There is a Chinese idiom lamenting the fact that distant water cannot quench a fire at hand. This often comes to mind when we read about forest fires around the world, especially since blazes in the Amazon rainforest, the so-called “planet's lungs”, have already destroyed over 400,000 hectares of forest land -- almost four times the size of Hong Kong. The Amazon is home to at least 10% of all known biological species on Earth, making it the world's most bio-diverse habitat. Confronted with images of helpless animals that have lost their homes, we need to ask ourselves: is there really nothing we can do from thousands of miles away?
1. Go vegetarian or cut down on meat
Healthy diets make for a healthier planet! This is because as much as 80% of deforestation is related to the cattle industry. Brazil, within which the largest area of the Amazon rainforest falls, is the world's top exporter of beef. It is also where forests had been burned down to raise cattle and grow soy as cattle feed. There are claims by environmentalists that the current Amazon fires were caused by land speculators and cattle farmers setting fires to create land¹.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ², Brazil provides close to 20% of total global beef exports. In 2018, Brazil shipped a historic high of 1.64 million tonnes of beef. In the same year, Hong Kong imported 558,000 tonnes of beef from Brazil -- the highest in the world.
Beef accounts for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn amounts to 14.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions -- significantly higher than the 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions from the tourism industry.
Adopting a vegetarian diet or eating less meat and more greens can help reduce demand for beef, which in turn reduces the industry's impact. There will be less deforestation and the rainforest can be preserved. With a smaller cattle population, there will also be less greenhouse gas emissions. When purchasing beef, we should carefully choose the country of origin and pay close attention to the farming method.
2. Avoid using leather goods
Ever considered your handbags and leather goods to be the cause of the Amazon fires? According to the Center for the Brazilian Tanning Industry³, Brazil exported US$144 million worth of bovine leather in 2018. Some 60% went to their top three export markets, namely the United States, China and Italy.
Just like the case of beef, reduced demand for bovine leather would give the cattle industry less incentive for deforestation. So, using less leather handbags and leather shoes can benefit the Amazon rainforest.
For instance, a US based multinational fashion company operating various global brands recently decided that they would no longer source leather from Brazil because of the company's commitment to the planet and the public. They would not resume using leather from Brazil until they could be assured that the materials did not contribute to environmental harm in Brazil.
3. Reduce energy and carbon
With fires raging not only in the Amazon, but also in the Congo basin, the global climate crisis can only become more severe. It also makes energy reduction in our daily lives even more important. The Amazon wildfires alone have already dumped over 100 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, at least twice the average amount in recent years. We must all practice energy and carbon reduction in our everyday lives. This includes using less air conditioning and keeping the temperature between 26 to 28 degrees Celsius. We also need to remember to turn off lights and devices when not in use and unplug appliances before leaving home. All this can help alleviate the ecological crisis.
At first glance, life in Hong Kong seems to have little to do with the Amazon rainforest, but our everyday activities all leave a footprint on nature. Only if we all commit to do our part can the planet's ecology have a sustainable future.