Since the turn of the century, environmentalists, ecologists, biologists and even some economists have been attempting to forecast the date when the Amazon forest will reach a tipping point: the moment when global climate change will become irreversible as the Amazon basin is rendered incapable of producing enough rainfall to sustain itself.
For years, it has been argued that once 25% of the Amazon basin has been deforested and destroyed, the entire Amazon will begin to degrade exponentially, until it has been transformed into a much drier savannah ecosystem. Such a dramatic transformation would release into our planet’s atmosphere the billions of tons of carbon currently stored within the Amazon’s vast biomass, thereby accelerating global warming and leading to devastating climate change across the entire continent of South America and throughout the rest of the world.
Until very recently, the general consensus among climate change activists and the scientific community was that this catastrophic tipping point would be reached some fifteen or twenty years from now. However, around 17% of the Amazon basin has already been deforested, and the environmentally destructive policies introduced in Brazil by the government of president Jair Bolsonaro since it assumed power in January 2019 threaten to accelerate the pace of destruction over the coming years.
Jair Bolsonaro has made economic development of the 58.4% of the Amazon basin which lies within Brazil’s borders a priority of his first term as president. He has vowed to allow mining concessions on land set aside by previous administrations for Brazil’s indigenous peoples, and he has promised to heed the demands of the country’s ranchers and farmers, who are keen to see swept aside the environmental laws which in recent years have reined in their expansion into new lands.
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), whose director was fired this year by Bolsonaro, in August 2019 the rate of deforestation across the country’s Amazon region was up 222% on figures for August of the previous year. If comparable increases are maintained throughout Bolsonaro’s current four-year term, the tipping point experts previously thought would be reached almost two decades from now could be reached as early as 2021.
That is certainly the opinion contained in a policy document published this month by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), based in Washington DC. The report’s lead author, the Brazilian macroeconomist and senior fellow at the PIIE, Monica de Bolle, presented her conclusions before the US Congress earlier this month, in an effort to raise awareness of the growing threat to the Amazon basin.
While other climate experts have questioned Dr. de Bolle’s assertion that current trends presage a quadrupling of deforestation by 2021, the PIIE’s report stands as a significant call to arms.
Of the nine countries that share the Amazon basin, Peru is home to just 12.8%, and it too is experiencing challenges to the environment from mining and drilling concessions, illegal logging, land invasion for ranching and agriculture, and government inaction and corruption. Since Peru created its first state protected natural area in 1961, almost eighty more areas have been added. But they continue to face constant and multiple threats.
While many travelers from developed countries quite rightly express concern regarding the carbon footprint produced by international air travel, it is now clear that protected areas of Amazon forest like our own Tambopata Private Conservation Area and Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve will only survive going forward if they can continue to attract international tourism. In South America, domestic demand for ecotourism experiences remains extremely low.
And that is why at Tambopata Ecolodge we continue to work to protect our corner of Amazon forest, and to invite travelers from all over the world to contribute to our work by coming to experience their own once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the tropical forests of southeastern Peru.