The Amazon is the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, home to roughly 10% of the world species. It’s also the world’s largest terrestrial carbon dioxide sink and plays a significant role in mitigating global warming. While forest fires in this region are frequent occurrences, and typically happen in dry seasons due to illegal slash-and-burn methods that are used to clear forest for agriculture, livestock, logging and mining, the 2019 wildfires season was particularly devastating. In 2019 alone, estimates suggest over 10 000 km2 of forest within the Amazon biome was lost to the fires with August fires reaching record levels. Destruction of the Amazon doesn’t just threaten increasingly endangered species and the local indigenous populations. As the amount of carbon stored in the Amazon is 70 times greater than the annual US output of greenhouse gases, releasing that amount of extra carbon into the atmosphere would undo everything society has been doing to reduce emissions.
Satellite image of forest fires burning in the Amazon (Image from Earth Observatory: NASA)
Deforestation of the Amazon fluctuates alongside the political landscape of Brazil. Between 1970 and 2005, almost one-fifth of the Brazilian Amazon was deforested. In the 2000s, President Lula da Silva implemented programs to control deforestation, which reduced deforestation by 80% by 2012. Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, scaling back the Amazon protections and regulations in hope of stimulating economic growth, which led to a 30% increase in deforestation over the previous year. The international community was understandably displeased; verbal condemnations were made and aid payments to Brazil were cut. However, for the poor populations living in and around the Amazon, it’s about survival. Clearing land gives an immediate economic benefit in the form of cattle ranching, even if it’s an inefficient place to farm cattle due to its distance from potential markets and poor soil quality.
If money is the driver of deforestation, perhaps money will offer the solution. The landholders in Brazil could be compensated to forego the profits from converting forests to cattle. There are precedents for such environmental programs, a notable example was China’s Grain for Green program in 1999 – the world’s biggest reforestation program – in which120 million households were paid what amounted to about $150 billion over a decade to protect existing forest or restore forest. In 1996, the Costa Rica government introduced the Payments for Environmental Service (PES) to pay landowners to protect or restore rainforest on their property. With a payment of $50 per hectare, it was enough to slow and reverse deforestation rates. By 2005, Costa Rica’s forest cover has increased by 42% from when the program began.
Brazil is also warming up to this idea. One such initiative is the “Adopt a Park” program, announced last month in Brazil, which will allow national and international funds, banks and companies to pay to preserve areas equivalent to 15% of Brazil’s portion of the Amazon – an area larger than Chile. However, for such programs to succeed and attract international support, the Brazilian government would need to demonstrate their ability to stop illegal loggers and wildcat miners from decimating the landscape.
There already exists an appetite for these conservation schemes among world leaders. Norway was willing to provide roughly $100 million per year over a decade to support a non-profit dedicated to reducing Amazon deforestation. In a debate with Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president expressed similar sentiment:
I would be right now organizing the hemisphere and the world to provide $20 billion for the Amazon, for Brazil no longer to burn the Amazon.
These cash-for-conservation schemes might seem like handouts, but it is high time the world’s biggest polluters pay their dues. The Western bloc is responsible for around half of the global historical emissions (the US – 25%, the EU – 22%). Those who will suffer the most acutely from the consequences of climate change are also the least responsible – the poorest of the poor and those living in island states: around 1 billion people in 100 countries. There is a significant ecological debt owed to low-income nations from industrialized first-world nations for the disproportionate emissions of greenhouse gases. Now that the impacts of climate change are unavoidable and worsening, investment in adaptation to rising temperatures and extreme weather is more important than ever. In the drive to better humankind and amass wealth for a few, we’ve wreaked havoc on the world’s environment and put the lives and livelihoods of many in jeopardy. Now it is time for those of us in the West to use our plenitude of wealth, knowledge and technology to help those in need, and to mitigate and prepare for the consequences of our actions.
- By Hannibal Thai
Most of us eat junk foods such as donuts, french fries, and soda. Consuming these types of food is associated with adverse health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. So, what motivates us to eat junk food?
The answer, of course, is that our reasons for eating any food vary. For example, we might sometimes eat a chocolate cake for pure pleasure. Yet, at other times we might eat it just to please our friend who is celebrating their birthday.
The many types of motivations for unhealthy eating
According to self-determination theory, our reasons or motivations for engaging in any behavior differ along a continuum. At one end of the continuum, we find the self-determined motivations, which refer to behaviors motivated by inherent pleasure (e.g., enjoying the taste), important values and lifestyle (e.g., a lifestyle of low physical activity) as well as personal goals (e.g., eating to help social connection). At the other end, we have the non-self-determined motivations indicating behaviors pursued because of an internal sense of pressure (e.g., eating comfort food to reduce stress), external pressures (e.g., pressure to eat birthday cake) or unclear and ambiguous reasons (e.g., no clear reason).
Our reasons for eating junk food change during the holidays
In our study, we examined these types of motivations in relation to eating unhealthy and junk food. Understanding these motivations for unhealthy eating is important, because when individuals feel self-determined to engage in a behavior, they are more likely to persist in it.
Since eating junk food is common and normalized during the Christmas holiday period, this time of the year was chosen for the study. Participants from the United States were followed across time and filled out our questionnaires one month before, during, and one month after the Christmas holidays.
Interestingly, we found that some types of motivations for unhealthy eating fluctuated over time, while others stayed stable. During the holiday period, individuals ate unhealthy food because they thought it was important, they wanted to avoid feeling guilty, and they felt pressured by other eating partners. They were also less confused about what motivates them to eat unhealthy food compared to before and after Christmas. So it seems like unhealthy eating was highly salient during the holiday season, and external pressures were playing a strong role. These results show that the social context in which we eat has a strong impact on our reasons for eating unhealthy food.
Unhealthy eating is more persistent when it is part of our habits
We also looked at how each type of motivation predicted the amount of unhealthy food individuals consumed. We found that four types of motivations (i.e., values and lifestyle, internal sense of pressure, external pressures and ambiguous reasons) were linked to higher levels of unhealthy food consumption. However, only important values and lifestyle consistent with junk food consumption predicted more unhealthy eating at all times (i.e., before, during and after the holiday period). So, although both self-determined and non-self-determined motivations are associated with eating more junk food, it is when unhealthy eating is part of a person’s important values and lifestyle, that junk food consumption is consistently higher.
How do we feel about our motivations for unhealthy eating?
These motivations refer to internal thoughts and feelings. So what’s their relationship with psychological well-being?
We found that when individuals ate unhealthy food because they found it personally relevant and necessary in a given context, they felt good psychologically. However, if they ate junk food for an unpleasant reason such as a pressure they put on themselves, or if they really couldn’t find a good reason for doing so, they experienced lower psychological well-being. That is consistent with the self-determination approach. But intriguingly, even when feeling that unhealthy eating was part of one’s habits and values increased junk food consumption, eating junk food for this reason was associated with lower well-being.
- By Nada Kadhim
Full reference: Kadhim, N., Amiot, C. E., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Applying the self‐determination theory continuum to unhealthy eating: Consequences on well‐being and behavioral frequency. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50, 381-393. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12667
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.