As the largest rainforest in the world, situated in Brazil, is burning, politicians and celebrities are exhibiting growing hysteria and making claims they believe will galvanize the world into joining their perspective on climate change.
There’s one problem: Some of those hysterical claims adducing supposed facts simply aren’t true, one Amazon rainforest expert says.
Writing in Forbes, Michael Shellenberger, a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” and Green Book Award Winner, quotes Dan Nepstad, the President and Founder of Earth Innovation Institute and the co-founder of The Amazon Environmental Research Institute, a scientific, non-governmental, non-partisan and non-profit organization that has worked for the sustainable development of the Amazon since 1995, according to its website. Nepstad proceeds to demolish some of the most strident claims made about the Amazon rainforest burning.
Prior to the comments by Nepstad, Shellenberger notes, “Celebrities, environmentalists, and political leaders blame Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for destroying the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon, which they say is the ‘lungs of the world.’” French President Emanuel Macron tweeted, “The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire.”
Shellenberger references a photo shared with the public by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and French President Emanuel Macron, which he points out is over 20 years old, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo sharing a photo that was actually taken in southern Brazil, nowhere near the Amazon, in 2013 as well as tweeting, “The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen,” and a photo Madonna and Jaden Smith shared that was over 20 years old.
Shellenberger noted that although CNN pointed out “Deforestation is neither new nor limited to one nation” and The New York Times wrote, “These fires were not caused by climate change,” both publications repeated the claim that the Amazon is the “lungs” of the world. CNN: “The Amazon remains a net source of oxygen today.” The Times: “The Amazon is often referred to as Earth’s ‘lungs,’ because its vast forests release oxygen and store carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that is a major cause of global warming.”
Nepstad had a blunt response when he spoke to Shellenberger about the “Lungs” claim, saying, “It’s bullshit. There’s no science behind that. The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen but it uses the same amount of oxygen through respiration so it’s a wash.” Nepstad addressed the Times’ claim, in which they stated, “If enough rain forest is lost and can’t be restored, the area will become savanna, which doesn’t store as much carbon, meaning a reduction in the planet’s ‘lung capacity.’”
Nepstad snapped: “The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen, but so do soy farms and [cattle] pastures.”
Shellenberger also spoke to Leonardo Coutinho, a leading Brazilian environmental journalist, who asserted, “What is happening in the Amazon is not exceptional. Take a look at Google web searches search for ‘Amazon’ and ‘Amazon Forest’ over time. Global public opinion was not as interested in the ‘Amazon tragedy’ when the situation was undeniably worse. The present moment does not justify global hysteria.”
Knowing that many of the fires in the Amazon are hidden by the tree canopy, Nepstad stated, “We don’t know if there are any more forest fires this year than in past years, which tells me there probably isn’t. I’ve been working on studying those fires for 25 years and our [on-the-ground] networks are tracking this.”
Shellenberger points out, “What increased by 7% in 2019 are the fires of dry scrub and trees cut down for cattle ranching as a strategy to gain ownership of land.”
Nepstad explains that accidental forest fires in drought years pose the greatest threat to the rainforest, adding, “Macron’s tweet had the same impact on Bolsonaro’s base as Hillary calling Trump’s base deplorable. There’s outrage at Macron in Brazil. The Brazilians want to know why California gets all this sympathy for its forest fires and while Brazil gets all this finger-pointing.” He added, “Brazilian farmers want to extend [the free trade agreement] EU-Mercosur but Macron is inclined to shut it down because the French farm sector doesn’t want more Brazilian food products coming into the country.”