Did U.S. companies help fuel fires in the Amazon rainforest?

CBSNews

REVERB is a new documentary series from CBSN Originals. Watch the latest episode, "Complicit: The Amazon Fires," in the video player above.

The fires that devastated the Amazon in the summer of 2019 were no accident. Most were deliberately set to clear land in the rainforest for agricultural purposes. But while Americans and Europeans were outraged by images of the fires in the news and on social media, there's evidence that development in the Amazon is fueled, in part, by their own consumer dollars.

"In the Brazilian Amazon, which of course is where the fires that caught the world's attention in August are located, the main drivers [of deforestation] are the agribusiness industry," Moira Birss, the finance campaign director for the nonprofit Amazon Watch, told CBSN Originals. 

Twenty percent of the rainforest has been lost since the 1970s, when agricultural expansion into the Amazon began as a government program. Over half of that area is now farmland, cultivated mostly for soy and beef exports. According to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, cattle ranching accounts for 80% of current deforestation rates in the Amazon. 

Deforestation has spurred the construction of highways such as the BR-163, in the state of Para, to carry goods out from the rainforest. BR-163 runs for nearly 1,100 miles through an area that's considered the epicenter of the fires and of industrialization. 

During the rainy season in the fall, a peak time of farm productivity, long lines of 18-wheeler trucks clogged the road.

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