Saving Tropical Forests to Stop Global Warming

Cattle graze next to the burning Amazon. Copyright Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Tropical deforestation is a net loss: of irreplacable ancient ecosystems, of diverse animal and plant species, and of the capacity for indigenous communities to follow their traditional way of life.

But deforestation’s contribution to global warming has the potential to become far and away its most devastating consequence.

Some 20% of the world’s human-caused carbon emissions – roughly 1.6 billion metric tons a year – come from burning forests to create agricultural and grazing land. On top of that, the world’s forests are responsible for soaking up as much as 4.8 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions every year.

So if we’re going to tackle global warming, we’ve got to stop deforestation.

The single largest driver of deforestation is the cattle industry in Brazil; at least one acre of Amazon rainforest is burned down every eight seconds to make grazing land for cows. The industry is responsible for 80% of deforestation in the Amazon.

Nevertheless, Brazil’s cattle industry is being bankrolled by the Brazilian government, according to a new report put out by Greenpeace (where I work) – despite the fact that the Brazilian government has pledged to end deforestation in the Amazon by 2015.

The Greenpeace report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” resulted from a three-year investigation into Brazil’s cattle industry. This investigation exposed the Brazilian government’s complicity in bankrolling deforestation in the Amazon, and also uncovered several top name shoe brands – such as Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and Timberland – whose demand for leather may be supporting cattle ranchers that are illegally destroying the Amazon.

The Brazilian Minister of the Environment recently stated his agreement with the Greenpeace report’s findings, and several large supermarket chains in Brazil have announced that they will refuse to purchase beef from farms linked to Amazonian deforestation. Even more importantly, the World Bank’s finance arm recently announced that it was revoking a loan it had granted to one of the part-Brazilian-owned companies, Bertin, that is singled out in the report for buying cattle from ranches involved in illegal deforestation.

Brazil is not alone in driving Amazon deforestation, though, so it shouldn’t have to take sole responsibility for fixing the problem. The global trade in so-called “cattle products,” plays an enormous role. So the multinational corporations whose blind consumption of raw materials is fueling deforestation need to take action. And given their high profiles, brands like Nike, Adidas, and Timberland could help make a major impact.

Some of these companies, like Nike and Timberland especially, pride themselves on being responsible corporate citizens. It’s not enough for these shoe brands to clean up their supply chains by refusing to buy leather that is destroying the Amazon. They need to hear from the people who buy their products that supporting broader solutions to deforestation and climate change is part of corporate responsibility.

You can join some 30,000 people who have sent nearly 200,000 letters to these companies, asking them to embrace solutions to global warming and preserving tropical forests.

We need to keep the pressure up! Ending tropical forest destruction is one of the simplest ways we can rein in greenhouse gas emissions. Take action now and tell Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Timberland, Clarks, and Geox that every step counts in stopping deforestation and climate change.

Image: © Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

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