The planet is currently taking a hit in the form of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. 

As indigenous lands go up in flames, there is one major cause: cattle ranching. While the larger issue at hand is the capitalist society in which we live, the disaster in the Amazon is directly related to animal agriculture. Unsurprisingly, vegans have been taking to social media to encourage their followers to go vegan – or at the minimum reduce their meat consumption. 

The Current State of the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest, which is mostly contained in Brazil but spreads into other South American countries, has been called “the lungs of the Earth” and for good reason. Tropical rainforests generally draw in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Needless to say, the destruction of these lungs can have bad results. The Amazon absorbs the planet’s carbon dioxide, and, without it, the dangers of climate change increase.

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A fire tears through part of the Amazon (The Washington Post)

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro believes the Amazon should be open for business interests and has also shown little concern for the environment, wanting to limit fines for damage done to the rainforest and weakening the influence of the environment agency. 

Veganism and the Environment

While some people criticize those who advocate for veganism at a time like this, saying it will do absolutely nothing, there are plenty of experts who have said otherwise. Eating a plant-based diet (or at least eating more plant-based foods) is known to be good for the environment. According to a study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, when comparing three different diets (US-style, Mediterranean, and vegetarian), the latter “produced a 42–84% lower burden than the other two diets for all impacts except water depletion, which was similar between the three diets.”

For environmental vegans – those who abstain from animal products to protect the environment – this information comes as no surprise. Animal agriculture contributes to a number of environmental hazards: global warming, air pollution, land degradation, energy use, deforestation, and biodiversity decline. Unfortunately, with the fire taking over the Amazon, which was started so there would be more room for cattle, we see the dangers of animal agriculture in real time…and in a fiery blaze.

Vegan Singers Stay Quiet

In 2019, vegan and vegetarian celebrities are abundant, and the music scene is no different. Yet, while artists such as Miley Cyrus are ethical vegans, a look at their Instagrams and Twitters tells you they have been relatively quiet regarding the Amazon. 

And why is that? Is this dialogue too political? It’s probably no surprise that at the root of the destruction to the Amazon is a right-wing administration. Artists who speak out politically risk facing backlash for their views. Take the country trio Dixie Chicks for example. After criticizing the Iraq War, they were essentially blacklisted from country music and told to “shut up and sing.” Going against the status quo can jeopardize musicians’ careers, and going vegan is still seen as a departure from “normalcy.”

Unfortunately, many artists, especially young, female talent, face this challenge. By making any sort of political statement, they risk upsetting higher-ups and even their fans. Taylor Swift, essentially America’s sweetheart, rarely spoke on politics because “it might influence other people, and I don’t think I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.”

Alt-pop artist and vegan activist Kiirstin Marilyn says that, though she is bothered by artists with large followngs not speaking out, there might be a bigger problem at hand: “I try to remember that a lot of these artists have PR, managers, and label reps who don’t want their meal ticket losing followers.” She believes they speak up as much as they can, “but they are powered by huge machines so they can’t exactly be 100% who they want to be.” Even animal sanctuaries can’t talk about animal agriculture without potentially losing thousands of followers. 

Obviously, we cannot entirely put that burden on individuals; it isn’t their job to speak out. But, at the same time, as Marilyn points out, “we all have a lot to lose if we don’t all start speaking up now.”

Independent Artists Use Their Platforms

While popular  artists are relatively quiet, independent artists are more vocal. On Instagram, Kiirstin Marilyn acknowledged the issue in the Amazon and advocated for veganism. She has since said, “Anyone who is actually paying attention knows that the main cause for the intentional burning of Amazonia is animal agriculture: grazing cattle for leather and beef, and soy production, not for human consumption, but for feed for factory farmed animals in first world countries. Cattle farmers have been torching Amazonia for centuries, but it started to really become a problem in the last several decades as the world’s appetite for beef has increased.”

According to Marilyn, and many other vegan advocates, there is a simple way to fight this: “If we want to combat this corruption, we must hit them where it hurts the most: their wallet.”

