The Extinction Chronicles

An impartial record of articles and events leading up to the end…

The Extinction Chronicles

Paulinho Paiakan: Amazon indigenous chief dies with coronavirus

Paulinho PaiakanImage copyrightAFP
Image captionPaulinho Paiakan was a chief of the Kayapó people

One of the best-known indigenous defenders of the Amazon rainforest has died with coronavirus in Brazil, where the disease continues its rapid spread.

Paulinho Paiakan, chief of the Kayapó people, came to international attention in the 1980s in the fight against Belo Monte, one of the world’s largest dams.

He was around 65. In 1998, he was convicted of the rape of an 18-year-old, a case that hurt his reputation.

Covid-19 has hit Brazil’s vulnerable indigenous communities hard.

The country is among the world’s worst affected, and the outbreak is believed to be weeks away from its peak. Brazil has the second-highest numbers of infections – over 955,000 – and deaths, more than 46,500, after the US.

Paiakan was one of the most important indigenous voices during Brazil’s return to democracy in the 1980s, and helped lead the campaign for the creation of large indigenous reserves in the Amazon.

Alongside Kayapó chief Raoni and musician Sting, he brought attention to the impact of the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu river, in the Amazon. After many hurdles, a modified project was eventually built, and operation started in 2016.

He also fought to expel illegal miners and loggers from indigenous areas.

But his image was stained in 1992, after a student accused him of rape, a case that had worldwide repercussions. His allies argued the claim was fabricated to tarnish Paiakan’s reputation and to silence him.

After a long legal process, he was sentenced to six years in jail in 1998, but served only part of it under house arrest on his indigenous reserve in the northern state of Pará. His wife was found guilty of assisting him in the attack.

Reacting to his death on Wednesday at a hospital in Pará, the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association (Apib) described Paiakan as a “father, leader and warrior” for indigenous peoples and the environment.

Gert-Peter Bruch, founder of environmental group Planet Amazon, told AFP news agency: “He worked all his life to build worldwide alliances around indigenous peoples to save the Amazon. He was far ahead of his time. We’ve lost an extremely valuable guide.”

Indigenous from the Parque das Tribos community mourn besides the coffin of an indigenous leaderImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIndigenous communities have been hit hard by the virus

Across Brazil’s Amazon region, more than 280 indigenous people have died with coronavirus, according to Apib. There are special concerns about the outbreak in the area, where hospitals are underfunded and access to remote areas is difficult.

Pará, home to tens of thousands of indigenous people, has become one of the hardest-hit states in the country.

On Wednesday, Mike Ryan, emergencies programme head at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the outbreak in Brazil was still “quite severe”, and that the moment was of “extreme caution”.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who initially described the virus as a “little flu”, has been heavily criticised at home and abroad for his handling of the crisis. He has refused to follow WHO advice and two health ministers have left the job over disagreements with the president.

Media captionOrdinary people in Brazil are taking on extraordinary roles to help their cities cope

Earlier this month, his government stopped publishing data about the virus. It was forced to reverse the decision after being accused of trying to manipulate the numbers.

Mr Bolsonaro has also repeatedly criticised state and local authorities for imposing restrictions that have shut down large cities across the country. The measures have started to be lifted in some areas.

As Climate Change Worsens, A Cascade of Tipping Points Looms

New research warns that the earth may be approaching key tipping points, including the runaway loss of ice sheets, that could fundamentally disrupt the global climate system. A growing concern is a change in ocean circulation, which could alter climate patterns in a profound way.

Some of the most alarming science surrounding climate change is the discovery that it may not happen incrementally — as a steadily rising line on a graph — but in a series of lurches as various “tipping points” are passed. And now comes a new concern: These tipping points can form a cascade, with each one triggering others, creating an irreversible shift to a hotter world. A new study suggests that changes to ocean circulation could be the driver of such a cascade.

A group of researchers, led by Tim Lenton at Exeter University, England, first warned in a landmark paper 11 years ago about the risk of climate tipping points. Back then, they thought the dangers would only arise when global warming exceeded 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. But last week, Lenton and six co-authors argued in the journal Nature that the risks are now much more likely and much more imminent. Some tipping points, they said, may already have been breached at the current 1 degree C of warming.

The new warning is much starker than the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which critics say has until now played down the risks of exceeding climate tipping points, in part because they are difficult to quantify.

The potential tipping points come in three forms: runaway loss of ice sheets that accelerate sea level rise; forests and other natural carbon stores such as permafrost releasing those stores into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), accelerating warming; and the disabling of the ocean circulation system.

Researchers’ biggest fear is for the future of the ocean circulation system, which moves heat around the world and may dictate global climate.

The researchers once considered these tipping points to be largely independent of each other. Now they warn that the world faces a “cascade” of abrupt shifts in the planet’s climate system, as global warming takes hold. “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of inter-related tipping points,” they wrote in Nature. This “could trigger a shift in the state of the Earth system as a whole,” one of the authors, Will Steffen of the Australian National University in Canberra, told Yale Environment 360.

Their biggest fear is for the future of the global ocean circulation system, which moves heat around the world and may dictate global climate. They say melting Greenland ice in a warmer Arctic has driven a key component of ocean circulation to a thousand-year low. Further decline, which would lead to a shift in heat distribution around the planet, could trigger forest collapse in the Amazon; cause near-permanent drought in Africa’s Sahel region; disrupt Asian monsoons; rapidly warm the Southern Ocean, which would cause a surge in global sea levels as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet disintegrates; and potentially shift the planet to a new climate regime they call “hothouse Earth.”

The nine active climate tipping points.

The nine active climate tipping points. CREDIT: NATURE

One climate scientist, Mike Hulme of the University of Cambridge, dismissed the new analysis as “a speculative opinion from a small group of self-selecting scientists.” He added that “there are no new research findings presented here” and that “many earth systems scientists would challenge the view” that the earth is close to crossing major tipping points. Lenton and his co-authors accept there is speculation involved, but argue that “given its huge impact and irreversible nature… to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option.”

The “climate emergency” is not just political rhetoric, they argue. It is now an identifiable scientific fact. Their message to the latest UN climate negotiations, under way in Madrid this week, is that the world may be almost out of time to prevent what they call an “existential threat to civilization.” Their study was released as a new report said that greenhouse gas emissions have hit a record high, with 40.6 billion tons of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere in 2019.

