There are few places on Earth that showcase the extraordinary beauty, diversity of life and wonders to be discovered as in the Amazon Rainforest. It provides such a unique and vital ecosystem that benefits us all, so its story is both breath-taking and heart-breaking in equal measure.
The Magnitude of the Amazon
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest covering over 5.5 million square kilometres. It’s so big that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times!
The Amazon river system is the second longest after the Nile River and spans 6840 kms across eight countries and one overseas territory, through Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana/ France.
The Ecosystem of the Amazon
We are learning so much for this post, from sources that include Rhett Butler’s Mongabay research website, InJustOneDay website, the Verge, National Geographic Kids, the Guardian and Wikipedia.
The facts alone on the Amazon Rainforest are staggering. For example, its incredibly rich ecosystem, contains one-tenth of the world’s known species and is one of the Earth’s last refuges for animals such as jaguars, harpy eagles, and pink dolphins. The latest estimates by (InJustOneDay.com) say there are “40,000 plant species, 1600 species of tree, 3,000 freshwater fish species, 1600 bird species, 1000 amphibians, 400+ mammals and more than 370 types of reptiles.This of course doesn’t take account of the myriad of insects and invertebrates that live there.” A recent report by the World Wildlife Foundation confirmed that scientists are discovering an average of one new species in the Amazon every other day.
According to InJustOneDay.com, more than 30 million people and around 350-450 indigenous Amerindian tribes call the Amazon Rainforest home and rely on it for their shelter, food, agriculture and livelihoods. Incredibly, they also indicate that about fifty of these tribes have never had contact with the outside world! Many would argue that the best way to protect this precious forest is to put management back in the hands of indigenous communities.
The Rain in the Amazon
“This rainforest of immense natural beauty plays an important role in limiting climate change. The forest’s rich vegetation takes carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) out of the air and releases oxygen. Due to the thickness of the canopy (the top branches and leaves of the trees), the Amazon floor is in permanent darkness. In fact, it’s so thick that when it rains, it takes around ten minutes for the water to reach the ground!” (InJustOneDay.com)
“The Amazon has been variously called the heart of the world or the lungs of the world because of the river’s numerous veins feeding water through to the earth or its capacity to exchange gases with the atmosphere.There are 600 billion trees in the Amazon Rainforest, for example, and with the heat of the sun, each tree every day transfers 1,000 litres of water into the atmosphere through transpiration. Throughout the entire rainforest this equates to 20 billion metric tons of water in one day. Scientists have recently discovered that this water vapour released in to the atmosphere creates low level clouds which then falls as rain in the forest. This rain encourages the air to circulate and draw in more moisture from the oceans which makes it rain even more. Through transpiration, the Amazon rainforest is responsible for creating 50-75% of its own rain.” (Info source: InJustOneDay.com).
“We are also learning from the site that this natural process has a much wider reach, with Amazon rainfall and rivers feeding regions that generate 70 percent of South America’s wealth. Studies (InJustOneDay.com), indicate that moisture from the Amazon influences rainfall as far away as the Western United States and Central America. Without trees, there will be no transpiration which in turns impacts the level of rain which then affects water supply and brings drought to areas.”
Deforestation and Carbon Loss
“Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide from the air, they also store carbon in their roots, leaves and trunk. Trees in the Amazon rainforest hold 48 billion tons of carbon and so when trees are cut down, tons of carbon dioxide is released into our atmosphere, with the negative impact that has on the worldwide environment.” (Info source: National Geographic Kids, at: https://bit.ly/2Y0Ujao).
“Through a concerted effort by Governments and environmental agencies alike and the introduction of various initiatives, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest was in decline after 2004, mostly due to the falling deforestation rate in Brazil.”
“But sadly, according to Rhett Butler’s Mongabay research site, since 2014, deforestation is on the rise again. The site explains that “through logging, fires and land clearance there is a decrease in forest transpiration and a lengthening of dry seasons. Left unchecked, the rainforest can gradually turn into a savanna. In recent years, São Paulo – the biggest city in South America – is facing its worst water shortages in almost a century. Any previous declines in deforestation have been fueled by a number of factors, including increased law enforcement, satellite monitoring, pressure from environmentalists, private and public sector initiatives, new protected areas, and macroeconomic trends.”
“In a study cited in September 2017 on Mongabay, the results for the Amazon are worrying. What they have found by combining studies over the last 12 years in major parts of the world where deforestation is occurring, is that the carbon that is released into the atmosphere is greater than that taken in, giving a net carbon loss, a situation that must be reversed. The study found a net carbon loss on every continent where deforestation occurs. Further, the Amazon, in Latin America, accounted for nearly 60% of the emissions.” More Amazon rainforest information and access to this study may be found at: https://bit.ly/2Y0XOxx.
