You’ve probably heard the Amazon Rainforest referred to as the “lungs of the earth,” since its trees take in so much carbon dioxide, CO2, and “breathe” out oxygen. However, all living things, including trees, must respire and “breathe” out CO2 as well. It’s better to think of the rainforests as a force that counteracts global warming. Plants, such as the many millions of trees that make up the rainforest, take in CO2 in order to make food via photosynthesis. This food is usually stored in the form of glucose, which is a carbon-rich sugar. Thus, the rainforest is a major contributor to carbon storage, and any carbon stored within the trees isn’t contributing to the greenhouse effect and warming the planet as a greenhouse gas.
However, degradation and deforestation releases the carbon stored within the trees back into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. About 30% of our carbon emissions come from burning the rainforests alone. According to a study published in Global Change Biology in 2014, forests that experienced disturbances such as logging and fires stored 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests.What is degradation? The authors of the paper define anthropogenic forest degradation as “the reduction in the overall capacity of a forest to supply goods and services including carbon storage, climate regulation, and biodiversity conservation. It can result from various types of human disturbances, such as selective logging, understory fires, and overhunting.”1 Let’s look at one part of that definition: climate regulation. We know that when the trees store carbon, they’re keeping it out of the atmosphere, and when they are chopped down and decompose or are burned, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. This carbon then functions as a greenhouse gas. Climate scientists Deborah Lawrence and Karen Vandecar recently released a paper that detailed the effects of deforestation on climate change. As deforestation increases, global warming is exacerbated, and global temperature increases and precipitation patterns are altered. What’s more, Amazonia is the region most affected by such effects of deforestation, and would experience a temperature increase of up to 3.8°C and a precipitation decrease of around 15% of annual rainfall if total deforestation were to occur.The effects of climate change would wreak havoc on the ecosystems of the Amazon. Andean cloud forests, for example, are home to thousands of species that live nowhere else. Their habitat range is temperature-dependent, so as global temperatures increase, their habitable range moves upslope. However, in a 2013 paper on the implications for biodiversity loss with climate change, David Lutz pointed out that many of the species living in the cloud forests can’t keep pace with the change in habitat – their current pace of upslope migration “is around 2% of what it needs to be to stay in equilibrium with climate change by 2100.” This means that unless humans give the migrating species a boost in their journey up the mountain by physically altering the environment to allow the seedlings to take hold (and give up our rate of fossil fuel consumption), many of these endemic species will go extinct – a huge loss for biodiversity.
The Amazon forest is a major player in determining global climate. It pulls the most important greenhouse gas from the air and puts it in storage. It transpires water, creating clouds that carry moisture around the world. It provides ecological services and is home to much of the world’s biodiversity. However, as the forest is degraded and destroyed, the power of the Amazon to mitigate global climate change is weakened, and it is adversely affected by the implications of climate change.
1. Berenguer, E., Ferreira, J., Gardner, T. A., Aragão, L. E. O. C., De Camargo, P. B., Cerri, C. E., Durigan, M., Oliveira, R. C. D., Vieira, I. C. G. and Barlow, J. (2014), A large-scale field assessment of carbon stocks in human-modified tropical forests. Global Change Biology, 20: 3713–3726. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12627
Learn More about Climate Change
Amazon Aid attends Vatican conference focusing on Pope Francis’ landmark environmental encyclical Praise Be
Sarah duPont of Amazon Aid Foundation attended the conference observing the anniversary of LAUDATO SI’: ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME in early July. This follows a visit Sarah made to the Vatican in February 2018 to screen Amazon Aid’s documentary River of Gold for a group of the Pope’s environmental advisors. The film focuses on illegal gold mining in Peru and the environmental consequences for the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous people of the region.read more
In July, Sarah duPont of Amazon Aid Foundation will return to Rome by invitation to meet with some of Pope Francis' advisors on climate change and environmental protection. This trip to the Vatican is a follow-up to a visit by Sarah duPont in January 2018, when she...read more
MAY 28, 2018 - The world premiere of River of Gold in German/Deutsch took place a cinema in Bern, Switzerland. Post-screening, a prestigious and knowledgable panel discussed the film, engaged in spirited Q & A, and allies of Amazon Aid’s mission were there to lend...read more
JUNE 5, 2018: Sarah DuPont of Amazon Aid Foundation and producer of River of Gold was invited to screen the documentary on World Environment Day at the United Nations in Geneva. A panel discussion and audience Q & A session followed. The screening of River of Gold was...read more
All too often we neglect the natural environment. From our backyards, to across the globe, it is essential to take care of the earth in order for it to take care of us. Sometimes focusing on the earth as a whole can be overwhelming, so today, we encourage you to take...read more
Have you noticed that the weather was a bit different this “winter”? From Spring-like days in the middle of February to hailstorms and more, it is evident that climate change is here and it is real. Instead of feeling discouraged by the changes in environmental...read more
Fiji has become the first country in the world to formally approve the historic UN climate deal agreed by 195 nations in Paris this past December. According to local news reports, the Pacific island nation’s parliament voted unanimously to ratify the Paris agreement...read more
If you’ve been keeping up with environmental news, or even if you’ve just been confused by the weird weather over the past few months and ran some google searches, you’ve probably heard of El Niño. This global phenomenon is bringing warm weather to the typically cold...read more
Peru creates ‘Yellowstone of the Amazon’: 3.3M acre reserve home to uncontacted tribes, endangered wildlife
Story by Rhett A. Butler originally published November 7, 2015 on Mongabay.com Peru on Sunday officially declared Sierra del Divisor National Park, a 1.3 million hectare (3.3 million acre) reserve that is home to uncontacted indigenous tribes, endangered wildlife,...read more