The term “climate tipping points” was first coined 15 years ago by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, former director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and a co-author of the new analysis, to describe how, under pressure from global warming, parts of the climate system could suddenly collapse or run out of control.

In their new analysis, the researchers conclude that of the 15 potential tipping points they identified in 2008, seven now show signs of being “active,” along with two others they have added to their list.“ That doesn’t mean a tipping point has necessarily been reached,” says Lenton. “But it means the system in question is showing evidence of change, of heading in the wrong direction.”

Four of these nine active tipping points involve thawing ice. Arctic sea ice is rapidly disappearing, and ice loss is accelerating on all three of the planet’s large, land-based ice sheets: Greenland, West Antarctica, and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. Lenton says two of these, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Wilkes Basin, “are showing evidence consistent with having passed a tipping point,” meaning further ice loss may be unstoppable.

Greenland may not be far behind.“ Models suggest that the Greenland Ice Sheet could be doomed at 1.5 degrees C [2.7 degrees F] of warming, which could happen as soon as 2030,” the researchers report. Exceeding the three ice sheet tipping points could eventually cause an irreversible rise in sea levels of about 13 meters (43 feet), says Lenton.

Unlike the slowly deteriorating ice sheets, passing biospheric tipping points will produce abrupt, immediate, and obvious changes.

This may take centuries or millennia to play out, as the ice sheets slowly disappear into the ocean. But it will be virtually unstoppable, because once a thaw sets in, the surface of the ice sheet is lowered, exposing it to ever warmer air at lower altitudes.

Four more of the already-active tipping points involve the biosphere and its stores of carbon. The Amazon is suffering recurring droughts and forest dieback. In the boreal forests of the far north, rising temperatures are triggering epidemics of forest fires and pests. Meanwhile, permafrost is thawing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas; and in the tropics, coral reefs are suffering massive die-offs, threatening wider ocean ecosystems.

Unlike the slowly deteriorating ice sheets, passing biospheric tipping points will often produce abrupt, immediate, and obvious changes, say the researchers. These may also be imminent. For instance, deforestation in the Amazon is already reducing rainfall and lengthening the dry season to a point where the rest of the trees die or are consumed by fires.

Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo, who was not involved in the present analysis, says that “when the dry season becomes longer than four months, tropical forest turns to savanna.” He puts the Amazon tipping point at 40-percent tree loss, a figure that changing global climate could reduce to between 20 and 25 percent by 2050. That is disturbingly close to the current total loss, reckoned to be approaching 20 percent.

Forest fires in the Amazon in the state of Rondônia, Brazil in August 2019.

Forest fires in the Amazon in the state of Rondônia, Brazil in August 2019. VICTOR MORIYAMA / GREENPEACE

Lenton says abrupt releases of CO2 from these natural carbon stores would drastically reduce the leeway the world has for avoiding global warming above 1.5 degrees, the preferred target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. That probably requires limiting future CO2 emissions to about 500 billion tons — roughly 12 years’ emissions at current rates. But abrupt forest dieback in the Amazon and boreal forests, coupled with methane emissions from thawing permafrost, could use up 300 billion tons of that emissions budget, Lenton says.

The basic mechanisms behind these tipping points have been well-known for some years, though the predictions of the time it will take before they are activated have become much shorter. But the real new concern, says Lenton, is the identification of the potential for tipping point “cascades,” in which breaching one tipping point triggers breaches of others, leading to a rapid escalation of damage.

Lenton, Steffen, and others argued last year that 2 degrees C of warming “could activate… a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth system to even higher temperatures.” Such a change to what they called “hothouse Earth” would be irreversible, they said, even if greenhouse gas emissions were brought to zero.

The lynchpin of one such cascade, they say, is the ninth tipping point that they have identified to be active — a critical feature of the global ocean circulation system, centered in the North Atlantic and known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).

“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency,” the scientists wrote.

The AMOC is currently initiated by evaporation of warm water moving north, which leaves behind saltier, denser water that sinks to the sea bed. It is responsible for driving the ocean circulation, distributes heat around the globe, and may be the prime regulator of the climate.

Stefan Rahmstorf, an oceanographer at the University of Potsdam and a co-author of the new analysis, told e360: “The AMOC stands at the center of tipping-point cascades because of its large-scale heat transport.” It is, he says, the main reason why the Northern Hemisphere is warmer than the Southern Hemisphere. But it is being disrupted.

“Arctic warming and Greenland melting are driving an influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic,” he says. The fresher water is less dense and sinks less. Rahmstorf calculates that, as a result, the AMOC has weakened by about 15 percent since global warming took hold in 1975. “It is now at its weakest in the past millennium, or even longer,” he says.

This decline of the ocean circulation threatens to trigger other tipping points elsewhere. “A slowdown of the AMOC reduces rainfall over the Amazon basin, increasing the probability of crossing a tipping point there,” says Steffen. It could also mess with monsoon systems in Asia and West Africa, triggering drought in the Sahel. And by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, it would further destabilize ice in Antarctica, unleashing an acceleration in global sea level rise.

Most climate models predict a continued weakening of the AMOC through the 21st century. It remains unclear how close it might be to a tipping point, the researchers admit. But Lenton says that historically the AMOC appears to jump between different stable states. “The question,” says co-author Johan Rockstrom, who is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “is, what are the pressure points where we might cross a threshold and trigger a state change?”

Temperature anomalies from 2014-2018, in degrees Fahrenheit. Meltwater from Greenland has created a pocket of cold, fresh water (seen in blue) in the northern Atlantic Ocean, which scientists say could disrupt global ocean circulation.

Temperature anomalies from 2014-2018, in degrees Fahrenheit. Meltwater from Greenland has created a pocket of cold, fresh water (seen in blue) in the northern Atlantic Ocean, which scientists say could disrupt global ocean circulation. NASA

In the face of this threat, the researchers wade into the political debate about whether — as the European Parliament voted last month — the world should declare a climate emergency. “In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency,” their Nature paper concludes.

