The world’s largest river basin, Amazonia once had half of the world’s rainforest. The Amazon is quickly being reduced to wooded patches and scrub lands.
The Amazon rainforest arose over 66 million years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean had widened enough to provide a warm, moist climate to the Amazon region. The rainforest once covered 5.5 million km2. By 2015 the rainforest had been reduced 40%.
That pace of destruction is accelerating with government encouragement. Following the election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazilian president last year, Amazon deforestation has quickened 30%.
In the past year, thousands of fires have been set to destroy the forest. This has sent smoke clouds across the region, darkening skies all the way to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
The cleared land is used to raise cattle and crops to feed the beasts. Brazil is the world’s biggest beef exporter.
The Amazon is fast approaching the tipping point of collapse. If 10% more of the rainforest is lost, there won’t be enough tree cover to cycle moisture throughout the forest, which will then dry out and degrade into savanna.
The Amazon has been a cooling influence on global temperatures for millions of years. No more. Soon the region will cease to be an environmental asset and become another man-made liability.
Ishi Nobu, Spokes 6: The Fruits of Civilization, BookBaby (2019).
Umair Irfan, “Brazil’s Amazon rainforest destruction is at its highest rate in more than a decade,” Vox (18 November 2019).
Amy Barrett, “The Amazon rainforest: could it become a desert?,” BBC Science Focus (6 October 2019).
K.K. Rebecca Lai et al, “What satellite imagery tells us about the Amazon rain forest fires,” The New York Times (24 August 2019).