The Amazon Rainforest Disappeared Way More Quickly This Year

Widespread deforestation is even worse than you think

Deforestation in Brazil Sung-IL Kim/Sung-Il Kim/Corbis

“Save the Rainforest!”—the rallying cry of environmentalists for decades—ultimately failed. Despite a slight slowdown in deforestation in the 1990s and 2000s, says Slate, trees are now dropping at around the same rate as they were at their peak in the 1980s. Worse still, the Guardian reported this week that the problem seems to be getting worse: 

Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.

For years, says the Guardian, Amazon deforestation was slowing down. Last year, that trend started to turn around, and the huge jump this year show that uptick wasn't just a fluke.

Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.

The recent resurgence in deforestation is a much more serious issue than you might think.

Scientific research has shown that the rainforest itself affects the weather in the region. The trees affect how water moves through the ecosystem, how the wind blows and where rain falls. Cutting the trees down and turning the area into farmland or grassland changes this relationship. The very existence of the rainforest helps to create the weather that maintains the rainforest, and cutting down the trees destabilizes this balance.

According to a recent study, if loggers cut down just 10 percent of the existing rainforest, big chunks of the Amazon could collapse, transforming from rainforest into grassland. Roughly 40 percent of the Amazon Rainforest is protected area, but these scientists say we need to protect at least 90 percent of it.

Rapid deforestation, or even this type of dire ecosystem shift, would have huge consequences for the rest of the planet. Among other things, Amazon deforestation could decrease rainfall in the U.S. West, a region already suffering from a historic drought.

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