They justify this claim by attempting to define a climate emergency in mathematical terms, as a product of the extent of the threat, the probability of it happening, and the urgency, defined as how much time we have left to act. They argue that the current climate crisis fits that definition, with huge risks, increasing likelihood, and time fast running out.

This claim has drawn fire from some scientists. Hulme says such a calculation is “deeply misleading and dangerous… It is a bid by these scientists to place themselves as arbiters of whether or not we are in a climate emergency.” It is for society as a whole to decide what an emergency is, not scientists, he said.

“I am definitely not bidding to be an arbiter of climate emergency,” insists Lenton. “I am just trying to offer some scientific support for the already loud societal claims for climate emergency.” Referring to ongoing global youth protests demanding action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Lenton added, “The schoolkids are right.”

“We need to reach a social tipping point,” of low-carbon living, says an expert, “before we reach a planetary one.”

Hulme is also concerned about unintended consequences, such as encouraging politicians to embark on geo-engineering projects like deploying devices to shade us from solar radiation. “Calling a planet-wide emergency,” says Hulme, “can only accelerate the day when solar climate engineering is actively pursued” — something he opposes. Hulme and Lenton signed a joint statement, published in Nature Climate Change in 2015, warning of just such an eventuality.

Lenton says he remains opposed to geo-engineering, which he calls “as risky as the risks we are trying to avoid.” He thinks the threats the world faces are too great for scientists to stand on the political sidelines, especially given the world’s current failure to act to head off climate disaster.

“The current approach of the UN Climate Change Convention is a failure,” says Steffen. But he is not without hope. He believes declining fertility, innovation towards low-carbon energy, and growing movements for “greener” consumption all suggest that human society may be reaching its own tipping point in responding to the crisis. The bottom line, he says, is that “we need to reach a social tipping point, before we reach a planetary one.”

Leonardo DiCaprio responds to Brazil president’s false claim he funded Amazon fire

Leonardo DiCaprio on Saturday said his organization is not funding nonprofit groups that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has falsely claimed helped start devastating wildfires in the Amazon. Bolsonaro, who has previously made disputed claims that nonprofit groups are setting fires in the Amazon, told a group of supporters in the nation’s capital that the actor gave “money to set the Amazon on fire.”

“DiCaprio is a cool guy, isn’t he? Giving money to set the Amazon on fire,” Bolsonaro said in Brasilia on Friday, the Associated Press reported.

Thousands of wildfires burned across Brazil this summer, destroying large parts of the vital rainforest. Many of the fires are believed to have been intentionally set by farmers clearing land, a practice that has been deregulated by Bolsonaro’s relaxed environmental laws.

Bolsonaro’s far-right government has promoted economic expansion in protected natural areas of the rainforest, arguing that environmental nonprofits and laws have prevented this development. He called the global alarm over the fires “sensationalist” and warned foreign governments not to intervene in Brazil.

DiCaprio’s organization Earth Alliance has pledged $5 million to help protect the Amazon. The actor responded to Bolsonaro’s claim that he funded the targeted organizations on Instagram.

“At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage. They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment,” he wrote. “The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them. While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted.”

“I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians,” DiCaprio wrote, along with statements from Wes Sechrest, CEO and Chief Scientist of the Global Wildlife Conservation, and Jon Paul Rodriguez, Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission.

“We stand by those falsely accused of starting forest fires in the Amazon, and reaffirm our support to those who are dedicated to protecting one of our planet’s most vital and imperiled ecosystems,” Sechrest wrote.

Tipping Points That Could Unleash a Planetary Emergency Are Now Active, Scientists Warn

main article image

28 NOV 2019

Several active ‘tipping points’ of irreversible change in the world’s climate system threaten to unleash a global cascade of events that amounts to a planetary emergency, scientists warn.

“A decade ago we identified a suite of potential tipping points in the Earth system, now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” says climate system researcher Tim Lenton from the University of Exeter in the UK.

“The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see. The situation is urgent and we need an emergency response.”

In a new research comment, Lenton and an international team of climate scientists warn that these tipping points – which many assumed were low-probability risks that might only be dangerous if global temperatures rose 5°C above pre-industrial levels – are in fact becoming exceeded at increases of 1–2°C.

“We think that several cryosphere tipping points are dangerously close, but mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions could still slow down the inevitable accumulation of impacts and help us to adapt,” the authors write in their paper.

While some of these destabilised systems may appear to be unrelated to one another, the researchers warn increasing evidence suggests the disparate crises are actually linked together – and in fact are part of a global continuum of climate destabilisation that amplifies itself in numerous alarming scenarios.

“As soon as one or two climate dominoes are knocked over, they push Earth towards others,” says Earth systems scientist Will Steffen from the Australian National University.

“We fear that it may become impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over, forming a cascade that could threaten the existence of human civilisations.”

While acknowledging that we might have already committed future generations to almost unimaginable sea-level rises of several metres, the team argues that the timescale of such effects is still something we can control with our actions today.

“At 1.5°C, it could take 10,000 years to unfold; above 2°C it could take less than 1,000 years.”

Taking drastic action now to limit carbon emissions won’t just mean we put fewer chemicals in the air; it would also mean we could limit feedback systems like permafrost thawing, which threatens to unload its own huge stored reserves of carbon into the atmosphere.

While our understanding of how these tipping points are linked is still emerging, the existing research firmly indicates that betting against climate tipping points is too risky.

One study last year found that “exceeding tipping points in one system can increase the risk of crossing them in others,” the researchers say, and determined these cascading links were found for 45 percent of possible interactions.

There’s no way of sugar-coating this. The researchers themselves conclude that the planetary emergency we are facing represents an existential threat to civilisation, one which calls for immediate, real action – and now.

“No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us,” they warn.

“We might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping – and hence the risk posed – could still be under our control to some extent.”

The findings are reported in Nature.

Tree-planting campaigns are gaining momentum, but climate researchers warn they’re not a silver bullet

“Reforestation needs to be part of the solution if we’re going to succeed, but we need to understand that trees everywhere isn’t always a good thing,” one researcher said.
Orange County's secluded redwood forest

Visitors make their way through the three-acre grove of coastal redwoods, the largest grove of these trees in Southern California, in Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea early on Aug. 30, 2019.Mark Rightmire / Orange County Register via Getty Images file

By Denise Chow

A recent tree-planting campaign started by a YouTube personality set an ambitious goal: raise $20 million to plant 20 million trees by Jan. 1, 2020.

