There are big wildfires in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Rainforests are the oldest living ecosystems and without a shadow of a doubt, the most vital habitats on Earth (Amazon rainforest has been in existence for at least 55 million years). The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species.


Related: Rainforests of the world


Currently, there are horrible wildfires in the Amazon, the rainforest is burning for weeks. The wildfires pose a serious threat to Amazon’s delicate balance of ecosystems, putting pressure on already endangered species of animals and plants.

Dan Nepstad, one of the world’s leading Amazon forest experts says: “Fire is a huge problem in the Amazon region. Large-scale fires in standing forests during extremely dry periods are the biggest threat to these forests in a warming world. Once burned, forests become more vulnerable to further burning. And as deforestation and repeated fire reduce forest cover, rainfall is inhibited.”

A small part of the Amazon between Brazil and Peru
A small part of the Amazon between Brazil and Peru. Image: Wikipedia Amazon rainforest, also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest in the Amazon biome that covers most of the Amazon basin of South America. This basin encompasses 7,000,000 km2 (2,700,000 sq mi), of which 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 sq mi) are covered by the rainforest. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. States or departments in four nations contain “Amazonas” in their names. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species.
Drone footage reveals the aftermath of Amazon fires. Aerial footage shows the desolation left in the wake of fires that have swept the Amazon rainforest over the last month. Six states in Brazil’s Amazon region requested military help to combat record fires that are tearing through the rainforest. Environmentalists have said farmers clearing land for pasture were responsible for the uptick in fires. The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and its protection is seen as vital to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

Amazon is estimated to be home to 30 percent of the Earth’s species. It has more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystems on Earth.

But, what is more important, it stores a vast amount of carbon – it is account for about 10% of the carbon stores in ecosystems – of the order of 1.1×1011 metric tonnes. So it plays a huge role in pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Without it, global warming would speed up dramatically. So, everyone on Earth benefits from Amazon rainforest.

You may think we’d do everything in our power to protect it.

But we don’t.

And, if we destroy it, the consequences would be disastrous.


Related: Massive forest restoration may help to slow global warming


What if we lost the Amazon Rainforest?

Unfortunately, the wildfires are just a part of a much bigger problem: mining, farming, and logging are already responsible for massive deforestation. There are about three football fields of deforestation per minute!

The video below, published by the “What If” channel, discusses the consequences of what if we lost the largest rainforest in the world.

What if we lost the Amazon Rainforest? How long would it take for the world’s largest rainforest to burn down? If we don’t do anything to stop it, we’ll soon find out. The Amazon rainforest creates 10% of the Earth’s oxygen. It’s home to 30% of the planet’s species, and it holds the secrets to treating some of our most deadly diseases. If we destroy the Amazon rainforest, the consequences would be disastrous, and they’d be felt all around the world. Could we survive without it?
A Correction: the percentage is wrong at 00:16. Tropical rainforests are responsible for 20% of all photosynthesis (and not oxygen production). Academics say this is a very common misconception, and that the figure is less than 10%.

Here are some important points:

  • If we can’t stop deforestation, the Amazon rainforest will disappear eventually. This means we’ll lose any change we have in the battle against climate change.
  • Since 1978, an estimated 750,000 km2 (289,000 square miles) of rainforest has been destroyed by the humans.
  • In 2018, about 17% of the Amazon rainforest was already destroyed. Research suggests that upon reaching about 20-25% (hence 3-8% more), the tipping point to flip it into a non-forest ecosystem – degraded savannah – will be reached.
  • If this deforestation continues, it will be disappeared within 100 years.
  • When it’s gone, we’d be loss of a huge amount of Earth’s biodiversity (see: Biodiversity isn’t just pretty: it future-proofs our world). Losing that biodiversity would have huge effects on Earth.
  • Hundreds of prescription drugs are coming from plants and animals in the Amazon rainforest – including cancer-fighting drugs.
  • Scientists estimate that they have studied less than five percent of the plants in the rainforest for potential medical benefits. So, who knows what other essential treatments we could lose if we destroy the rainforest.
  • The most critical problem we’d face if the rainforest completely disappeared would be a much faster face of global warming. All the carbon it stores would be floating in the atmosphere.
Amazon from space
This image of the Amazon rainforest is from a 2010 global map of the height of the world’s forests based on multiple satellite datasets. Image: NASA

Sources

Why Everything They Say About The Amazon, Including That It’s The ‘Lungs Of The World,’ Is Wrong on the Forbes
Michael Shellenberger’s sloppy Forbes diatribe deceives on Amazon fires (commentary) on Mongabay
Amazon rainforest on Wikipedia

M. Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, a former road racing cyclist, and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about the planet Earth and science on this website, ourplnt.com. You can check out my social media profiles by clicking on their icons.

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