suffering. Civet coffee (Kopi Luwak), considered a novelty and a luxury, is made from partially digested coffee beans which have been through the digestive tract of the palm civet, a wild animal and a crucial part of the ecosystem in which it lives. Originally, these beans were just picked up from the ground in the wild, but now that civet coffee commands such a high price, it is ‘farmed’ with the helpless palm civets kept in captivity in appalling conditions. Read more here.