The Plant-Based Workplace   by Gigi Carter


The Demise of the Brazilian Amazon

In a previous blog post about food and climate change, I referenced a 2015 paper published in the Geophysical Research Letters that showed, using high-resolution satellite images of forest cover, there was a 62% acceleration in net deforestation in the humid tropics from the 1990s to the 2000s. On November 23, 2018, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment reported that deforestation of the tropical rainforests increased 13.7% in one year, August 2017 to July 2018. With the recent election of a new president Jair Bolsonaro who purportedly has plans to build a highway through the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, scientists and others worried about climate change have grave concerns. The Washington Post reported December 7, 2018, that loggers have already started accelerating deforestation of the rainforest in Brazil ahead of the new president officially taking office. Why should you care?

Often dubbed “the lungs of the planet,” tropical rainforests absorb vast amounts of climate-warming carbon dioxide, provide 20% of the oxygen we breathe, control the global climate and is home to incalculable biodiversity. Deforestation contributes to climate change by releasing carbon into the atmosphere by cutting or burning trees and removing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The climate impact is further exacerbated by the fact that the deforested land is often used for livestock, which is a known contributor to climate change through methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide emissions. These greenhouse gas emissions are from enteric fermentation (cattle burps and flatulence), manure management and storage, and clearing of forested land for either growing feed or grazing.

Knowing the destruction of our rainforests and linking that to climate-related events such as raging wildfires in California, abrupt acceleration of hurricanes in the Southeast, and crop failures in the Midwest – can be overwhelming. However, there are three things you can start to do today to actively participate in thwarting the warming of our shared planet beyond investing in a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle:

First, start with your next meal by replacing foods made from animal products with more sustainable plant-based alternatives. Ruminant animals, such as cows (beef and dairy), sheep, and goats, are particularly high contributors to climate change due to the fermentation of food in the rumen, creating a by-product high in methane. Consider choosing a veggie burger for lunch instead of a beef burger.

Second, share this information and encourage others to adopt a more plant-based dietary pattern.

Third, contact your elected officials, schools, employers, restaurants, and food companies to encourage more sustainable plant-based food options in schools, workplaces, restaurants, and the broader community. For example, Starbucks under-reports its greenhouse gas emissions by excluding the impact of fluid dairy milk, yet charges a premium for more customers wanting more sustainable plant-based milk alternatives. If enough people contact Starbucks’ corporate social responsibility team to change the practices, it could go a long way towards influencing them and others to follow suit. Consider contacting other establishments you frequent to increase the options of plant-based alternatives.

Additional Information:

Livestock and Climate Change by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang

IPCC Report Press Release – October 2018

National Climate Assessment 2018

Nutrition Action’s To Protect Our Health, We Have to Protect the Earth

Business as Usual: A Resurgence of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon