I do not know why there is still a question of why the Amazon is important. The millions of unknown species that are there, the value of the carbon held there instead of released into the atmosphere, the need for the water flow for life and Atlantic Ocean wildlife... the list of critical life-giving factors is almost endless even before you throw the silly slogan “lungs of the earth” at it.
Dr. Normal Borlaug (Nobel laureate from Minnesota) showed, conclusively, over 30 years ago that if you carve out 1 square kilometer of rainforest (he did this in the Yucatan) then, a year later there will be sand dunes. Ten years later? Sand dunes. 30 years later? Sand dunes.
History: If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over until you perish. Modern archaeology has found that the Sahara was once a vast tropical forest. Let’s go back in time...
7,000,000 years ago a sea called Tethys dried up. Well, that’s not really accurate. Tectonic movement that caused the Alps also raised the sea floor until the water ran off and left a fertile vast plain. As Dr. Borlaug showed, everything on Earth between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer get about 5 inches of original rain a year. The Amazon—pay attention here—gets only 5 inches of original rain a year. All the other water there is either from the clouds bumping into the Andes and off-loading moisture (think Hawaii as well) or part of the heat/greenhouse effect of the tall trees. Break the tree canopy and the greenhouse roof is gone. Always, remember the sand dunes in Dr. Borlaug’s Yucatan experiment. In time, the Sahara recent sea floor began to grow plants and this is where archaeology kicks in.
The amount of lumber used by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Syrians, Romans and others had to come from somewhere... when studying which type of lumber was found in ancient Pharaohs’’ tombs, none of it matched the coastal regions, but was Commiphora and other central African species. Being practical, some of these researchers began to question: Would they have carted logs 500+ miles to Egypt? Wouldn’t they have built using other materials instead, like adobe or stone? Square houses with adobe walls need roofing trusses... rounded homes with adobe igloo type construction would not need wood from 500+ miles away. And their ships needing tall straight timber? Something was wrong. So the archaeologists began asking colleagues to scout into the desert, wondering if, closer to the Nile, there used to be forests. Over the past 20 years, they have found that the entire Sahara used to be forested, rivers running everywhere, lost settlements, and, above all, deep water reserves beneath the sands that used to feed the forests.
Way sought of Egypt, in Ethiopia there used to be giant forests of tall Commiphora trees. We—and by we I include me—raised money for CARE packages of tools and seeds in the ‘50s to help natives there reclaim the land, cut down the trees, plant crops. Once the trees were cut down the rainfall reduced itself to 5 inches a year, came as monsoons, and washed the topsoil into the Indian Ocean. Result? Famine.
What Brazilians are doing to the rainforest is a repeat of history. Only this time, it is not a local famine that will be the end cost, it will be a global catastrophe as the South Atlantic Amazon feed will be reduced decimating fishing from S. America to West Africa, the carbon held there may be released and cause catastrophic global climate change and, perhaps worst of all, simply end life as we currently know and enjoy it. Put aside the “lungs of the earth’ slogan, put aside the bio-diversity argument, and put aside the local famine that will result. If just the carbon is released into the atmosphere as CO2, then the Earth’s temperature will rise quicker than any plant form can adapt to, the polar ice caps and Greenland will melt, and 60% of the world’s population currently living within 50 feet altitude of the oceans will perish or move inland without hope of food, water or work.
This isn’t tomorrow’s problem, or the next generation’s problem. This is here, now and life-threatening.