The project, known as #TeamTrees, offered the kind of internet-savvy effort that tends to achieve some virality. Silicon Valley heavyweights including YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, have already pushed the fundraiser past $14 million.

But while reforestation efforts have long been held up as a key way to help mitigate the effects of climate change, new research is showing that the scientific benefits of widespread tree-planting campaigns may be murkier than scientists originally thought.

“This notion challenges conventional wisdom and can be a difficult truth, because many of us — myself included — have an affinity for forests and think of forests as healthy landscapes,” said Christopher Williams, a professor of geography at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The fundraiser is also a mixed blessing to environmentalists. It’s heartening to see the general public and notable figures get behind climate efforts, but broader changes and policies need to be enacted in order to stop climate change, said Peter Ellis, a forest ecologist at The Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia.

“Reforestation needs to be part of the solution if we’re going to succeed, but we need to understand that trees everywhere isn’t always a good thing,” said Ellis, who co-authored a key 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the benefits of reforestation and other natural climate solutions.

Nature’s filter

Forests have been likened to the planet’s lungs, because similar to how the vital organs absorb oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breathe out oxygen. As such, forests play a crucial role in removing carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas that drives global warming, from the air.

This natural process is also why tree-planting and other reforestation efforts have long been heralded as important — and natural — ways to offset rising carbon emissions and fight climate change. And these campaigns have proven to be a popular way to motivate the public to take action.

But emerging research suggests that the effectiveness of tree-planting campaigns can vary, and that the impacts of forests on the climate system are complex, ranging from how changing landscapes can alter the delicate balances that exist in many ecosystems to greenhouse gases, such as methane, that can be emitted from trees themselves. In many cases, the long-term implications of these effects are still unknown.

“The key word is uncertainty,” said Kristofer Covey, an ecologist at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, who has conducted extensive research on methane emissions from forests in the northeastern United States. “It’s hard to tease out what we should be doing right now, and I would be very hesitant to upset the apple cart based on what we have. That said, we need to start accounting for these things if we’re going to lead successful campaigns with land management.”

In 2013, a British ecologist named Sunitha Pangala journeyed to the Amazon armed with sensors that she attached to more than 2,000 trees to measure emissions of methane. She found that these trees — particularly in parts of the forest that seasonally flood and become waterlogged — were to blame for approximately half of the Amazon’s total methane emissions, with every 100,000 square feet of tropical wetland releasing several pounds of methane each day.

“The methane was moving from soil through trees, and the trees were acting like straws,” Covey said. “That’s a huge effect, and it’s not accounted for.”

Pangala’s findings were published in 2017, and though much more research is needed, Covey said there is evidence that in some areas, the warming effects from methane emissions could offset a forest’s ability to store carbon dioxide. This is especially true, he added, for tropical wetlands.

Potential drawbacks

In addition to methane, trees can emit what are known as volatile organic compounds, which are themselves not greenhouse gases, but can interact with other gases in the atmosphere to cause ozone and photochemical smog.

These compounds, which evolved as a stress response in plants and trees, are still being actively studied, but some research has suggested that they are more common with certain species — namely, pine trees. Though the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels, the impact of volatile organic compounds on global climate change is still being actively debated in the scientific community.

“There’s still a lot that we don’t know, which is why there’s a certain level of inherent risk with reforestation,” said Benjamin Poulter, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Poulter co-authored a commentary published Oct. 18 in the journal Science about a recent study on the potential of global tree restoration as a solution for climate change. That study claimed that new forests could remove 205 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it “our most effective climate change solution to date.”

Poulter and his colleagues argued that the study overestimated that potential and overlooked some negative consequences that reforestation efforts can have. For one, adding trees in certain regions can change how that land absorbs or reflects energy from the sun. At high latitudes, such as in parts of Canada and Siberia, snow-covered ground is more reflective than darker, tree-covered areas.

“The concern is if you start planting trees where you have snow, you’re changing the color of the land surface and making it darker,” Poulter said. “Dark surfaces absorb more energy than lighter surfaces, so you’re actually going to warm the environment.”

An arsenal of climate solutions

Still, scientists say there is no question that trees harbor enormous potential for storing carbon, and that preventing deforestation has demonstrated benefits for the environment. Protecting and restoring forests could reduce global emissions by 18 percent by 2030, according to a 2018 report released by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But Chris Field, director of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, said reforestation efforts can be complicated, and sometimes areas with the greatest potential for such natural climate solutions are also places where there are weak institutions or governments in place to enact such policies.

“You can’t just go into an area where they are having a civil war and plant a bunch of trees,” Field said. “When you see these really optimistic numbers about what natural climate solutions can contribute, it’s important to recognize that that’s a theoretical potential. A lot of complicated, hard-to-change things would need to occur before we get close to realizing that potential.”

There is scientific consensus, however, that the surest way to fight climate change is by tackling the root of the problem: reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.

“No matter how large our reforestation efforts may be, what’s more important is that we wean ourselves off fossil fuel use,” Williams, of Clark University, said. “We shouldn’t see this, or any other nature-based climate change solution, as a silver bullet.”

Global Wildfires Are Raging, Leaving Long-Lasting Damage

Global Wildfires Are Raging, Leaving Long-Lasting Damage

Record or near-record temperatures, combined with drought in many areas, are contributing to yet another record-setting summer for wildfires. California has been largely spared so far this year, but wildfires in the Amazon rainforest and in or near the Arctic Circle are ringing alarm bells, as is a sharp increase in wildfires in Southern Europe.

As many of these fires are occurring in remote areas, they may not pose a major threat to densely populated areas, but rural populations, particularly Indigenous groups, are being affected. And whatever the immediate human toll, the fires do not bode well for humanity’s future.

The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) reports that, as of August, wildfires in Europe this year are occurring at a rate three times higher than the average over the past decade. The World Wildlife Fund recently looked at the sharp uptick of wildfires in Southern Europe and concluded that 96 percent of those fires are attributable to human activity; only 4 percent are caused by natural occurrences. Drought and scorching heat, however, are fanning the flames.

