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The demand for twigs and branches in the Congo River Basin is playing a surprisingly large role in deforestation, according to a piece in the New York Times. People in these areas collect bundles of wood to make charcoal and cook meals, a long-time ritual.

Source: TRT World/Youtube

Across 1.3 million square miles of rainforest in the Congo Basin, branches and wood are collected daily. The Congo Basin is the home of the second largest old-growth forest in the world. However, the generations of people living there have no means to prepare food other than over open fires. Unfortunately, in a time when we need carbon-absorbing forests to help mitigate Climate change, this is contributing to the warming planet.

The logging industry in the Congo takes old-growth trees to make furniture and build homes. This, paired with the huge amount of forest that is burned to make space for agriculture, is destroying the magnificent forest.

Although cutting down the trees is a huge problem, another happens when they are burned. Burning trees releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat and is credited with a large part of global warming. When the wood is burned to turn into carbon, it burns longer and hotter, which can affect the air quality even more.

Source: PBS NewsHour/Youtube

According to World Bank, almost 90 percent of the Congo’s population of 89.5 million rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. The Congo lost over 1.2 million acres of primary forest in 2021, according to Global Forest Watch.

Unfortunately, the country is one of the poorest countries in the world, and though most don’t want to contribute to deforestation, it is often a matter of survival. Fewer than 17 percent of the nation has access to electricity, and those who have it, often have problems.

According to the New York Times piece, Congo has a huge potential for clean energy. Some researchers even think that the Congo River, the second largest river in Africa, could create enough power for the entire continent. The government has been working to get more hydropower facilities online, as the ones that exist now are often dilapidated and mismanaged.

While other solutions will need to be found to provide energy to the Congo, one thing that we can do to help with deforestation is to reduce the global meat intake. Research has found that replacing 20 percent of the world’s beef intake with protein alternatives could cut deforestation in half.

Meat consumption leading to habitat exploitation is one of the main drivers of deforestation. Shifting to a more plant-based diet and curbing meat consumption can tremendously help the planet. The United Nations recently released a report warning countries about the dangers of climate change and has urged people to eat more plant-based as a way to curb it. We highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest meatless, plant-based/vegan, and allergy-friendly recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.

To learn more about the fires and deforestation in the Amazon, please see The Amazon Rainforest is Burning at Alarming Rates, 300 Football Fields Worth of Flames Caused by Our Snacks, and Beef Production is Killing the Amazon Rainforest.

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