Covering 5.5 million km2, the Amazon rainforest arose over 66 million years ago (mya), when the Atlantic Ocean had widened enough to provide a warm, moist climate to the Amazon region. Amazonia is the world’s largest river basin, and once had over half of the planet’s rainforest.
Humans first settled in Amazonia 11,200 years ago. As always, their impact on the forest was immediate. But it was not until the 1960s that deforestation took a severe turn, with slash-and-burn clearing forest for farmland. In the 1970s, highways opened up access to the interior of Amazonia, taking deforestation to the next level.
The destruction in modern times of a forest that is millions of years old is a major event in the world’s history. It is larger in scale than the clearing of the forests in temperate Eurasia and America, and it will be accomplished in a much shorter time. ~ English ecologist Paul Richards in 1973
Before its desecration by human assault, Amazonia generated half its rainfall by recycling the moisture brought to it by airmasses from the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon is fast approaching a tipping point, where the region’s hydrological cycle will fail, and no longer support a rainforest ecosystem at all.
In 2015, the Amazon rainforest was 3.3 million km2; a 40% diminishment via human intervention. Deforestation continues at a fierce pace. By 2050 the forest will be gone, reduced to wooded patches and scrub lands; and that is an optimistic forecast. Even by 2018 the remaining rainforest was grievously degrading, unable to keep up with climate change, especially repeated episodes of drought.
The forest is seen as useless land that needs to be made useful. ~ Bolivian botanist Nataly Ascarrunz
Progress demands a lot from Nature. But progress must exist. ~ Brazilian gold miner Otavio Neves in 2019, enthused about further Amazonian deforestation
The Amazon basin was long a huge carbon store, helpful in regulating global temperatures. No longer. Deforestation and development in Brazil have neutered Amazonia as a check on global warming.