Sink out of commission

The Amazon is no longer a carbon sink.

The Amazon rainforest is emitting a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, according to a study. The giant forest had been absorbing the emissions driving the climate crisis but is now causing its acceleration, researchers said.

Most of the emissions are caused by fires, many deliberately set to clear land for beef and soy production. But even without fires, hotter temperatures and droughts mean the south-eastern Amazon has become a source of CO2, rather than a sink.

Growing trees and plants have taken up about a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions since 1960, with the Amazon playing a major role as the largest tropical forest. Losing the Amazon’s power to capture CO2 is a stark warning that slashing emissions from fossil fuels is more urgent than ever, scientists said.

But are we doing that? No.

Luciana Gatti, at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil and who led the research, said: “The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%.”

Fewer trees meant less rain and higher temperatures, making the dry season even worse for the remaining forest, she said: “We have a very negative loop that makes the forest more susceptible to uncontrolled fires.”

Which, it turns out, isn’t even good for farming.

“The worst part is we don’t use science to make decisions,” she said. “People think that converting more land to agriculture will mean more productivity, but in fact we lose productivity because of the negative impact on rain.”

Research published on Friday estimated that Brazil’s soy industry loses $3.5bn a year due to the immediate spike in extreme heat that follows forest destruction.

Land cleared for farming is useless for farming because the clearance made the rain go away.

We can send Elon Musk to the edge of space, but we can’t stop torching the planet we depend on.

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