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New York must divest from climate disaster | Opinion

November 14, 2019 Eric Adams and Costa Constantinides
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Last month, aerial satellite images captured a horrifying sight: Large swathes of the Amazon Rainforest, one of earth’s most precious natural jewels, were ablaze.

Media attention has since moved on, but the fires in the Amazon continue to rage. These fires pose a direct threat to our climateindigenous communities and a critical wildlife habitat.

Last month we experienced the hottest October on earth ever recorded. Just last week, more than 11,000 scientists declared a climate emergency in a paper published in the Bioscience Journal.

Protecting the Amazon is essential in addressing this climate emergency. The rainforest mitigates global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When we lose huge amounts of the Amazon to deforestation, we are losing one of our best bulwarks against this crisis.

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The environmental destruction taking place in the Amazon accelerates climate change, making the fires not just a direct threat to those in close proximity, but to all life across the planet.

What’s fueling these fires? The meat, dairy, and egg industries’ quests for profit and consumer demand for animal products.

The fires are not a natural disaster; they are set intentionally to clear land for beef and soy farming. But tofu isn’t to blame. Across about 25 million hectares of land devoted to soy farming in Brazil, 80 percent is used for animal feed.

That’s why we are introducing a new resolution in the City Council, calling on corporate and government entities operating in our city to divest from agricultural industries that benefit from deforestation and the acceleration of global warming.

Animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis. It is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector.

And make no mistake: Our eating habits are fueling this crisis. America’s meat consumption is dangerously high. For many of us, it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. That adds up. OECD data shows that, on average in 2018 each American consumed 109.6 pounds of poultry, 57.5 pounds of beef, and 50.7 pounds of pork.

Much of the meat and other animal products we consume in the U.S. are sourced from the multinational corporations directly responsible for the destruction of the Amazon.

According to nonprofit Mighty Earth, meat and animal feed suppliers responsible for the Amazon fires include conglomerates like JBS, Cargill, and Marfrig. American companies that purchase products from these suppliers include Costco, Target, Walmart, McDonald’s, and more. Many of these companies claim to be committed to sustainability; some have even promised to remove products linked to deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. But while these companies promise to be more sustainable, their actions tell a different story.

We believe that severing ties with companies linked to the Amazon fires — and pressuring businesses to do the same — is a necessary step to address this crisis. We must incentivize corporations to provide consumers with better choices so we can make more ethical decisions without sacrificing quality of life.

We in government should also have to hold ourselves to the same standard. City agencies should not be supporting companies that cause environmental devastation.

Climate change is a public health issue. It worsens air quality, increases the prevalence of heat-related disorders like dehydration, and has even been found to reduce the nutritional value of certain crops — studies show that crops grown in a higher carbon-dioxide atmosphere have less zinc, iron and protein, which are all critical to human development and health. Policymakers have an obligation to intervene and safeguard the health and well-being of their constituents.

The paper released last week by a group of international scientists, which declared a climate emergency, cited animal agriculture as a major contributor. The group called for a global shift towards a plant-based diet. It is time we take that imperative step and stop funding companies responsible for environmental destruction.

Adopting responsible food purchasing policies such as the divestment legislation we are introducing today, while making plant-based alternatives more accessible has to be a priority.

Our job, and the role of all elected officials, is to protect the people not the industries that harm them. Food policies need to be introduced to combat climate change. The debate on how best to address this issue could go on forever, but the point is that we need action now. There is no time to waste.

Eric Adams is the borough president of Brooklyn. Costa Constantinides is a New York City Council member representing parts of Queens.  

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