A Clear-cut Reason Not to Clear Cut

The Amazon rainforest stores carbon and gives us oxygen in return—so why are we cutting it down?

April 23, 2015

Illustrated by Jean-François Exbrayat and Mathew Williams

Carbon dioxide, light, and water. Those are the ingredients plants take in to make sugar and oxygen via photosynthesis. This process has been crucial to life on earth from almost the beginning, and now with the threat of climate change, it’s only becoming more important. Vegetation helps store carbon dioxide, and new research out of the University of Edinburgh has found that our clearing of trees in the Amazon rainforest has made climate change even worse.

Had we left the Amazon alone, the study estimates, it would be able to store 12 percent more carbon from the atmosphere. The researchers created two vegetation models, each showing carbon storage in the rainforest in the mid-1800s (the column on the right) and the forest’s storage capacity now (on the left). The darker the green, the more carbon is kept. The red…well, let’s just say the carbon there likely went up in flames.  

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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