Fires of 2019 in the Amazon Caused Largely by Intentional Slash and Burn Methods
Wikipedia explains that “fires in the Amazon normally occur around the dry season as slash-and-burn methods are used to clear the forest to make way for agriculture, livestock, logging, and mining, leading to deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. Such activity is generally illegal within these nations, but enforcement of environmental protection has become lax in recent years in Brazil under the current government of President Jair Bolsanaro.” (https://bit.ly/2UP3t7Y)
Photo by Lucy from National Geographic Family Reference Atlas
Excerpts from an article by The Verge describes scientists’ and the international community’s assessment and concern over the severity of the fires of 2019, and their alarm about the implications for climate change and the world’s environment.
“These are intentional fires to clear the forest,” Cathelijne Stoof, coordinator of the Fire Center at Wageningen University (WUR) in the Netherlands, tells The Verge…The INPE (National Institute for Space Research) found that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an 11-year high in 2019. … There is no doubt that this rise in fire activity is associated with a sharp rise in deforestation,” Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of São Paulo, told Science Magazine.”
“ ‘The Amazon was buying you some time that it is not going to buy anymore,’ Carlos Quesada, a scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research, told Public Radio International in 2018. Scientists warn that the rainforest could reach a tipping point, turning into something more like a savanna when it can no longer sustain itself as a rainforest. That would mean it’s not able to soak up nearly as much carbon as it does now. And if the Amazon as we know it dies, it wouldn’t go quietly. As the trees and plants perish, they would release billions of tons of carbon that has been stored for decades — making it nearly impossible to escape a climate catastrophe.”
International leaders, including those of France and the UK, called for emergency international talks on the Amazon to exert pressure and offer financial aid, for President Bolsanaro to act on the August 2019 fires.
For the full analysis on the 2019 Amazon fires, including why this is such a hot topic politically, and how the policies and practices of the Bolsanaro government are viewed as making it easier for industry to enter the rainforest and for development to encroach on land previously set aside for Indigenous tribes and preservation, read more at The Verge, at https://bit.ly/2YADimz.
Most of us looking in likely think this was just a bad fire season in the Amazon, but in truth, the climate conditions were not favourable for bad fires, and many of these fires were man-made.
Last word on this goes to Lancaster University’s Jos Barlow, interviewed by the Verge, “The best fire fighting technique in the Amazon is to prevent them in the first place — by controlling deforestation and managing agricultural activities.” (Info sources: https://bit.ly/3hFIzSA; https://bit.ly/3epWMkc; https://bit.ly/3fGdV9x, and, https://bit.ly/3ehCTvY).
Will 2020 be a Better Year in the Amazon?
“It’s too early for a verdict, but at present, threats to the Brazilian Amazon are growing virtually unchecked while the COVID-19 pandemic deepens in 2020. As the virus spreads, ‘land grabbing’ is advancing and there is no sign of deforestation slowing. According to a recent article in The Guardian, “On the contrary, numbers are skyrocketing with nearly 800 square kms of forest cut down during the first quarter of 2020, a 51% increase compared to the same period in 2019. The situation in the Amazon looks to get far worse before it gets better.” https://bit.ly/2UKFN4A.
The Amazon and Generations to Come
A call to action, from InJustOneDay.com, which speaks to us both – “So, for the millions of people, animals and plants that rely on and live in the Amazon and for the millions of us who benefit from its survival, we must protect and preserve it for now and for generations to come.”
“The Amazon rainforest and river and all it holds is a reminder that there are still great wonders to be discovered. They are everywhere, every day often in the things we barely notice, the things we almost forget.” https://bit.ly/2Y5NvbE
We have come to learn and believe that the Amazon rainforest is a treasure, and our heart and lungs for the Earth. https://bit.ly/3de9a5E
“The #AmazonRainforest is a critical piece of the global climate solution. Without the largest rainforest in the world, we cannot keep the Earth’s warming in check. The Amazon needs more than prayers. 50% of all known plants and animals on Earth live in the #rainforest. If these forests disappear, many of these species will have nowhere else to go.”
What Can One Person Do to Save the Amazon Rainforest?
As an individual living so far away from the Amazon it is easy to feel helpless as to how one can make a difference in saving this Rainforest. Here are some suggestions from tanksgoodnews.com, that we each might consider:
“1. Donate to a rainforest-focussed nonprofit:
Organizations like the Rainforest Trust and the Rainforest Alliance are working to combat the destruction of the Amazon rainforest by increasing environmental protections and stopping the rampant and illegal deforestation that is threatening one of the Earth’s most vital ecosystems.”
“2. Be a conscious consumer:
By doing your best to buy products that are certified as sustainable and rainforest-conscious you can help stop the demand that spurs illegal deforestation by ranchers and farmers in the Amazon basin.”
“For example to attain the green frog seal that makes a product Rainforest Alliance certified products must meet certain criteria. According to the Rainforest Alliance only “farms, forests, and tourism businesses that meet rigorous environmental and social standards” can receive the certification that allows consumers to know their purchases aren’t contributing to the problem.”
“3. Eat less meat:
Some people won’t want to hear this one but a huge factor leading to the deforestation that is causing the fires isthe global demand for beef that is spurring ranchers to burn more and more land in the Amazon basin as they clear land for cattle. It may feel like a small thing but maybe reconsider that next burger.”
