What would its government do? And, what would the rest of the world do about it?
The plight of the Amazon: The destruction of the world’s tropical forests already releases vast amounts of carbon through fire and decay. Were they a country, tropical forests would be the world’s third-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China and America. But worse looms. The Amazon basin, home to 40% of Earth’s rainforest and 10-15% of its terrestrial species, may be perilously close to the tipping-point beyond which its transformation into something closer to a steppe within decades cannot be stopped or reversed, even if the loggers lay down their chainsaws. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is sprinting towards that future in the name, he claims, of development. The Amazon’s collapse would be felt most acutely within his country’s borders, but far beyond them, too. It must be averted.
Manaus, Aug. 2.– Although its cradle is the sparsely wooded savannah, humankind has long looked to forests for food, fuel, timber and sublime inspiration. Still a livelihood for 1.5bn people, forests maintain local and regional ecosystems and, for the other 6.2bn, provide a—fragile and creaking—buffer against climate change. Now droughts, wildfires and other human-induced changes are compounding the damage from chainsaws. In the tropics, which contain half of the world’s forest biomass, tree-cover loss has accelerated by two-thirds since 2015; if it were a country, the shrinkage would make the tropical rainforest the world’s third-biggest carbon-dioxide emitter, after China and America.
Nowhere are the stakes higher than in the Amazon basin—and not just because it contains 40% of Earth’s rainforests and harbours 10-15% of the world’s terrestrial species.
South America’s natural wonder may be perilously close to the tipping-point beyond which its gradual transformation into something closer to steppe cannot be stopped or reversed, even if people lay down their axes. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is hastening the process—in the name, he claims, of development. The ecological collapse his policies may precipitate would be felt most acutely within his country’s borders, which encircle 80% of the basin—but would go far beyond them, too. It must be averted.
Humans have been chipping away at the Amazon rainforest since they settled there well over ten millennia ago. Since the 1970s they have done so on an industrial scale. In the past 50 years Brazil has relinquished 17% of the forest’s original extent, more than the area of France, to road- and dam-building, logging, mining, soyabean farming and cattle ranching. After a seven-year government effort to slow the destruction, it picked up in 2013 because of weakened enforcement and an amnesty for past deforestation. Recession and political crisis further pared back the government’s ability to enforce the rules. Now Mr Bolsonaro has gleefully taken a buzz saw to them. Although congress and the courts have blocked some of his efforts to strip parts of the Amazon of their protected status, he has made it clear that rule-breakers have nothing to fear ...
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