The Amazon rainforest is a lush jungle, home to billions of trees and 10% of Earth’s known species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. It’s also key to the world’s climate and has been called “the lungs of the planet.”
But deforestation has this vital region “speeding to a tipping point,” potentially turning it into an open grassland, according to The Washington Post.
What is causing this deforestation?
Deforestation is a process in which trees are cleared from a once-forested area. When this happens, the local ecosystem is irreversibly changed. Other plants and animals that relied on the trees to live either leave the area or die off.
Deforestation in the Amazon is impossible to reverse in years or even decades because fully-grown trees are between 300 to over 1,000 years old.
Also, this process is not completely under human control. While deforestation begins with people clearing the land — often to make room for cattle farms — the damage spreads from there.
This is because much of the rainfall in the Amazon actually comes from the trees themselves, which draw up water from deep underground and release it into the air through their leaves. The more trees die, the less rain the rest of the forest gets, creating a vicious cycle that threatens the entire rainforest.
“If somewhere between 20 and 25% of the forest were lost, models suggested, much of the Amazon would perish,” the Washington Post article states. “About 18% of the rainforest is now gone, and the evidence increasingly supports the warnings.”
The outlet reports that there are communities throughout the region that now rely on regular water deliveries from government trucks, as once-abundant sources like streams and ponds have dried up.
What is being done to protect the rainforest?
Much of the deforestation in recent years can be credited to Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil. Bolsonaro was in favor of developing the Amazon, which meant cutting a huge portion of it down.
But in October, Brazilians elected a new president: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a strong defender of the Amazon. Lula, as he is often called, promised in his victory speech to “fight for zero deforestation,” a sharp contrast to the previous administration.
Others, like climate activist Helena Gualinga, are also speaking up in defense of the irreplaceable Amazon.