The Amazon Rainforest: A Secret Contributor to Green-House Gas

by Max Rauch

What you can do

  • Support indigenous rainforest protection groups via donation
  • Vote for elected officials that care about global climate change and biodiversity conservation

It is common knowledge that trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. These green figures help keep the earth’s climate stable and create a safe environment for humans to breathe in. Throughout history, the Amazon Rainforest has been a constant source of Earth’s clean air, and will hopefully continue to assume this role in the future. However, recent studies have shown that The Amazon rainforest is most likely now a net contributor to the warming of the planet. 

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas produced mainly by the process of combusting fossil fuels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), greenhouse gases trap heat and then release it into the environment, causing higher temperatures that lead to global warming and climate change. [1] Researchers have been concerned for generations that rising temperatures, drought, and deforestation are reducing the ability of the world’s largest rainforest to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help offset greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions. According to recent research, some parts of the tropical landscape may be emitting more carbon than they recycle. [1] However, CO2 inhalation and exhalation are just one way that this misty jungle, which is home to the world’s most diverse animals, affects the global climate. Natural and anthropogenic activities in the Amazon can predominantly alter the rainforest’s contribution to clean air, either by releasing greenhouse gases or directly heating up the climate. [2] For example, drying wetlands can increase the rate at which the forests produce gas. Additionally, in the case of dry fires in the forest, black carbon and soot are released and absorb sunlight which increases warmth. The act of deforestation can also alter patterns of rain in the forest, causing the landscape to become hotter and drier. One misconception arises when daily flooding occurs to “wet the land”, but actually unleashes other greenhouse gases. When facilities view that areas that are typical “wetlands” seem to be drying up due to gas emission, such as certain parts of the Amazon, they use machinery to flood the areas to re-moisturize them. However, these machines use burn natural resources and produce fossil fuels, negating their intention.[3]

The same complexity that makes the Amazon diverse also makes it difficult to comprehend why the forest has become a gas emitting contributor. To explain, photosynthesis converts CO2 from the atmosphere into carbohydrates, which end up in the trees as they develop. The Amazon stores years of amounts of CO2 in its trees and soil. [4] However, the Amazon is very moist, and small bacteria in the wet soil can house methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more concentrated than CO2. The trees then act as smokers, releasing this gas into the atmosphere. [4] Although the findings are still being confirmed, they demonstrate that only evaluating CO2 would not provide a reliable image for the whole forest. As essential as carbon is in the Amazon, it is not the sole contributor to the greenhouse effect. Natural areas similar to the Amazon are impacted in a number of ways, by using natural resources, river damming, the conversion of trees to wood, livestock processing, etc. [5] 

To amend this climate crisis, President Joe Biden released an executive order in January ordering officials to craft a system for promoting Amazon rainforest survival and other critical ecosystems that serve as global carbon houses. Biden manifested the idea of collecting $20 billion to protect Amazon during his initiative. Recently, representatives from US and Brazilian universities, as well as environmental organizations, backed a report on how Biden should deal with Brazil, urging that the president use an executive order to limit importations and excessive trade; the actions that can secondhand cause pollution. [6] They asked that goods related to forest destruction, such as beef, soy, and wood, be banned from entering the US from Brazil, which is home to approximately 60% of the Amazon and is currently experiencing an increase in deforestation. In recent years, countries such as Brazil and its neighbors have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars for emissions to be prevented by cracking down on forest clearing actions. [6]

In the United States, a fully supporting group of retired US cabinet officials and chief climate prosecutors recently presented the Biden administration with legislative proposals about how to help conserve the Amazon rainforest. The Climate Principals Alliance (CPA) presented additional support towards the Biden administration, stating the urgency and threatening state of the Amazon Rainforest. [7] The Climate Principals Partnership argued until a negotiation was reached with the administration, with the US engaging with Brazil and proposing new economic alternatives to limit deforestation. A main area of focus was to rework the Lacey Act, which bans the importation of contraband traded wildlife, plants, and timber, to induce agricultural crops grown on unrighteously deforested land. In the United Kingdom, similar legislation is being considered, and the country is offering additional support to the Amazon effort. Subsequently, Amazon native leaders are hopeful that Biden can help finance attempts to fight rising deforestation and gas emission, and are eager to have their opinions accounted for. [6]