2023 could mark a turning point for the Amazon rainforest

By |2023-01-01T17:22:05+00:00January 1st, 2023|

New political leaders in Brazil and Colombia have promised to protect the rainforest, raising hopes of saving the ecosystem from becoming savannah

From the New Scientist, 31 December 2022

By Luke Taylor


The Potaro river running through the Amazon rainforest in Guyana

After four years of runaway deforestation in the Amazon under Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who takes office on 1 January, could be a decisive turning point.

Lula has pledged to aim for net-zero deforestation – the first Brazilian president to do so. “A standing tree is worth more than thousands of logs,” he said in his victory speech on 31 October. “That is why we will resume the surveillance of the entire Amazon and any illegal activity.”

As well as the restoration of monitoring and surveillance efforts, Lula is proposing several ambitious projects, such as a national climate authority and a sustainable farming scheme. But without a majority in Brazil’s Congress, it is unclear whether he will be able to deliver on these pledges. It will also take time to dislodge the illegal industries that have taken hold in the Amazon, such as gold mining.

Despite the challenges ahead, Lula’s win has made researchers and conservationists more optimistic that the Amazon could be saved, even as there are signs it is hitting a tipping point that would see it transform into savannah. “The election of Lula is a great reason for hope,” says Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist and co-founder of non-profit organisation the Amazon Conservation Team.

The impact of Lula’s environmental policy should be magnified by the recent election of eco-conscious governments elsewhere in South America that have campaigned to protect the rainforest.

In Colombia, which is home to some of the Amazon’s most biodiverse regions, President Gustavo Petro is also positioning himself as a regional steward of the rainforest, after taking office in August 2022. Petro is pushing for high-income countries to support South America’s defence of the rainforest and he is also overseeing a total rethink of Colombia’s conservation strategy.

After decades of criminalising farmers who clear the forest for agriculture, the Colombian government now plans to offer them financial support to transition to more sustainable practices, such as harvesting Amazonian fruits from the trees.

The country’s environment minister also proposes diverting all carbon tax revenue directly to conservation schemes and forging an “Amazon Bloc” with other South American nations, so that they will have more leverage to secure international funds.

With Petro, Lula and US president Joe Biden all having been elected after campaigning to protect the Amazon, researchers say they have the political and public support to move forward with plans to conserve and restore the rainforest.

There may also be more opportunities for collaboration between different countries and groups. Bolsonaro blocked conservation in the wider region, not just Brazil, says Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the non-profit organisation Gaia Amazonas. Alliances between NGOs, scientists and Indigenous peoples can now be strengthened and their plans enacted, he says.

Restoring the forest

This could be the year that decades of damage begin to be reversed, says von Hildebrand. The anthropologist is working with researchers and Indigenous communities to draw up a reforestation project that would create a wildlife corridor stretching from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. “We’ve been waiting for a long time for political will to implement change and I think we are finally going to get it,” he says.

Carlos Nobre at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, believes that conservationists can capitalise on political support and the growing urgency of climate change to spur efforts towards reforestation.

At the COP27 climate summit in November 2022, Nobre presented a project to restore more than 1 million square kilometres of rainforest that would, he says, “store 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year for decades to come and prevent the Amazon from reaching a tipping point”.

Though the Amazon’s future remains uncertain, the importance of its conservation for climate change will only become more obvious in 2023, says von Hildebrand.

“It’s not only a carbon sink and a haven of biodiversity, but with its flying rivers [currents of water vapour], it’s a water pump for the entire Amazon, the Andes and beyond,” he says. “The forest is absolutely necessary. If we lose the forest, we simply won’t have water in this part of the world.”

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Increasing Natural Disasters Are “Not So Natural” Afterall

By |2021-05-13T15:34:39+01:00January 12th, 2021|

Do you ever wonder why the news channels are always flashing news about a natural disaster raging in some or the other part of the world? The Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) states that the occurrence of natural disasters has hiked three-fold merely in the last four decades. 

When the world is standing amidst a climate crisis and facing multiple threats from nature, we really need to ponder what all this rage is about and how we can fix our ways for a healthier and safer planet.

What is a natural disaster?

The Oxford Dictionary explains a natural disaster as a natural phenomenon that causes great loss of life and property. Phenomena like floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes are natural; the overflowing of a river and flooding the shores is natural, but if there’s a human settlement that is disturbed by this flood, it’s a natural disaster. 

