The importance of saving the Amazon

While the Earth’s oceans are our largest carbon sinks, in terms of land ecosystems, the Amazon stores 10 percent of the world’s carbon, probably more than anywhere else on the planet.

In Brazil, climate change and environmental issues are garnering an increasing amount of attention. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by politically partisan efforts to impeach President Dilma Rousseff — described astutely by one journalist as “a penalty searching for a crime” — crises like the recent Zika outbreak, water shortages in São Paulo state, fires in the Amazon, flooding in Santos and pollution in Rio’s waterways in the run-up to the Olympics are bringing the country’s ecology back into focus.

And then there was COP 21 — the UN climate talks that took place towards the end of 2015 in Paris. Brazil’s importance as both a major global emitter of greenhouse gases and chief custodian of the world’s largest tropical rainforest — not only as a vast warehouse of biodiversity, but also as a major carbon sink — were given unprecedented attention.

Important Amazon facts

The world’s most biodiverse region

The Amazon is home to 10 percent of the world’s species — 40,000 plant species (including 16,000 tree species), 2.5 million insect species, over 100,000 invertebrates, 2,200 kinds of fish, 1,294 types of bird, 428 amphibian species, 427 different mammals and 378 reptile species.

A vast carbon sink

While the Earth’s oceans are our largest carbon sinks, in terms of land ecosystems, the Amazon stores 10 percent of the world’s carbon, probably more than anywhere else on the planet.

If the Amazon is lost, we will not only experience an extreme drop in the Earth’s biodiversity, but also a steep rise in atmospheric CO2 that is now stored within its vegetation.

60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil

After reducing deforestation by nearly 80 percent since 2003, rates have recently started to climb again.

The Amazon must be preserved, but how?

It seems that in terms of global climate change and biodiversity, Brazil has a very large role to play — and Brazilians, as well as the world, are recognizing this fact.

Despite being the 7th highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, Brazil sources 82 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, albeit mainly from large hydropower projects, which are beset by their own environmental and human rights issues. The country also has a highly developed renewable fuel economy in the form of sugarcane ethanol.

Yet it is the Amazon rainforest that is the key to the country’s aggregate emissions and its central environmental role on the global stage.

From the Washington Post:

. . . recent estimates suggest as much as a third of climate emissions could be offset by stopping deforestation and restoring forest land — and that this solution could be achieved much faster than cuts to fossil fuels.
Stopping deforestation

While the capitalistic, neoliberal model of saving the rainforests relies on large companies sourcing “sustainable” ingredients, a system that places short-term profits above all cannot be trusted with the stewardship of our most important of ecological resources.

Though industry — chiefly logging, agribusiness and mining — has an inescapable role to play in the future of the Amazon, the rainforest’s survival depends on strict regulations and their ability to be enforced. Whether this comes in the shape of Brazil’s “Green Municipality” program, increased law enforcement at the federal level, nationalization or a combination of factors, is anyone’s guess.

What is clear is that for the inhabitants of the Amazon, chiefly the indigenous peoples, this is an immediate matter of life and death. They live and die on the forefront of the battle to save the rainforests. It is therefore of the utmost importance that their human rights — and land rights — are respected before it is too late for us all.

Latin Correspondent | by Graham Land

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