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Tipping points and cascade effects: the Amazon is under grave threat

Often erroneously labeled as the “lungs of the Earth,” the Amazon rainforest is correctly identified as one of the world’s most important carbon sinks. In layman’s terms, this means that the basin takes in more carbon from plants and soil than it emits. Thus, it plays a key role in regulating the Earth’s temperature and serving as a bastion against global warming.

But the Amazon rainforest is in jeopardy, amid years of rising deforestation and unrestrained economic activity in the region. In March, Brazil recorded the highest overall level of deforestation for that month since records began. It did the same in April. And May. And June.

An area three times the size of Los Angeles has been destroyed in the Amazon since March.

And now, a recent study shows that parts of the Amazon basin have lost their status as carbon sinks. Due to this uptick in deforestation, the southeast portion of the forest is now a CO2 source — meaning that it emits more carbon than it absorbs, something unthinkable just a short time ago.

Not only does this threaten the future of the rainforest — climate experts have warned for years that the biome is reaching a “tipping point” at which it will become a savannah — but the retirement of the world’s most important carbon sink could accelerate global warming.

The world’s land temperatures in June were the highest in recorded history and such unwelcome marks are becoming more and more common. We must save the Amazon, and save ourselves.

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