Priyanshi Patel ‘22
The number of fires in the Amazon last year had renewed public concern for the future of the region’s forest biome. The concerns date back to the early 1970s when Brazil made the Transamazon Highway, after which the rate of deforestation increased. One of the principal questions Amazon scientists are asking is, how much deforestation and global climate change can the Amazon’s tropical biome handle before rainfall is drastically reduced, consequentially releasing vast amounts of forest carbon into the atmosphere? A recent study conducted by the Department of Geography and Latin American Studies at the Universities of Florida and Texas published in the journal One Earth aims to answer the question.
The study found that the Amazon can be turned into a dry savanna in less than 30 years. The Amazon rainforest generates half of its own rainfall through evaporation and transpiration. As global climate change has intensified, there is a greater concern for what the deforestation threshold would be. Earlier estimates suggest that the “tipping point” would be at 40% deforestation. But more recent estimates say that the effects of climate change, drought, and wildfires could bring the tipping point closer to 20 and 25% deforestation.
The recent increases in deforestation must be reversed to have any hope of avoiding the tipping point. In the past, Brazil has made efforts to significantly curb deforestation, but the question now is whether there is political will to stop. If the Brazilian government continues to promote agribusiness expansion, then this will be catastrophic for the Amazon and the world. However, continuing pressure from the media and global consumers is likely to create economic incentives to persuade the agribusiness sector that it would be more profitable to protect the Amazon than destroy it.
- R.T. Walker, et. al., Avoiding Amazonian Catastrophes: Prospects for Conservation in the 21st Century. One Earth, Cell Press, 1-14 (2019). doi: 10.1016/j.oneear.2019.09.009
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