Scientists using NASA satellites to track fire activity have confirmed an increase in the number and intensity of fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2019.
Scientists using NASA satellites to track fire activity have confirmed an increase in the number and intensity of fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2019.
This map above shows active fire detections in Brazil as observed by NASA satellites between August 15-22, 2019.
This map above shows active fire detections in Brazil as observed by NASA satellites between August 15-22, 2019.

technical report written for the European Commission in 2017 warned that the danger of forest fires driven by weather is likely to increase with the climate changes affecting countries in the Mediterranean — especially Spain, Portugal and Turkey — but also including Southern Italy and parts of Greece. The size of this year’s outbreak appears to confirm that diagnosis.

Wildfires, it must be emphasized, are nothing new, and it is even possible in some areas that climatic changes will reduce the risk of wildfires, but the environmental stakes today are extraordinarily high.

In the Amazon, wildfires are contributing to soil erosion and localized droughts and, as a result, accelerating the eventual collapse of the Amazon ecosystem, the world’s biggest carbon sink. That would constitute a global disaster, as the Amazon Basin absorbs an estimated one-quarter of the carbon dioxide released every year from the burning of fossil fuels.

Wildfires in Siberia may hasten the melting of permafrost, thus releasing the carbon stored there, but Siberian wildfires may also be accelerating the loss of Greenland’s icecap. Smoke from the Siberian wildfires of 2012 raised alarm bells when 95 percent or more of the Greenland ice sheet experienced some degree of melting as a result of the soot deposited by the Siberian wildfires.

This summer, wildfires spread in Greenland as well as Siberia. In Greenland, it’s not the forests that are burning; Greenland has very little forest cover. It’s the grasses and other ground cover that have become fire tinder.

Because of the wildfires and record-setting heat in Greenland this summer, scientists are warning that an estimated 400 billion metric tons of ice could either melt or be calved off. If the Siberian wildfires and the hot summers in Greenland become common occurrences, the implications for sea rise would be staggering, as the complete melting of Greenland’s ice cap would raise sea levels by an estimated 20 feet.

The world may be burning, but climate change is still not a burning issue for President Trump, many of his allies in Congress, and even some parliamentarians and political leaders in Europe.

Climate change denial may actually be on the wane in the U.S., where wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and heatwaves are beginning to erase public doubts, particularly in the Western states. But right-wing leaders in Europe, including Italy’s Matteo Salvini, are seeking to undermine the European Union’s commitment to fighting climate change, and depending on how strong the populist winds blow, they may ultimately succeed. If so, hopes of fulfilling the Paris climate agreement will fade.

Time is slowly running out. The world may be on fire, and the alarms have sounded, but the fire brigades have yet to arrive.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How fuzzy science fooled Macron and his G-7 cronies on Amazon dangers

Emmanuel Macron may not technically be a celebrity, but he tweets like one.

Prior to the G-7 summit, the French president declared on Twitter, “The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire.” He added that, “Our house is burning. Literally,” and called the fires an “international crisis.”

Macron’s tweet was deeply ill-informed and misleading but indistinguishable from the commentary of all the actors and singers who pride themselves more on their (alleged) social and environmental consciences than their knowledge.

They got images that they believed were of today’s Amazon fires wrong and repeated lazy cliches about “the lungs of the planet,” wrapping it all in apocalyptic warnings of climate doom.

At least Diddy and Leonardo DiCaprio don’t host multilateral meetings of Western heads of state.

Enlarge ImageView of a burnt area of forest in Altamira, Para state, Brazil
View of a burnt area of forest in Altamira, Para state, BrazilAFP/Getty Images

Macron does. He made the Amazon fires a major item of discussion at the G-7 summit, with the ready assent of other Europeans governments. The Germans agreed that the Amazon fires are “frightening and threatening.”


The problem with the G-7 summit wasn’t that Donald Trump didn’t get with the program; it was that the program itself, insofar as it dealt with the fires, relied on a hysteria-induced misunderstanding of what’s happening in the Amazon.

The Amazon fires are catnip for proponents of swift and radical action on the climate. They pine for a mediagenic, easy-to-understand planetary emergency and are happy to manufacture one as necessary.

It wasn’t just celebrities who hyped the fires. An NBC News headline declared, “Amazon wildfires could be ‘game over’ for climate change fight.” The meteorologist Eric Holthaus related the opinion of a specialist in prehistoric fires in the Amazon that “the current fires are without precedent in the past 20,000 years.”

According to a story on CNN’s website, “An inferno in the Amazon, two-thirds of which is in Brazil, threatens the rainforest ecosystem and also affects the entire globe.”

Enlarge ImageAn aerial view shows smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil.
An aerial view shows smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil.Reuters

This is the sense of imminent crisis that so moved Macron and his brethren, although it had little basis in reality.

Some press reports, beneath the alarming headlines, related a more sober version of events, and a few isolated voices, most notably the environmentalist Michael Shellenberger at Forbes, pushed back against the dominant narrative.

The fires aren’t an epochal event. According to The New York Times, the Brazilian agency tracking fires by satellite image reports that, at this point in the year, it’s the highest number of fires identified since 2010, which obviously isn’t thousands of years ago, indeed, not even a decade ago. In the 10 years prior to 2010, there were years when the number of fires was much higher.

The fires aren’t the spontaneous result of global warming. The program director of the group Amazon Watch told CNN, “The vast majority of these fires are human-lit,” noting that it isn’t easy for the rainforest to catch fire, even in the dry season.

“Natural fires in the Amazon are rare,” the Times reports, “and the majority of these fires were set by farmers preparing Amazon-adjacent farmland for next year’s crops and pasture.

“Much of the land that is burning was not old-growth rain forest, but land that had already been cleared of trees and set for agricultural use.”

Nor is it true that deforestation in the Amazon is spiraling out of control. Deforestation markedly diminished in the 2000s, declining by 70 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to Shellenberger. It has picked back up again under Brazil’s new populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, a trend worth monitoring but hardly the onset of planetary catastrophe.

