This article by Sinéad Baker published in the Business Insider presents a plausible scenario for a doomsday tipping point in which rising temperatures dry out the Amazon rain forest, making it more susceptible to wildfires. Most of the wildfires are set by loggers, farmers, and ranchers clearing the forest, actions encouraged by Brail’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to industrialize the forest. The Amazon currently absorbs 20% of total global carbon emissions. As rising temperatures dry it out, the Amazon’s capacity to absorb carbon decreases, and makes it more susceptible to wildfires, 73,000 of which are burning this year, twice the number last year. As the forest burns it releases the carbon it has stored into the atmosphere. The carbon balance — absorbed vs. released — could tip negative by 2050. If the entire forest burns it would release 140 billion tons of CO2 into the air, an event that would accelerate global warming, pushing it well past the Paris ceiling of 2°C.
The causes and effects of this scenario are well known and well presented. If it comes to pass, the result would indeed be catastrophic. Where the article’s presentation falls short, however, is in its failure to present a convincing timeline. Its designation of 2050 as the date when the Amazon begins to release more CO2 than it absorbs is based on a 2000 study, which surely didn’t anticipate either the dramatic acceleration in the rate of global heating nor the vast increase in wildfires occurring this year. That means the tipping point will occur before 2050. The article doesn’t give a date for the entire destruction of the Amazon rainforest, but Brazil’s president has made his intentions clear that he’d like to see it industrialized as soon as possible. We can do little but educate ourselves, publicize the alarming events happening in Brazil, vet the charities working to slow the destruction, and contribute to the best of them. And we can pray, not only for the forest’s sequestration of so much CO2 and its biodiverse wildlife, but for a planetary environment still conducive to the existence of the human race.