Can the Amazon rainforest survive?

Humans are barreling toward a catastrophic tipping point for the Amazon rainforest, according to a recent study by more than 200 scientists. If we don’t change our habits immediately, the damage will be irreversible.

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According to study authors, more than a third of the Amazon rainforest has been deforested or degraded. Dry seasons continue to lengthen, and rainfall has decreased.

Related: Amazon deforestation still high despite Brazil’s COP26 pledge

The authors formed a new group, Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA). On the final scheduled day of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, the group released its first dire report. 

The wonders of the Amazon include a huge diversity of animals, plants and insects, with new species being discovered practically every other day. The Amazon Basin accounts for between 16-22% of global river input to oceans. Biodiversity and abundant water are crucial to the stability of local ecosystems, regulating climate variability and governing global water cycles.

On the minus side: humans. They clear forests to put in roads and pipelines. They contaminate water supplies, build giant hydroelectric dams, scar the landscape with open-pit mines and log indiscriminately.

“At the start of the century, large-scale forest dieback was seen as a remote possibility, predicted by oversensitive models,” said Jos Barlow of Lancaster University, one of the founders of SPA, as reported by The Guardian. “However, there is now irrefutable evidence that parts of the Amazon have reached a tipping point, with megafires, increased temperatures, reductions in rainfall. The severe social and ecological changes mean that a rethink is urgently needed. We cannot continue business as usual. The report is a first step in encouraging that rethink.”

During the first week of COP26, more than a hundred countries signed a pledge to halt deforestation. These countries include Brazil and Ecuador, both of which contain parts of the enormous rainforest, and Canada, a big player in Amazon mining. 

While many conservationists are skeptical about the follow-through of those who signed the deforestation pledge, SPA study author Erika Berenguer of the University of Oxford is staying positive. “This is a message of hope,” Berenguer said, as reported by The Guardian. “I don’t want to sound naive given what we have seen over the past three years, but this report gives clear pathways for a different future. We don’t need a forest based on destruction; we can have a future with a healthy ecosystem where people are thriving. This comes from scientists who are a cynical and sceptical bunch. We deal with evidence and we see evidence that the future can be different.”

Via The Guardian