By Tim Padgett, WLRN
Protecting Latin America’s carbon capturer is as important to places like Palm Beach County as preserving the Everglades is.
Global warming-induced heat this summer in the U.S. is so relentlessly miserable …
How relentlessly miserable is it?!
It’s so relentlessly miserable that Americans — many of whom couldn’t locate a Latin American country on a map even if you offered them that $1.58 billion Mega Millions ticket — might actually have paid attention to an Amazon rainforest conference that took place this month in Brazil.
Just kidding, of course. A recent Pew Research Center survey does show that two-thirds of Americans do finally acknowledge global warming and even want the U.S. to become carbon-neutral (a country that releases no more carbon into the atmosphere than is removed) by 2050. But getting them to recognize the pivotal role the besieged but faraway Amazon plays in averting the planetary thermostat hell we’re staring at? That’s probably a stretch.
And yet, arguably, nothing mattered more this month — not even “Barbie” reaching $1 billion in box office sales — than what Brazil and seven other South American countries that steward the Amazon rainforest did.
Their summit in Belém, Brazil, revived the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which had been all but dead since 2009. That’s important because they’re ultimately responsible for carrying out the Amazon preservation projects that could check the ecosystem’s harrowing deforestation — and its harrowing effects on climate change.
Harrowing because the massive Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, is the most important carbon dioxide vacuum cleaner we’ve got on land. It absorbs about a quarter of all the carbon dioxide — the primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming — in the earth’s atmosphere. That’s as much CO2 as all the oceans combined suck up.
But in the past half century, almost a fifth of the Amazon has been deforested. That’s thanks largely to reckless slash-and-burn development in Brazil, which hit a sinister peak under former right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro during his 2019-2023 administration, and the sort of rapacious mining and insidious degradation that leaders like left-wing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro enable.
Scientists estimate the Amazon today absorbs at least a third less CO2 than it absorbed at the turn of this century. In fact, it may now be emitting more CO2 than it captures.
The good news is, Bolsonaro’s defeat last October has led to a reversal of sorts. Under his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country saw two-thirds less Amazon deforestation last month than it did in July of 2022. Lula has set a zero-deforestation target for the end of this decade.
That should make countries like the U.S. more willing to contribute to the preservation effort — especially since it’s the world’s rich nations, including China, that belch the most CO2 into the greenhouse ether.
This year President Joe Biden pledged $500 million to the Amazon Fund, which was created in Brazil in 2008 to protect the rainforest and the eco-aware indigenous populations who live there. That donation should be a no-brainer but a divided Congress has yet to confirm it.
That’s largely because 70% of Republicans, according to one recent poll, think global warming is essentially a hoax. Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., are pushing GOP presidential candidates to embrace a “battle plan” that scraps climate change mitigation policies and preaches the flat-earth medievalism that climate change poses no danger.
But we also do our share here in South Florida to encourage that denialism. This past year the Miami-Dade County Commission voted once again to loosen the Urban Development Boundary, the do-not-cross line that defines where the Everglades begins — despite the fact that the massive and precious ecosystem we’re supposed to steward is itself a major CO2 suction pipe.
The irony is, Miami is a majority Latino community. We should know where and what the Amazon is.
And we should know better.