In 2015, you could be forgiven for only thinking of Amazon as that online dildo store. Turns out it’s also a giant rain forest in South America, and its endangerment could pose a really big problem for humans — yes, even bigger than getting kicked off your dad’s Prime account.
This is because the Amazon has (soon to be “had”) a lot of trees, and when those trees are alive, they pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — which is great for those of us concerned about climate change. But after they die, they release that carbon back into the atmosphere. Considering the little climate change problem we’re dealing with here, it seems like we should keep as many trees alive as possible, right?
If only it were so simple. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that widespread deforestation in the Amazon has led to increased local temperatures, which has then exacerbated a drought in the area. The study says that by the end of the century, the area affected by the drought will have tripled in size — which is a lot of dead trees.
There have been three severe droughts in the Amazon in the past decade — one in 2005, one in 2010 and another one currently ongoing — that helped to inspire the study, said lead author Philip Duffy, currently president of the Woods Hole Research Center and a visiting scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at the time the study was initiated. Research estimated that the amount of carbon released as a result of the 2005 drought was more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined, and the 2010 drought’s effects were even more severe, Duffy said. “So if there’s going to be more and more drought, it has the potential to really make the Amazon a big source of carbon to the atmosphere,” he said.
Uh oh! The good news is that is doesn’t have to happen. All we need is a time machine to warn our ancestors of what’s to come. “HALT!” we’ll say when we emerge from our magic refrigerator into the 1800s. “Unless you want your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandkids to grow up on life rafts, put down the saw and step away.”
The other possible solution is that global leaders will pledge major reductions in carbon emissions at the U.N. climate talks in Paris in December … but, honestly, the time machine seems more likely.