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Making the Impossible Possible - Food Choices Save Parrots and Planets


The Earth has been telling us, for decades (and longer), "I told you so! You can't keep on the way you are without dire consequences." Last week a report came out from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, confirming this refrain that echoes through earth's devastated habitats and human communities.

Specifically, as reported by The Guardian...

"The report, approved by the world’s governments, makes clear that humanity faces a stark choice between a vicious or virtuous circle. Continued destruction of forests and huge emissions from cattle and other intensive farming practices will intensify the climate crisis, making the impacts on land still worse. However, action now to allow soils and forests to regenerate and store carbon, and to cut meat consumption by people and food waste, could play a big role in tackling the climate crisis, the report says."

A perverse part of me feels vindicated with this report, internalizing my own "I told you so" energy. For years I had been sounding the alarm about what agricultural practices and overconsumption are doing to the planet and her beings. But I don't feel better, even in "being right." I would rather have been wrong.

Guatemalan cattle ranch where we had parrot conservation project in the 1990s

When I lived in Guatemala leading parrot conservation efforts, I worked a lot on cattle ranches, the forest long gone due to agricultural practices. Seeing what cattle ranching did to the people and the habitat, which was largely an export business that took resources from the ecosystems and communities and shipped them out to other countries, I vowed to quit eating beef in 1995. The UN report warns humans to cut back on eating all animal products because of the methane ruminant animals (cows, goats, sheep) produce, the cutting of trees to provide pasture, the pollution of the manure, and the high use of water to produce the equivalent amount of protein from animals rather through plant sources. All these contribute to climate change and habitat degradation. Part of my reasoning was also the cruelty in intense agricultural practices that produce the animal products in the USA.

What's left of the Atlantic forest in Paraguay

I am going to Paraguay this coming week to work on parrot conservation, and in that country there is only 7% of the Atlantic forest habitat left, due to cattle ranching, as well as from the soy monoculture agribusiness that ships the majority of the soy to China to feed pigs for human consumption. There are few parrots left in the area, including the endangered vinaceous amazon parrot and the larger macaws. The human villages that once were here are long gone. Cattle is also quickly taking out the Chaco ecosystems in Paraguay with nearly 500,000 acres disappearing a year.

Less than 100 vinaceous amazon parrots are left in Paraguay. Their remaining populations hold out in forest patches isolated by agricultural fields.

I also work on the Atlantic coast of Guatemala and Honduras with the very endangered yellow-headed parrot. Illegal poaching to supply pets for the international wildlife market is the main culprit for most of their disappearance. However, the draining of swamps, largely illegal, to plant African palm tracts wipes out more and more of the few remaining nests every year. The cattle in this region removed most of the forest long ago.