Henry Chu writes in the LA Times this morning on the myth that the Amazon rainforests are the “lungs of the world.” June is the start of the burning season in the Amazon, which sends up “inky billows” of smoke every year. Some tidbits:

“It’s not the lungs of the world,” said Daniel Nepstad, an American ecologist who has studied the Amazon for 20 years. “It’s probably burning up more oxygen now than it’s producing.”

But setting those inky billows aside:

Even without the massive burning, the popular conception of the Amazon as a giant oxygen factory for the rest of the planet is misguided, scientists say. Left unmolested, the forest does generate enormous amounts of oxygen through photosynthesis, but it consumes most of it itself in the decomposition of organic matter.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Chu still implies that treaties like Kyoto need to provide incentives to discourage rainforest destruction.

Regarding the resilience of the perception that the rainforests are the lungs of the earth, I’m reminded of that infamous framing guru and the aphorism, “If the facts don’t fit the frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off.”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.