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Drought-Laden Rainforests

Photo Source Mike Goren | CC BY 2.0

The world’s rainforests are under attack at a rate of 2.5 acres per second. Global warming and clear-cutting for growing palm oil and raising cattle are some of the biggest annihilators. The repercussions are devastating. For example, one of the consequences is harmful alteration of hydrological cycles for major grain-growing regions of the planet. But, that’s just the start of trouble.

Disrupted hydrological cycles, which are only now being disclosed by new research, are one example amongst many of the aftereffects of stressed-out ecosystems as a result of (a) global warming, (b) turbo-charged climate change, and (c) the persistent human footprint. The awful truth is that ecosystems across the world are stressed-out like never before. But, nobody sees it.

Uncommonly stressed-out ecosystems occur most prominently where nobody lives, nobody sees, Antarctica, Tibetan glaciers, the Arctic, Siberian permafrost, Colorado River Basin, Alaskan permafrost Andes’ glaciers, Patagonia, Totten glacier, East Siberian Arctic Sea, ocean plankton, the Amazon rainforest. Who lives anywhere near those hot spots of ecosystem disruption?

Over time, the breakdowns turn more powerful, more dangerous, as a discordant world fails to come to grips with distinct risks of several tipping points simultaneously flaring up all at once. Such a horrific scenario could strike with the impact of a 7.5-mile-wide asteroid. The last time that happened 65 million years ago it was sayonara in a flash of geological time. If dinosaurs couldn’t handle it, well, as for Homo sapiens… hmm.

As a suggestion, maybe a world conference on “Impending Ecosystem Collapses” should be held, similar to Paris 2015, but titled: How in the hell did we let this happen? With a sub-conference titled: No-holds-barred capitalism’s infinite growth syndrome clashes with ecological preservation. Or, how about: Would capitalism-lite be better? Or, how about: Starting all over again?

Eliminating excessive amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere would be a good start, a big leap forward to curing a lot of ills, and should be combined with reforestation and an enforceable order to stop cutting down rainforests with reckless abandon. According to Global Forest Watch: “Deforestation in crucial tropical rainforests has doubled since 2008.” Much of it is illegal and linked to corruption.

“A growing body of evidence indicates that the continuing destruction of tropical forests is disrupting the movement of water in the atmosphere, causing major shifts in precipitation that could lead to drought in key agricultural areas in China, India, and the U.S. Midwest.” (Source: Fred Pearce, Rivers in the Sky: How Deforestation Is Affecting Global Water Cycles, YaleEnvironment360, July 24, 2018)

Not only is there a problem with the hydrology cycle, but also three 100-year droughts (the ones that are supposed to happen once every 100 years!) hit the Amazon Rainforest like clockwork 2005-2010-2015 over the past 10 years. That’s unprecedented. As far as science knows, it has never happened before! It’s kinda like an out-of-body experience, hovering over blackened tree stumps as far as the eye can see.

Three droughts within a decade should take your breath away. If it doesn’t, it’s because of a failure to tune in to the overbearing Great Acceleration, aka: human footprint, overrunning planetary resources. Therefore, a key determinate for society’s longevity will be whether ecosystems, such as the rainforests, hang in there without cascading into irretrievable impracticable no-go oblivion.

Subsequent to the 2005 Amazon rainforest drought: ‘The biggest surprise for us was that the effects appeared to persist for years after the drought,’ said co-author Professor Yadvinder Malhi from the University of Oxford. ‘We had expected the forest canopy to bounce back after a year with a new flush of leaf growth, but the damage appeared to persist right up to the subsequent drought in 2010.” (Source: Malhi, et al, Effects of Drought in the Amazon Persist Years Later, Oxford University, 2018)

Another big problem: One season of drought can reduce the CO2 absorption ability of the Amazon for years to come. But, three back-to-back-to back droughts! Whew – triple ouch! Over time, it becomes impossible for the world’s great rainforests to combat global warming. Instead of serving as a “sink of CO2,” the forests “emit CO2,” happening now. Try that one on for size Mister Runaway Global Warming. Hmm- fits like a glove.

