The Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, about half the size of the United States, is key to the health of the entire planet. Estimates show that almost 20% of the oxygen produced by the earth comes from the Amazon rainforest. It also puts a lot of water in the atmosphere at a time when cities are drying up. The Amazon is absorbing carbon and greenhouse gases while reducing rising temperatures. But now it is burning at record speed, with images of space showing the smoke that covers much of Brazil.
It is not the only major forest under assault. Nearly half of the world's forests that existed when humans began farming are now gone, and an additional 32 million acres are destroyed each year, according to the Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit organization. The most important reason is the expansion of agriculture in forest areas. In Brazil, livestock, soybean production and logging, according to Nigel Sizer, tropical forest ecologist and program director of the Rainforest Alliance. "It is responsible for 80% to 90% of the loss of tropical forests worldwide." Environmental groups say that these activities can be slowed down or carried out in a much more sustainable way.
"There have been many analyses and satellite data that show that there is already a lot of cleared land, many abandoned or very badly used and managed that we could use to grow food," says Sizer. "We don't need to cut down new forests to do this in Brazil."
This is what you can do to help stop the loss of forests.
Help reforestation and slow deforestation
You can help reforest parts of the world through KSTR's Reforestation Project.
Take steps to live sustainably
As the main forests decrease in size, carbon and greenhouse gases have increased in the atmosphere. But you can help curb that trend.
"Think about greenhouse gas emissions: drive less, buy a car that saves more fuel," says Sizer. He also recommends adjusting your thermostats only a couple of degrees. "It makes a big difference and also saves money."
You can also buy carbon offsets. "If you have to fly often to go to work, you can buy these offsets by making a small contribution to an organization that is planting trees, absorbing the carbon that is emitted when you fly. These things really add up."
About 20% of the Amazon has already been destroyed.
"The most recent studies now says that if we deforest more than 30% to 40% of the Amazon rainforest, it will begin to dry up.
We will pass an irreversible turning point."