What if the Amazon rainforest disappeared?

. Nov 05, 2019
world without amazon Photo: Mayke Toscano/Gcom-MT

With the concern raised by the boom in forest fires earlier this year linked to deforestation, the environmental contribution of the Amazon to our planet has been widely debated. World leaders expressed their worry, repeating the hackneyed and incorrect maxim that the forest is “the lungs of the world” and that it produces 20 percent of the oxygen found on Earth.

Members of the Jair Bolsonaro government, however, went in the opposite direction. Addressing deforestation figures, the Head of Institutional Security, General Augusto Heleno declared that statistics on the disappearing Amazon were “manipulated.” Showing a basic lack of understanding of mathematics, Gen. Heleno claimed that “if you added up all the percentages they’ve announced until today on deforestation, the Amazon would be a desert already.”

</p> <p>But, what would <em>actually</em> happen if the Amazon rainforest simply disappeared? In a <a href="">recent study</a>, a pair of scientists from Princeton University modeled the effects of deforesting the entire Amazon over the next 30 years and replacing it with pasture. And while the world wouldn&#8217;t exactly be losing its &#8220;lungs,&#8221; it would be in very bad shape indeed.</p> <p>Authors Elena Shevliakova and Stephen Pacala found that even if the rest of the world is able to cut down its carbon emissions, turning the Amazon into pasture would see global temperatures rise 1.75°C, above the current Paris Agreement projections of 1.5°C.</p> <p>The Amazon region itself—the 7 million square kilometer basin stretching over nine Brazilian states and eight other sovereign countries—would become <a href="">virtually uninhabitable</a>. Rainfall would be 25 percent lower and temperatures up to 4.5°C hotter. &#8220;It&#8217;s a bad story any way you look at it,&#8221; said Ms. Shevliakova.</p> <p>Mr. Pacala highlighted the four major concerns facing the planet right now: climate, food, water, and biodiversity. &#8220;And the Amazon is at the center of all of them,&#8221; he said. The region has a major impact on the Earth&#8217;s water cycle and carbon balance.</p> <h2>Impacts of the U.S.</h2> <p>Another <a href="">paper </a>by a quartet of researchers from Princeton and the University of Miami explored precisely how a deforested Amazon would impact directly on conditions in the U.S. and other non-tropical regions. While South America would feel a quick and deafening blow from changing climates in the Amazon, the effects of such a loss on farther-flung regions have yet to be fully explored.</p> <p>Led by first author and assistant geosciences professor David Medvigy, the study found that a <a href="">deforested</a> Amazon would lead to decreased rainfall in crucial areas of the mainland U.S., such as the Northwestern coast and the Sierra Nevada snowpack—which provides a huge source of water for California farms and cities.</p> <p>These findings are based on the likelihood of a depleted Amazon creating a weather pattern similar to that of El Niño, a hypothesis followed by researchers in studies on the topic for decades. The idea in Mr. Medvigy&#8217;s paper is that a hotter Amazon will create an abnormal pattern of dry air moving with the wetter and cooler air from the south. This cycle would then increase rainfall around the Gulf of Mexico, yet dry out the U.S. Northwest. As the Sierra Nevada snowpack is crucial to California&#8217;s Central Valley, such a transition could have a huge impact on food security in the country.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Food security in Brazil</h2> <p>Back in Brazil, alarm bells are ringing with regard to the effects climate change may be about to have on the production of food across the country. A Central Bank <a href="">study</a> showed just how much food prices have been affected by climate conditions so far in 2019, and the situation is set to get worse over time, as <a href="">Natalia Scalzaretto reported </a>back in July.

Read the full story NOW!

The Brazilian Report

We are an in-depth content platform about Brazil, made by Brazilians and destined to foreign audiences.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at