Amy Roberts: More than a beef with Bolsonaro’s Amazon policy
Despite being at least a couple hundred years old, there’s a Navajo proverb that’s made a comeback of sorts in recent years. You’ll find it attached to inspirational internet memes, printed on tote bags and sometimes used as a substitute for an overt eyeroll. The adage states: “You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”
Essentially, it explains the practice of deliberate ignorance. Pretending to be asleep, metaphorically, allows one plausible deniability. It’s self-granted permission to opt out of reality and its consequences. You don’t have to live with guilt or shame when you deny a problem even exists.
The proverb can be applied to a number of situations: A spouse who knows his or her partner is cheating but avoids confrontation. A boss who is aware of an employee’s inappropriate behavior but refuses to acknowledge it. Politicians who could demand gun control measures, but instead remain insensate.
While there is no shortage of relevance, most commonly this proverb is offered by the “woke” crowd when referencing those who deny climate change. Mostly because it’s easier to suggest the deniers are pretending to be asleep than it is to hear irrational accusations designed to make you look like a hypocrite for not living in a mud hut.
The reality is, there’s no such thing as total elimination of a carbon footprint. Even if you ride your bike to work every day, chances are that bike was made in China and shipped overseas. At the very least, you probably drove to a store to purchase it. Every single thing we do results in some environmental impact — fuel for the deniers, despite the well-intentioned efforts of environmental advocates to offset their footprint as much as possible.
But while the deniers might be accused of feigning sleep, right now it might be fair to argue some conservationists are tucking them in. You can’t be horrified by the photos coming out of the Brazilian Amazon while eating a steak.
The vast majority of the current fires in the rain forest were caused by ranchers in an effort to clear land for livestock to graze. Deforestation with near impunity was granted by Brazil’s populist, pro-business president, Jair Bolsonaro. And while it’s easy to paint him and those ranchers as the bad guys, ultimately, they’re just meeting a demand driven by consumers pretending to be asleep.
The Amazon rain forest, known as “the planet’s lungs,” produces 20% of the world’s oxygen. If we believe oxygen is more important to survival than a hamburger, we need to make different menu choices. Animals like cows, pigs, and lambs generate large amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic manure, and wastewater that pollutes groundwater, rivers, streams, and, ultimately, the ocean. Raising these animals also requires pesticides, chemical fertilizer, fuel, feed, and water. Beef alone is responsible for more than 40% of livestock greenhouse gases and nearly 15% of total global emissions. Cows produce methane, which is 25% more potent than carbon dioxide. And the trees that turn those gases into oxygen are currently burning to the ground.
Life demands a carbon footprint of some size. We can’t all afford solar panels or an electric car, many of us don’t have the luxury of living within walking distance to our families or our jobs. But every single one of us is capable of reducing or eliminating our meat consumption. It is the single greatest step we can take to minimize our footprint, restore our forests, and heal our planet.
It’s hypocritical to have a beef with climate change deniers and eat it too.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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