Amazon Rainforest Reaches Point of No Return
By Jessica Rawnsley
Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world's biggest rainforest.
"Just when I thought the destruction couldn't get any worse, it has," says Nobre, one of Brazil's leading scientists who has studied the Amazon — its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate — for more than 40 years.
"In terms of the Earth's climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There's no doubt about this."
For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.
"We developed the system that's now being used by other countries," he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.
"Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation."
Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically — by as much as 200 percent between 2017 and 2018.
It's all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.
Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn't care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.
His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.
For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. "They are being murdered, their land is being invaded," Nobre says.
In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region — a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases — went up in flames.
Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a "day of fires" in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.
"Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space," he says. "They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could."
The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. "Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone — it's losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.
"When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there's less rain. It's no longer a forest."
As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth's surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..
When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.
Time Running Out
"We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season," Nobre says. "Now, you have many months without a drop of water."
Nobre spent many years living and carrying out research in the rainforest and is now attached to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change — but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.
Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.
Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.
Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies' scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
"They brought us to this situation knowingly," Nobre says. "It's not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science."
Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
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