Enlarge ImageA firefighter combats a fire in the Amazon basin in the municipality Sorriso, Mato Grosso State.
A firefighter combats a fire in the Amazon basin in the municipality Sorriso, Mato Grosso State.AFP/Getty Images

Surely, the Amazon must be the lungs of the world, responsible for 20 percent of our oxygen, right? No. This is drivel based on an erroneous understanding of how the atmosphere gets its oxygen.

If we need trees to preserve a habitable planet, we should be pleased with recent trends. Ron Bailey of Reason magazine points to a study published in Nature last year that found there were nearly a million square miles more of tree canopy around the world in 2016 than in 1982, with Europe, the United States and China all adding canopy.

At the end of the day, the offer that the G-7 made to Brazil of $20 million to help fight the Amazon fires was reasonable enough. The blustery Bolsonaro, who has blown hot and cold on the aid, would be foolish not to accept it. The Amazon is a natural wonder worth preserving on its own terms, and it could at some point get caught in a cycle of drought and fire.

Still, Macron and Co. need to be aware of how their high-handedness — including poorly informed declarations from afar — comes across in Brazil. Advanced countries that deforested long ago because it accorded with their economic interests should be humble when insisting that a poorer country not do the same. Proposals to buttress the Amazon have to run with the grain of Brazil’s interests, not against it.

This will require sobriety, care and a long view — in other words, exactly the opposite of what we have seen over the past couple of weeks.

The most fervent devotees of climate change don’t really want science, no matter how often they invoke the word; they want drama and memorable images, believing they will catalyze action in a way that a properly modulated account of the best research won’t.

If they have to blow their credibility, one faux emergency at a time, so be it.

Climate Crisis Weekly: Trump no-show at G7 climate change meeting, Amazon forest fires, Great Barrier Reef in a ‘very poor’ state

  • Donald Trump skips the G7 climate change meeting in France.
  • More repercussions — both good and bad — from the Amazon forest fires.
  • Thousands of fires are also burning in central Africa, but it’s not quite the same as the Amazon.
  • Climate activists will fly drones at London Heathrow to pressure the UK government to reduce emissions.
  • The Great Barrier Reef is rated as being in a ‘very poor’ state in a new report.
  • And more…

A friend’s young son said to her yesterday about the state of our environment: “There’s a hurricane coming to Florida and the rain forest is on fire. This is horrible!” It’s been one heckuva tough week for the Earth’s environment.

So let’s kick off the Climate Crisis Weekly with a quick look back at the G7 meeting in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France. The crucial climate change, biodiversity, and oceans meeting was held on Monday, and world leaders discussed how to reduce carbon emissions and the Amazon rain forest fires, among other issues.

But not everyone attended the meeting. See that empty chair above, between the Egyptian and Chilean presidents? That’s Donald Trump’s chair. Trump said he couldn’t go because he had meetings scheduled with Angela Merkel and Narendra Modi, but the German and Indian leaders were both at the climate change meeting. (That’s Merkel’s hand on the far right.) Trump’s aides went to the meeting without him.

Trump described himself at the G7 as an “environmentalist” who cares about “clean air, clean water.” (In the Paris agreement naysayer’s latest move, he deregulated highly polluting methane emissionsin the US on Thursday, but hey.)

CNN’s Chris Cillizza had a theory about Trump’s no-show:

He didn’t decide he wanted to meet with staff from the governments of India and Germany. He just didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to sit around and be, in his mind, lectured by foreign leaders about how he needs to think and feel about the issue.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope that the American people would do what its president won’t:

I am very optimistic about American society and its capacity to deliver in relation to climate action. What matters here is to have a strong engagement of the American society and of the American business community and the American local authorities.

The G7 countries pledged $20 million to fight the Amazon rain forest fires at the climate change meeting. It’s not a huge sum, but they hoped it would bring more attention to the crisis. However, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro rejected the money over a bunfight with French president Emmanuel Macron (and he then hinted at a reversal). Bolsonaro announced a ban of fire to clear land for 60 days on Thursday.

And in a weird twist, Trump’s love of trade threats had a positive knock-on effect in EU discussions with Brazil, according to Time:

President Trump’s destruction of trade norms may have cleared the way for a powerful new weapon in the fight as countries increasingly crack down on rogue climate counterparts.

As tens of thousands of fires engulfed the Amazon, the European Union threatened to block a landmark trade deal with Brazil and ban imports of Brazilian beef if the country’s right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro, didn’t act. Within days of the threat, and as G7 leaders prepared to discuss the matter in France, Bolsonaro buckled, abandoning his passive approach to the crisis and sending more than 40,000 troops to fight the fires.

There was another interesting side effect of the horrific Amazon fires. Search engine Ecosia partners with Microsoft’s Bing and “donates 80% of the revenue it makes from search ads to planting trees.” According to Business Insider, Ecosia saw a 1,150% increase in downloads on August 22 in response to the Amazon fires. Ecosia’s daily download is around 20,000, and on that day, it was around 250,000. Ecosia works with tree planters in Brazil; they have their work cut out for them.

And finally, it’s not just the forest and the animals who are affected by the fires. The indigenous tribes are suffering, too. The tribes near the Xingu River (an Amazon tributary) released a message saying they will fight for the forest. (Learn more about the tribes here):

We are going to resist for our way of living, to produce without destroying, for the future of our children and grandchildren, for the planet.

Lillys Plastic Pickup@lillyspickup

Share this message everywhere- they are in the fight for their lives

Embedded video

64.4K people are talking about this

And finally, to see footage of the Amazon destruction’s aftermath, head over to our sister-site DroneDJ, who posted a Guardian video taken by a drone.

Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System map (be warned, it looks shockingly red) shows nearly five times as many fires burning in central Africa than in South America. Deliberately set, controlled fires have been a part of agriculture in central Africa for millennia. But as the Independent explains, a “lack of traditional grasslands is driving increased slash-and-burn clearing of forests in parts of Africa, and therefore concerns are growing.”

CNN urges readers to exercise caution when it comes to being alarmed about the fires in Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — they call it “comparing apples to oranges.” They point out that the controlled fires can increase soil quality, and that satellite data doesn’t give the cause or type of fire. But, as Macron said on Twitter in so many words, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

OK, back to drones. Climate activist group Heathrow Pause says they are going to fly toy drones to disrupt London Heathrow Airport from September 13. It’s “a step they hope will ground flights and put pressure on the government to take tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions,” Reuters reports.