“The Amazon faces a dire threat: beef production. The record-breaking fires in the rainforest are mostly manmade to clear land for cattle grazing so much of the Amazon Is ‘Burning for Beef’. Fires are three times more common in the Amazon cattle farming areas and are used to clear forest for pasture. Fragile law enforcement means fines are ignored.”
“4. Sign a Petition:
You can lend your name and support to several petitions that have been started both on Change.org and by Greenpeace. A petition started by a private citizen in Brazil titled “Stop the burning of the Amazon rainforest!” has already garnered an incredible 4 million signatures, showing just how much people care about stopping the devastation.”
“5. Read About and Talk About Deforestation of the Amazon:
Whether you do so on social media or in your social circle, the more you and others discuss this issue the more it will be part of the public discourse. By sharing stories about the horrendous damage being done you’re helping to raise awareness of a vital issue, the survival of the Amazon Rainforest.” https://bit.ly/3e6hUfd
We found it very informative to read and learn about the Amazon Rainforest for this blog, and we hope it offers some “food for thought” for our Readers too, as it has raised our own awareness .
As we all continue to shelter-in-place during the pandemic, many of us are becoming more aware and intentional about pursuing opportunities to support local farmers of the food we eat. (Some of us are even trying our hand at vegetable gardening ourselves and learning firsthand just how patient, dedicated and resilient farmers need to be!)
We might want to consider how to extend such mindfulness to include local buying practices that have preserving the Amazon rainforest in mind too (e.g., choosing to buy local beef, soy, grains; or looking for eco-certifications such as ‘green frog’ symbols on international products). Consider all forms of protein when planning meals – the Canadian food guide suggests protein can be in the form of: fish, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, yogurt, milk, chicken, pork, beef, eggs and tofu.
A Look at Four Of the Amazing Amazon Trees
It’s no secret that we need trees—much more than they need us. To end this blog on a high note, here are just a few beautiful and important species of trees from the Amazon for Readers to behold, courtesy of Rainforest-Alliance.org at https://bit.ly/2YCW6RZ.
“This rainforest giant can reach up to 200 feet in height. Some varieties of the kapok tree bear spines or conical thorns, giving the tree a menacing appearance. Many plant and animal species, such as frogs, birds, and bromeliads, appreciate the nooks and crannies formed by the kapok’s roots. Some indigenous communities, such as the Sani Kichwa in Ecuador, believe that the the kapok tree tree is the father of all animals.”
“Native to the Amazon, the rubber tree provides material for everything from tires to waterproof clothing. We have the ancient Olmec, Maya, and Aztec to thank for first discovering the versatility of the tree’s milky white sap, known as latex. After approximately six years of age, the tree can be tapped for this substance by removing thin strips of bark. Once collected and dried, the latex gets processed and turns into what we call natural rubber.”
“Indigenous to parts of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, the ramón tree is typically found in abundance in these regions’ forest ecosystems—a result of its centuries-long cultivation by indigenous communities. These communities harvest the nut from the tree’s fruit, for its nutritional value. When dried, it can be stored for up to five years without spoiling, making it an important food source in regions with frequent periods of drought and food instability.”
“Xate (pronounced SHA-tay) are the leaves produced from three species of palms most commonly found in Belize and Guatemala. Growing in the understory of Neotropical forests, xate is commonly used in floral arrangements due to their lush appearance and their hardiness—they can last up to 45 days after being cut! By harvesting xate, these women in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve have not only found a sustainable way to manage their forests, but also have taken on leadership roles in these enterprises.” https://bit.ly/2V06Zwm
Plants Help Home Air Quality
From trees as “lungs of the world” to plants as home air purifiers.
We are happy to build on and follow up last week’s Blog post, which offered research evidence to help answer the question of which trees are best for improving urban air quality, with this tidbit on improving indoor air quality through beautiful house plants.
Turns out there is NASA research (!) which identifies the best house plants for cleaning indoor air.
The skinny is that snake plants, spider plants, Boston ferns and the peace lily are among the best.
Here’s the evidence and summary excerpt from the actual NASA research report:
“Low-light-requiring houseplants, along with activated carbon plant filters, have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air in energy-efficient buildings. This plant system is one of the most promising means of alleviating the sick building syndrome associated with many new, energyefficient buildings. The plant root-soil zone appears to be the most effective area for removing volatile organic chemicals. Therefore, maximizing air exposure to the plant root-soil area should be considered when placing plants in buildings for best air filtration. Activated carbon filters containing fans have the capacity for rapidly filtering large volumes of polluted air and should be considered an integral part of any plan using houseplants for solving indoor air pollution problems.”
The full (dry) NASA report at: https://go.nasa.gov/3hri82K. ( ” Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement Final Report – September 15, 1989″.)
Alternatively, a visually appealing descriptor of NASA’s 12 recommended plants is available here, at medium.com – https://bit.ly/3d6Bgjb.