There is a slight but crucial difference between guilt and responsibility. While the former leaves us helpless and victimized, the latter propels us to action. Guilt is a negative feeling that often acts as a scapegoat – a mere display of contrition that not necessarily translates into actual gestures. Responsibility is the other side of the coin, that is to say, the active position. An acknowledgement of what concerns us and, therefore, has to be dealt with.
The mere act of pointing fingers will not save us. We already have a list of corporations, governments and even individuals accused and found guilty of poisoning the environment. What we really need (what may actually work) is a list of responsible ones.
The Amazon rainforest had been burning for two weeks before the world found out about it. But once the media picked up the news, it was all we wanted to talk about. Aside from the occasional self-promoting opportunist, people seemed to be legitimately concerned. And why wouldn’t they? Rain forests are of vital importance to us: they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, de-polluting the air. Rainforests also stabilize climate, house incredible amounts of plants and wildlife, and produce nourishing rainfall all around the globe. They are called “the lungs of the planet” for a reason. Besides, the Amazon rainforest happens to be the world’s largest.
”World losing area of forest the size of the UK each year.”
We should of course be planting as many trees as possible. But equally important – and hardly ever mentioned – is to leave the existing ones standing and to leave the natural habitats intact. https://t.co/0EGDMZY7vf
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) October 4, 2019
As soon as we found out about the raging fires in South America, we learned that the situation in Africa was equally worrisome. NASA took this satellite picture of the African region in early June:
Apparently, the cause of these fires is the same: an inexpensive albeit dangerous agricultural practice called “slash and burn”. Local fields are cleared for crops and cattle using controlled fires, but that is not always the case. Many things can go wrong with this tactic, and more often than not fires rage out of control. According to NASA, these fires (the red dots depicted above) had been raging for at least a month.
The connection between the meat industry and the rain forest crisis is becoming crystal clear. In Argentina, every day aboriginal forests are decimated to plant soy. This kind of crop is not meant for human consumption – most likely, it will be sent to feed pigs and other animals in China. Besides, soy is very harmful to the soils because of its high erosion rate. Glyphosate, a soy herbicide that is somehow still allowed in my country, has poisoned the water and the air of extensive rural areas. Soy crops also displace aboriginal populations, and does not create job opportunities due to its highly mechanized techniques.
But the harmful effects of modern cattle raising do not end with the devastation of soil and trees. This industry creates an enormous carbon footprint, especially when it comes to intensive livestock production. Industrial feedlots consume millions of gallons of water every year, approximately fifty more times than agriculture, and it also pollutes the bodies of water nearby.
Cattle raising has been associated with global warming, because cows release methane gas in great quantities and the negative effect on the climate of Methane is 23 times higher than the effect of CO2.
Once the news of the Amazon rainforest tragedy reached the public opinion, the public was understandably outraged. The management of this crisis gives out a strong ‘Chernobyl’ odor: when the infamous nuclear reactor exploded, back in 1986, Gorvachev’s administration did not want the people to find out about the accident. The world learned about the explosion because Sweden picked up unusually high amounts of radiation coming from Ukraine, and the rest is history. At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro tried the same strategy: local media should not report the situation. However, the smoke reached neighboring countries eventually.
The scarce amount of publicity such crucial matters received is no small thing and should be duly noted. Media landscape and technological development have changed dramatically since the times of the USSR…still, the great powers find a way to keep “these type” of events out of the 9 PM news.
President Bolsonaro, a far right enthusiast, is also a climate crisis firm denier. He has given the meat industry carte blanche to do as they please. Instead of finding sustainable alternatives to achieve economic growth, Bolsonaro has chosen this path. But what about consumers? Now that the relationship between meat consumption and global warming has been established, will we choose the same path too? Will our habits remain unchanged?
There are great corporate interests behind those habits that come to us oh-so-naturally. Ever since environmental movements first started pushing the subject, we have come to question the ‘inevitability’ of our lifestyles. Do we really need to ride a car everywhere? Is there an alternative to plastic-everything? There are more than fifty shades of gray between veganism and a McDonald’s based diet, but there is certainly a connection between what we eat and how much hotter our planet is getting. The amount of outrage we express via social media should be reflected, somehow, in the actions we are willing to take.
World leaders and corporations are guilty of either causing the climate crisis or not doing enough to address it. The people, however, cannot be held hostage of the status quo. By connecting the dots between our actions and their consequences, we will become responsible for them. However, it is imperative that those in positions of power take responsibility too. Is i tour duty to save the world, or is it the elite’s? I believe we must move past that question. Our house is on fire.
We do not have the luxury of time anymore.