Why the Amazon rainforest could be at risk of “collapsing”

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FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil, Brazil August 17, 2019. Picture Taken August 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

(CBS News) French President Emmanuel Macron wants the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest to be on the agenda at this weekend’s G-7 summit. And even Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who previously described rainforest protection as an obstacle to his country’s economic development, has authorized the military to join the firefighting efforts.

But that action isn’t enough to save the rainforests, according to naturalist Paul Rosolie, who said the Amazon is at risk of “collapsing.”

“The Amazon is a loop. It’s producing the moisture that creates all that rain that makes it a rainforest,” said Rosolie, who wrote about his experiences in the jungle in his 2014 book, “Mother of God.”

“As we chop more of the rainforest down – and this has been going on for decades, this is not an isolated issue — as we chop more of the rainforest, what we’re risking is reaching a tipping point, where that moisture system might be too dry to produce the rain. And then you have a serious problem on your hands, because you’re talking about the entire Amazon sort of collapsing.”

Deforestation has increased since Bolsonaro took office last year. Hundreds of fires are being set in order to clear the rainforest for agricultural use.  

When asked why Bolsonaro doesn’t seem to be taking the fires as seriously as other international leaders, Rosolie said that “The standing rainforest, while it’s producing ecosystem services for all of us, it’s not making money for him. And so that may need to change … it’s really short term gain versus health for everybody, and long term health for the planet.”

“He feels like this is a personal attack on him, that we’re saying ‘you need to protect the Amazon rainforest,'” Rosolie added. “But again, this sort of transcends political boundaries. This isn’t something that one nation has to deal with. It’s something that our entire planet depends on.”

In order to avoid environmental disaster, Rosolie said, the world must “reimagine our entire relationship with nature.”

“These problems are going to pop up more and more,” he said. “There’s fires raging in Indonesia right now, in the next few days it’s going to come out, but then we’re all gonna forget about it. And then the rain’s gonna come, and next year it’s gonna get worse again. And every year if it gets worse, at what point are we just out of time?”  

It’s not just a matter of future problems, Rosolie noted. “There are animals in that rainforest that need help — that’s their only home,” he said. “And there’s 20 million people living in the Amazon.”

“For everybody at home, this is a moment when the global attention is focused on the rainforest,” he added. “Now is the chance where we can actually get leaders and policymakers to pay attention to this.” 

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