Advocating for this type of change is what Marilyn believes social media is for. “[S]ince the dawn of man, human beings have been trying to figure out how to spread information quickly.[…]now almost every single person has a device in their hands with apps that can alert them of important information and real news,” she says. “I personally would rather see it be used for the spreading of information and to educate than someone’s random party photos.”

Kiirstin Marilyn takes her activism a bit further: though she went vegan three years ago, she was an animal rights activist long before that, volunteering with NYCLASS, which works to get horse carriages out of NYC. She also volunteers with the Save Movement, New York Climate Save, and Voters for Animal Rights, in addition to organizing March of Silence NYC. Her activism even appears in her art. The video for her recent release, “The Dark,” features female activists and depicts the life of a farm animal destined for slaughter. She is also “currently working on an album which is basically going to be a compilation of social justice tracks dealing with veganism and human rights.”

And she isn’t the only one using their voice either. Phoebe White, a London-based singer, has vocalized her support for veganism in response to the fires. This isn’t really surprising, considering the artist’s music has been described as “soulful folk with an insightful relational and political edge,” according to her website. Several tweets since the Amazon fire began making headlines have focused on the destruction, including directing followers to a Vice piece titled “Feeling Sad About the Amazon Fires? Stop Eating Meat.” 

What Can We Do?

Though every vegan hopes for it, no one really expects every single person in the world to go vegan, certainly not right now. However, to protect and save the planet, we have to eat less meat. Of course, this responsibility can’t solely be placed on the shoulders of celebrities – that is a lot to ask of anyone. At the same time though, when the Earth, our home, is in danger, surely we should do something.

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Part of the Amazon, before 2019 fires, circa 2001 (Phil P. Harris via Wikipedia)

The argument that this burden should be placed on corporations instead of individuals is true, but can we trust those corporations to do the right thing(s) for the planet? History says we can’t. As Kiirstin Marylin says, “[Y]ou are one person who can influence many, and that’s how change happens. It always starts with one.”

If you can go plant-based or reduce your meat intake, please do. If for whatever reason you can’t, you can take some of the following actions instead: 

Hold Companies Accountable

Is there a company you feel is environmentally irresponsible? Call them out on it! Write a letter, send an email, tag them on social media. Try to organize a boycott against them. These companies thrive on your business, so if you can go without them, use your money to support more ethically-sound brands and companies. As Marilyn pointed out, “We can’t cry about things being horrible while simultaneously funding the horrible things.”

These companies are responsible for the destruction of the Amazon, which means they harm indigenous people just as much as they are harming the planet. Amazonians watch their home go up in flames, and for what? So unethical companies can profit. As a result, we should be careful about what brands and companies we support and buy from. Instead of purchasing items from unsustainable and unethical companies, “vote” with your wallet and opt for sustainable products.

Donate

In response to the current crisis in the Amazon, the Rainforest Alliance is working with its partners “to fight the ongoing destruction of this precious ecosystem.” The organization has announced that 100% of the funds they raise in August will go to protecting the Amazon, redirecting all the money to groups based in the Brazillian Amazon. The Rainforest Alliance, along with other groups and individuals, are putting pressure on the Brazillian government to do something about the Amazon.

Other organizations you can donate to include the World Wildlife Fund and Amazon Watch. Though Day Translation’s latest campaign, A Tree for a Translation, for every translation they provide, they will donate the equivalent of one tree to the One Tree Planted project.

Sign a Petition

Maybe you don’t have money to donate, but you do have a voice. Luckily, if you have internet access, you can let your voice be heard via an online petition. Head to Greenpeace and sign their petition to tell Bolsonaro’s government to save the rainforest and protect the land of indigenous people. There is also a Change.org petition you can sign as well.

As it stands, it’s not just the Amazon that’s in trouble – it’s the whole planet. With the current state of the rainforest, we all stand to lose a lot. The least we can do is speak up, speak out, and encourage others to do the same. After all, there is no planet B.