The Heathrow Pause group said it would fly toy drones within a 5 km (3.1 mile) restricted zone around the airport but outside the flight paths of the airport, a step the group said would force the airport to ground flights.

“This is a symbolic action, using a legal loophole and participants’ self-sacrifice to draw attention to the most serious and urgent crisis humanity has ever faced,” the group said.

“The government’s inaction on climate change, and the looming catastrophe of airport expansion, gives us no choice and compels us to act.”

A Heathrow spokesperson replied: “We agree with the need to act on climate change. This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action. Committing criminal offenses and disrupting passengers is counterproductive.”

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has downgraded Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’s outlook from “poor” to “very poor” in its latest report, according to the BBC. This is due to warming waters as a result of human-driven climate change. The GBRMPA produces the report every five years.

The 1,400-mile (2,300-km) reef is a World Heritage site. There were mass coral-bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

Addressing reporters in Sydney, the GBRMPA’s chief scientist, David Wachenfeld, agreed the reef’s problems were ‘largely driven by climate change.

‘Despite that, with the right mix of local actions to improve the resilience of the system and global actions to tackle climate change in the strongest and fastest way possible, we can turn that around,’ he added.

Guess we loved bottlenose dolphins just a little too much.

New Zealand’s government has banned people from swimming with bottlenose dolphins in the North Island’s Bay of Islands region. “Human interaction was ‘having a significant impact on the population’s resting and feeding behavior,’” according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DoC) [via the Guardian].

“Their numbers in the Bay of Islands have declined by 66% since 1990,” according to the DoC. There is also a 75% mortality rate among their calves, the highest in New Zealand, internationally, and in captivity.

Tourists can still swim with common or dusky dolphins in tours operated in the South Island.

Eylul Tekin, a research assistant for Clever, analyzed data from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) to see which cities should be most worried about climate crisis.

Her findings? “The cities that are most vulnerable to climate disasters happen to also be the least prepared for managing those catastrophes,” according to an article in Mother Jones. Further:

The poorer the city, the higher its vulnerability to climate change, and the lower its preparedness for those impacts.

Madison, Wisconsin, was the most prepared, and the least prepared cities included Hialeah, Florida; Santa Ana, California; Miami; and Newark, New Jersey. That’s pretty worrying, seeing how an increasingly powerful Hurricane Dorian is headed for south Florida.

To see all of Tekin’s charts, visit the article.

Check out our past editions of Climate Crisis Weekly.

Amazon Fires Will Have Global Consequences. The UN Must Act.

The Amazon is burning. Nearly 75,000 fires have started in the iconic Brazilian rainforest this year to date, an 84 percent increase from the year before. Since August 10, a spate of intentionally set fires have been raging in the Amazon. But Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, let them burn for two weeks before sending firefighters to put them out following an international outcry.

Fires ravaging the Amazon pose imminent peril to the 34 million people and 3 million species of animals and plants that live in the world’s largest rainforest, which covers 2 million square miles.

Damage from the raging fires will change the face of the planet. The rainforest is home to 10 percent of the species on Earth, including many types of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else.

“The loss of the Amazon’s biodiversity will be beyond devastating for the planet,” Dahr Jamail wrote in Truthout, noting that many scientists consider the Amazon to be the Earth’s most important site of biodiversity.

“An International Crisis”

French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “Our house is burning. Literally,” and exhorted, “Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!” Bristling at Macron’s exhortation, Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter, “The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century.”

In light of Bolsonaro’s refusal to provide resources to extinguish the fires, Macron threatened to block the Mercosur-European Union trade deal. Bolsonaro capitulated. He allocated $7 million and sent 44,000 troops and military aircraft to the burning areas.

But that falls short of what is needed to put out the fires and save the Amazon. “We’re talking about battling what will be hundreds of fires burning simultaneously, beyond any road network, distributed across thousands of miles,” according to Douglas Morton, head of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s quite a challenge to mobilize resources for one of these fires, but to simultaneously track down and put out a number of these sorts of fires … demands essentially a full press,” adding, “You really do need thousands of people.”

The countries in the G-7 – the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada – donated $20 million to help fight the fires, but Bolsonaro refused to accept the money unless Macron apologizes. Bolsonaro is playing games while the Amazon burns.

Donald Trump, who skipped the climate meeting at the G-7 summit, later said he hadn’t agreed to contribute to the $20 million because of lack of coordination with Bolsonaro.

Moreover, even if accepted, this money would not be sufficient. Rick Swan, of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told The Washington Post that, by comparison, to extinguish the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Northern California, “the costs alone were $100 million.”

In other words, a massive international effort is needed to end the Amazon fires.

Bolsonaro’s Appeal to Anti-Colonial Politics Is Deeply Cynical

Those who are critical of ongoing colonial and neocolonial dynamics but who are not entirely familiar with the context of the fires in Brazil may at first be skittish about backing international efforts to pressure Bolsonaro to end the fires. In truth, however, Bolsonaro’s appeal to anti-colonial politics is deeply cynical and should not deter progressives with anti-colonial commitments from backing international endeavors to end the fires.

The cynicism of Bolsonaro’s anti-colonial appeal is evident in the context of widespread popular protests in which Brazilians have marched holding signs with messages, such as “The Amazon belongs to the world, and we need the world’s help right now” and “SOS.” Protesters took part in some 30 demonstrations across Brazil last weekend, and thousands of demonstrators marching in Rio chanted, “The Amazon stays, out with Bolsonaro.”

Indigenous peoples in Brazil have also made clear that they hold Bolsonaro’s government responsible for the destruction of the Amazon. The Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) issued a statement expressing “extreme concern about the rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest, home to our families and to all the resources we need to live.” COIAB stated, “The related record rates of deforestation and outbreaks of fire are a consequence of the anti-indigenous and anti-environmental genocidal speeches of this government.”

A group of Indigenous Huni Kuin leaders recently called for a stop to the fires, saying: “Nature is crying and we are crying. If we don’t stop this destruction of Mother Nature, future generations will live in a completely different world to the one we live in today. This is Mother Nature’s cry, asking us to help her. And we are working today so that humanity has a future. But if we don’t stop this destruction, we will be the ones that will be extinguished, burned and the sky will descend upon us, which has already begun to happen.”

