By Marlon Rice
I was sitting on my stoop last week. Three boys were walking down the block. As they approached me, I could hear their conversation. The taller of the three said, “Y’all see how the Amazon is burning?” The kid closest to the curb replied, “No, they ain’t. They just sent my mom her packages last night!” All three of the boys laughed and kept walking.
Rarely do I ever discuss my day job in these columns. I do this purposely because writing, to me, is a necessary respite from reality. Writing is my safe space, my security blanket, my favorite old T-shirt. You don’t wear your favorite T-shirt to work, do you? However, that conversation between the three boys and the entire lack of concern for what has been happening in the Amazon Rain Forest has struck a chord that must be played out in words to inspire someone to play it out indeed.
To some children in Brooklyn, saying that the Amazon Rain Forest is burning is as relevant as saying that there are acidic rainstorms on the planet Mercury. The Amazon Rain Forest seems a world away, the thread of attachment to their reality seemingly so minute that you cannot blame them for missing it. Full-grown adults miss it all of the time. Why does it matter that a rain forest 2,300 miles away is burning?
To start, let’s discuss why the rain forests are important. The rain forests are the lungs of our planet. They inhale the CO2 that exists in our atmosphere, and they exhale the oxygen that we need for a clean and healthy-living environment. To be exact, the Amazon Rain Forest contributes 20% of our planet’s oxygen by cycling out the planet’s CO2. There are other reasons though why the Amazon Rain Forest is so important to humanity. For example, of the 3,000 plants that the US National Cancer Institute has identified as being active cancer-fighting plants, 70% reside in the Amazon Rain Forest. Not to mention, the rain forest is home to an entire ecosystem. Tens of thousands of plant and animal species live in the rain forest. You know what else lives in that rain forest? Humans. Hundreds of indigenous tribes call the rain forest home. It isn’t just a bunch of trees and rivers. It’s a home to many of this planet’s most precious plants, animals and humans.
According to Greenpeace, the number one cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rain Forest is the cattle industry. Yes, the beef industry is killing the rain forests. You see, Brazil currently holds the largest commercial cattle herd in the whole world. They export beef to over 150 countries. When you include Brazil’s exports of poultry and pork, they make about $15 billion a year in meat exports, making the country the fourth-largest exporter in the world. As the demand for beef in the world increases, sections of the Amazon Rain Forest are deforested to make room for cattle pastures. Greenpeace states that almost 80% of the current deforested areas in the Amazon are now used as pastures for the cattle industry.
Climate change, the cattle industry and the outright audacity of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has rolled back environmental protections and is allowing loggers to set fires without punishment – these are the reasons for the burning in the Amazon Rain Forest.
The thread in this all is that human greed once again triumphs over the needs of the planet and over the needs of the humans of the planet. My job, or rather my vision, as the Executive Director of Magnolia Tree Earth Center is to be a beacon of environmental education in Bedford-Stuyvesant, not just about the environment though, but about our relationship to the Earth, the most important relationship we will ever have. We live on the Earth. Our food comes from the Earth. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the comfort we have is all due to the wondrous nature of this Earth. We must raise the next generation to be even more sensitive than we are regarding the fate of the third rock from the sun, so that they understand how fires in the Amazon affect their lives on Greene Avenue. We must support that our children see this world as a whole, a global society instead of being satisfied with repping their block or neighborhood. The knowledge that we are stronger when we consider one another with love will always win against the impassioned desire to make money at any cost. And that consideration will change the way we look at the world and our role in it.
I mean, I love Ribeye steak, but is the beef industry really worth losing the lungs of the planet?