Amazon deforestation heading to dangerous 'tipping point'

July 26, 2019, 12:20 p.m.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest
Photo: Tarcisio Schnaider/Shutterstock

The rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon is being cleared so quickly that deforestation is nearing a "tipping point" from which the area may never recover.

Deforestation is occurring at such a rate that three football fields worth of tree cover are lost every minute, reports The Guardian. (A FIFA soccer/football field is 110 to 120 yards long by 70 to 80 yards wide.)

As more trees are lost, researchers are worried that large areas of the rainforest could become unable to make their own rainfall through evaporation and transpiration and thereby transform into savanna, according to Newsweek. Because the rainforest absorbs so much carbon from the atmosphere, this change could have a major impact on global warming.

"It's very important to keep repeating these concerns. There are a number of tipping points which are not far away," Philip Fearnside, a professor at Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research, told The Guardian. "We can't see exactly where they are, but we know they are very close. It means we have to do things right away. Unfortunately that is not what is happening. There are people denying we even have a problem."

In July so far, more than 519 square miles (1,345 square kilometers) have already been cleared. That's a third higher than the previous monthly record monitored by the Deter B satellite system, which started in 2015. It's more disheartening when you consider the progress made from 2006 to 2012, when there was an 80% reduction in the rate of deforestation, according to The Guardian.

Some environmentalists say the sharp increase confirms fears that President Jair Bolsonaro is encouraging activities such as illegal logging, burning and mining, all of which are contributing to deforestation.

“Unfortunately, it is absurd, but it should not catch anyone by surprise. President Jair Bolsonaro and minister Ricardo Salles are dismantling our socio-environmental policies,” Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the environmental nonprofit Climate Observatory, told The Guardian.

July's noteworthy highlight — the loss of almost 600 square miles, an area larger than Greater London or Houston, so far — is a trend that's likely to continue.