According to a study by NASA, the Amazon drought, over a three-year span, lost 270M metric tons of carbon per year. It’s not supposed to work that way folks. Part of the problem is global warming itself. A warming atmosphere shifts moisture away from the rainforest, which is the wrong direction!

Also, droughts self-perpetuate additional drought conditions, as a considerable portion of the rain that falls in a rainforest comes from water vapor that the trees release through their own leaves. But, dying leaves don’t release much water vapor, which shrinks the hydrological flow variability.

A recent study “Amazon Outlook —Continued Warming, Multiyear Droughts,” Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, July 10, 2018 says: “Our work suggests that there is a possibility for even longer droughts, perhaps lasting multiple seasons or years, setting the stage for fires that could clear swaths of the rainforest.”

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that after the 2005 drought the most affected parts of the Amazon Rainforest lost 35 inches rainfall in years following. (Source: Yan Yang, et al, Post-Drought Decline of the Amazon Carbon Sink, Nature, 2018)

As it happens, ongoing destruction of rainforests represents one of the major impacts of the Great Acceleration or the human footprint eclipsing nature. Already, early glimpses of that footprint are found stamped onto the backsides of three unprecedented 100-yr. droughts.

Rainforest decimation is but one of many ecosystem perils that should land on the desks of every world leader: “Urgent – Do Something!” And, oh yeah, while your at it maybe put in a good word for clean renewable energy.

In lieu of today’s inordinately compressed timeline of climate change (many scientists say stuff is happening 10xs faster than ever before), risks of widespread collapsing ecosystems are now more pronounced than at any time since the discovery of fire. It’s not too difficult to point a finger at the prime movers and shakers, i.e., excessive greenhouse gases like CO2 and the pitched battle over infinite growth. Infinity is a lot.

All of which brings to light the highly controversial Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, 2006 (more relevant today than back in the day). The British government requisitioned the high-powered study to calculate the economics of climate change. The landmark 700-page report, stated: “Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.”

The Stern Review also ticked off a handful of consequences, assuming a “worst-case basis” and “business as usual, ” meaning no effort by the nations of the world to reign-in greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the mentions include, sea level rise possibly as high as 10-15 feet (remember- “worst-case basis”) in a few decades, Florida, NYC, and London likely flooded at various stages, and massive water-food shortages throughout the world, assuming temps run up 2C-5C during the century. And assuming “business as usual.”

Additionally, according to the report: Deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector, and a number of studies suggest “Amazon rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change, with models projecting significant drying in this region.” (a prophetic statement 12 years ago)

In sum, and relevant to all of the above, according to Mauna Loa Observatory as of Sept. 23, 2018 Atmospheric CO2 registers 405.5 ppm versus 381.82 ppm twelve years ago.

As an aside, following the asteroid collision 65mya within a period of 100,000 years, CO2 increased at rate of 0.2ppm/yr taking temps up 5C. Today we’re at “2.3 ppm/yr or the highest growth rate ever seen in modern times,” according to Carl Edward Rasmussen, University of Cambridge, Sept. 2018.

Apologies to Sir Nicholas Stern, as contrary to admonitions in his 700-page report, free-market globalists have cranked up the dial for CO2 up-up-and-away, forever more! Infinite growth!

Biz as usual prevails.

What was it Sir Nicholas Stern said about the “worst-case basis”?

Postscript: “Every tree in the forest is a fountain, sucking water out of the ground through its roots and releasing water vapor into the atmosphere through pores in its foliage. In their billions, they create giant rivers of water in the air – rivers that form clouds and create rainfall hundreds or even thousands of miles away.”

“But as we shave the planet of trees, we risk drying up these aerial rivers and the lands that depend on them for rain. A growing body of research suggests that this hitherto neglected impact of deforestation could in many continental interiors dwarf the impacts of global climate change. It could dry up the Nile, hobble the Asian monsoon, and desiccate fields from Argentina to the Midwestern United States.” (Fred Pearce- eminent UK author and science journalist)

More articles by:

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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