According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), natural disasters are simply a result of a lack of planning and prevention in a natural phenomenon. In other words, it’s not nature but human interference and mismanagement that causes a natural disaster.

How do human activities result in a natural disaster?

  • Deforestation

While large-scale deforestation results in increased carbon levels in the atmosphere and decreased resources for forest-dependent communities, it contributes to an increased number of small-scale natural disasters. Since tall and robust trees bind the soil together, cutting them results in washing off the forest soil — a phenomenon called soil erosion. 

When there’s heavy rainfall, the soil of the forest is able to absorb excess water, preventing soil, and in the very same manner, it can prevent dry land or droughts. The number of people suffering from food crises due to natural disasters has tripled over the last three decades.

  • Agriculture

Just like deforestation, agriculture also destroys the topsoil of a land area, decreasing its possibility to absorb rainwater. This excess water is then rushed down to the rivers, and consequently, the river system becomes overloaded, again causing floods, cyclones, and tsunamis.

  • Urban Development

In the very same manner, increased urban development makes that geographical area more prone to natural disasters. Town and city surfaces are covered with cement and asphalt, which is not able to absorb any rainwater, burdening the nearby river system. 

  • Building Dams

Hydroelectric power production is impossible without dam construction. Levees and dams used to hold river water again make that area prone to damaging floods as there is a possibility of the levee or dam wall breaking and spreading water in the surroundings. Building dams also makes the place vulnerable to earthquakes due to the large mass of water, putting immense pressure behind the dam. 

  • Natural Wetland Destruction

Destruction of natural wetlands is another major root cause behind floods. When swamps are ditched and natural obstacles for water are destroyed, water finds new ways that tend to be close to human settlements, resulting in a massive loss of life and property.

The post Increasing Natural Disasters Are “Not So Natural” Afterall appeared first on Nature Talkies – We Talk about Nature.

Understanding Ecology: A beginner’s handbook

By |2021-05-13T15:34:42+01:00January 7th, 2021|

Ecology, as we have all studied in our school times, is the study of organisms and how they interact with their surrounding environment. All living beings make up the biotic component while the nonliving things of our ecosystem comprise the abiotic component. 

Changes occurring in the ecosystem due to different factors like increase in temperature, overexploitation of natural resources, excessive fishing, deforestation, and other human activities disturb the balance in the environment. These ecological changes affect the living and nonliving components of the ecosystem that are interdependent for their survival. 

Understanding ecology and the gradual changes in our ecosystem can help ecologists anticipate future ecological challenges. Such prior knowledge helps scientists and policymakers to find a way out to combat any local ecosystem challenges that can arise in the near future.

What is an Ecosystem?

In simpler words, the ecosystem is a geographical area consisting of plants, animals, and other living and nonliving beings. All the members of an ecosystem are dependent on members of their same species and on members of different species in that ecosystem for their survival.

Understanding ecology and the components of the ecosystem

  • Like a human family, every member of an ecosystem has a role to play for a balanced functioning of that ecosystem.
  • Plants, especially the green ones, are called Primary Producers as they can make their own food by Photosynthesis. 
  • Next, in the ecosystem, we have Consumers who are dependent on plants for their food requirements. Organisms like herbivores directly feeding on plants are the Primary consumers. Carnivorous and omnivorous animals feeding on other animals are Secondary Consumers, and the chain goes on.
  • Fungi, bacterias, and other saprophytes feeding on dead bodies come in the category of decomposers.
  • All these forms the food chains and food webs in the ecosystem. Understanding the ecology behind it helps us in understanding the inter-dependability of living beings on each other.

What is population ecology?

Population ecology is the study of the processes which affect the distribution and abundance of animal and plant populations. You have probably read about this in your science classes at school. Read on for a recap:

  • A population confined to a small geographic area is easier to study as compared to the widespread one. 
  • Moreover, the population that undergoes asexual reproduction shows less genetic and phenotypic variability than that reproducing sexually.
  • These variations make them more adaptable to the changing environmental conditions around them.
Ecology and the homo sapiens

Humans have always manipulated and overexploited the ecosystem. Here are some of the endless ways in which human activities are disturbing the ecological balance and leading humanity to a deteriorating planet

  • Air pollution by the factory and vehicular emission
  • Water pollution by factory discharge
  • Soil pollution by inorganic farming
  • Contamination of the food web by agricultural chemicals 

Understanding ecology has become all the more critical in this age of science and industrialization to spot our mistakes and find out alternatives to our modern lifestyles for a safer, cleaner, and greener world.

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