Why Is the Amazon Burning?

Experts say deforestation and a practice called slash-and-burn are to blame for most of the flames. People cut down patches of forest, allow the area to dry out, then set the remains ablaze to make room for agriculture or other development

Everyone on the planet benefits from the health of the Amazon. As its trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, the Amazon plays a huge role in pulling planet-warming greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Without it, climate change speeds up. But as the world’s largest rainforest is eaten away by logging, mining, and agribusiness, it may not be able to provide the same buffer.

“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.

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