In 60 years, carbon dioxide emissions have surged by 50% to nearly 40 billion tonnes every year. And the Amazon rainforest absorbs nearly 2 billion of that. However, it may be quickly losing its ability to save the planet and in today’s Finshots, we explore this and more.
The climate conference in Glasgow has ended. And everyone has been busy congratulating Brazil for its “commitment” to end illegal razing of the Amazon rainforest by 2028 — a forest that represents nearly 40% of the remaining rainforests in the world.
But there’s a worrisome bit of news that came out over the weekend. In one year (August 2020 through July 2021) the pace of deforestation at the Amazon has jumped by 22%. In fact, in the last three years, Amazon has lost nearly 30,000 sq km of trees. That’s as much as the entirety of Belgium.
And a large part of this problem can be traced back to the 1970s. Brazil was in the middle of a military dictatorship. And the government decided to launch large-scale “colonisation” of the Amazon rainforest. It wanted to modernise quickly and felt that the Amazon impeded this cause. This diktat eventually gave way to a state of general lawlessness as people began encroaching upon the Amazon with little regard. They cut trees, began illegal mines, set fire to clear land, raised cattle for meat. And guess what? This stuff happens to this day as a lot of the deforestation activities (as much as 95%) still remain illegal in the country.
And it’s destroying the Amazon as we know it — including the natural ecosystem it sustains.
Think, rainfall. Did you know that the Amazon makes over 50% of its own rainfall? You see, plants and trees that consume copious amounts of water eventually release most of it through a process called transpiration — The water vapour they exhale during photosynthesis. And this in turn creates low-level rain clouds over the Amazon. That means the Amazon can create most of its own rain and doesn’t need to wait for seasonal winds to bring in the moist air from the ocean. This simple act also aids rainfall in countries like Argentina. A good thing for agricultural production.
If this water cycle doesn’t persist, it could exacerbate the demise of the forests, and with it, agriculture across South America.
And it’s not just South America that needs to worry. See, the Amazon is like a nice big sponge. It extracts a lot of the toxic stuff we pump into the environment. If there isn’t enough forest cover to do this job efficiently, temperatures across the globe will see a spurt. Sea levels will rise. People in many countries will be displaced from their homes as the fury of climate change intensifies.
Now you’re probably wondering why Brazil or other countries in a similar position haven’t acted on this immediately. Well, it’s partly because many politicians still believe that climate change is someone else’s problem. It’s hard to imagine the deeply inter-woven nature of the world’s ecosystem and how it could all collapse 20–30 years into the future. And everyone’s way too invested in the present to even care.
Now obviously, you can’t compel Brazil or other countries to fall in line. They’ll look after their own interest. But there’s one other way you could potentially get them to act and it’s something the European Union has been dabbling with, of late.
For instance, Brussels is attempting to ban imports of any product that is directly or indirectly linked to deforestation. Think illegal Amazonian timber, the massive quantities of beef that comes from cattle raised on cut-down forest land, or soy cultivated on the back of burnt trees. They’ll likely stop consuming all of it. And for Brazil — which happens to be the world’s biggest producer of beef and soy, this won’t be very appetizing at all. In fact, British supermarket chains have already threatened a boycott of Brazilian agri-products linked to deforestation.
At the end of the day, the onus perhaps lies on countries that once incentivized the people of Brazil to go on and raze the Amazon. It’s their appetite for soy and timber that fuelled the deforestation efforts back in the day. And perhaps the onus will be on them once again to undo the damage, as they began weaning off of these dependencies.
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PS: A little over 2 years ago, we wrote about the economic impact of climate change. Read it here.