The UN Security Council Should Order International Firefighters and Economic Boycott

As empowered by the United Nations Charter, the Security Council should find that the fires in the Amazon pose a “threat to the peace” and order measures to restore and maintain international peace and security. Those measures “may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations.”

The Council should require that member states refrain from entering into trade agreements with Brazil unless and until it agrees to allow international economic and physical firefighting assistance. As Moira Birss, Amazon Watch’s finance campaign director said in a release issued by the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), “Now that the world is finally paying attention, it’s important to also understand that governments and companies around the world are emboldening Bolsonaro’s toxic policies when they enter trade agreements with his government or invest in agribusiness companies operating in the Amazon.”

In addition, the Council should order member states to contribute money and personnel to fight the fires raging in the Amazon.

There is precedent for this type of resolution. In 1985, the Council passed Resolution 569, which condemned the South African government’s policy of apartheid. It urged UN members to adopt measures including suspension of all new investment in South Africa, prohibition of the sale of South African currency and coins, restrictions on cultural relations and sports, suspension of guaranteed export loans, prohibition of new nuclear contracts, and prohibition of sales of computer equipment that could be used by the South African police and army. The international boycott of South Africa led to the end of the apartheid regime.

All UN member countries are bound by the resolutions of the Security Council. Article 25 of the Charter says, “The members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.” And Article 49 states that the UN members “shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures” upon which the Council decides.

Bolsonaro’s Policies Have Exacerbated the Fires

Fires do not ignite themselves in the rainforest. “Basically, the Amazon hadn’t burnt in hundreds of thousands or millions of years,” said William Magnusson, a biodiversity specialist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil. According to National Geographic, “A growing number of manmade fires have plagued the Amazon in recent years, imperiling the ecosystem. The rainforest is not built for fire.”

Farmers in the Amazon cut down trees to clear the area for planting. Miners and loggers start fires to cover their illegal activities. And some fires are set to force Indigenous peoples from their land. Bolsonaro, however, has fanned the flames in the Amazon.

New York Times analysis found that for the first six months of 2019, Bolsonaro’s pro-development, anti-environmental policies led to a 20 percent decrease in enforcement measures aimed at protecting against deforestation, as compared to the same period in 2018.

“Bolsonaro must take immediate, comprehensive steps to not only extinguish these fires but also address the root causes of this environmental catastrophe: the roll-back of environmental and indigenous rights protections and the recklessness of the profit-seeking agribusiness industry,” Christian Poirier, program director at Amazon Watch, said on the IPA release. But, he added, “This burden isn’t on the Brazilian government alone. We are all global citizens of our shared planet and must take shared responsibility for its preservation.”

We must act internationally to save the precious Amazon rainfo

Fires in the Amazon could be part of a doomsday scenario that sees the rainforest spewing carbon into the atmosphere and speeding up climate change even more

Amazon wildfires
Imagery from European Union satellites shows smoke from fires in the Amazon rainforest stretching across Brazil and into other countries.
 European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

The record number of fires raging across the Amazon rainforest in 2019 could be part of a doomsday “dieback” scenario in which the rainforest spews carbon into the atmosphere and speeds up climate change even more.

More than 70,000 fires have been recorded this year in the rainforest, which produces between 6% and 20% of the world’s oxygen— threatening its future, the billions of plants and animals that call it home, and possibly the entire planet’s health.

If more of the Amazon is destroyed, not only would it stop producing this oxygen and supporting wildlife, but it could create a feedback loop that worsens climate change.

Read more: Here’s what you can do to help the burning, ravaged Amazon rainforest

dieback process, in which climate change speeds up the loss of trees and changes the landscape, could start with just some of the Amazon’s destruction, Business Insider’s Aylin Woodward reported.

Losing 20% of Brazil’s rainforest could result in such a feedback loop, which would dry trees, leaving them unable to absorb as much carbon and much more flammable and likely to spread fires, researchers from three British universities wrote in a post for The Conversation.

A tract of Amazon jungle burns as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao, Amazonas state, Brazil August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A tract of Amazon jungle burning as it’s cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao, Brazil.

This tipping point could lead the Amazon to devolve into a barren, savannah-like landscape that not only fails to produce oxygen but could cause the release of the 140 billion tons of carbon stored in the rainforest into the atmosphere, the Rainforest Trust said in a 2017 post.

Rising global temperatures also threaten the future of remaining trees in aiding the planet. A 2000 study found that rising temperatures could stop trees in the Amazon from absorbing oxygen by as early as 2050 and that they could start to emit carbon instead.

Brazil amazon wildfire indigenous group
Members of Suriname’s indigenous tribes pray for the protection of the Amazon and Brazilian indigenous tribes on August 9.
 REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh

Some studies have described this scenario as “improbable,” but fears for the rainforest’s future have been heightened as human destruction of the Amazon speeds up.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has advocated industrial development in the Amazon and has tried, without evidence, to blame nongovernmental organizations for the fires.

Read more: The Amazon is burning at a rate not seen since we started keeping track. The smoke is reaching cities 2,000 miles away.

According to The Guardian, July saw significantly increased deforestation in the Amazon as farmers and logging companies heightened their presence in the region.

Satellite data from July showed that a soccer-pitch-sized area of the rainforest was being cleared every minute, the BBC said.

amazon deforestation in brazil
A deforested area near Novo Progresso, in Brazil’s northern state of Para, in 2009.
 AP Photo/Andre Penner

Wildfires have always occurred in the Amazon, but they are sped up by hot, dry conditions. And some of the fires are started by those engaging in farming and logging.

Earlier this week, the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, 2,000 miles from the rainforest, was plunged into darkness as smoke from the fires obscured the sun.

Read more: Brazil’s president baselessly claimed that NGOs set the Amazon on fire on purpose to make him look bad

Ricardo Mello, the head of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Amazon Program, said that the fires were “a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures,” the BBC reported.

Read more: 35 vintage photos taken by the EPA reveal what American cities looked like before pollution was regulated