March 7, 2009

The Amazon rainforest is wobbling on a climate change tipping point

On 28 February 2007 I heard Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute speak on his proposal for addressing climate change: Contraction and Convergence.

He spoke of climate change tripping points, citing in particular the risk that the Amazon rain forest could dry out to such an extent that it becomes a net producer of carbon dioxide. In other words, it would change from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. He said that an increase in forest fires (not at all common in a rain forest) had already been noticed.

Well there is a report yesterday that during a drought in 2005 the Amazon was a significant producer of carbon dioxide due to tree death. There is a report here:

The unusual and severe Amazon drought in 2005 led to the region emitting an extra five billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This exceeds the annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined, according to new research published today.
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Previously I have written here about efforts to protect the Amazon from deforestation. The Brazilian government has set up an Amazon fund to this end. If the Simultaneous Policy (or other means of forming global policies) bring in polluter-pays taxes, some of these could go to such a fund. See:

But we should be very afraid because it was not deforestation as such that caused the Amazon to be a carbon source in 2005, it was climate change itself. As the climate changes, weather patterns become unstable, leading to droughts and flooding, unprecedented heat waves and cold snaps. The destruction of trees that took decades, if not centuries, to develop is not something that can easily be reversed. More carbon dioxide is released and there are less trees to absorb it. Weather becomes more extreme, and so on in a positive feedback cycle that could run away.

The 100 months campaign has suggested there is a very narrow and closing window for the necessary action: it has now closed to 93 months. Certainly this is a campaign strategy designed to galvanize action, nobody can be so precise. But this research suggests the tipping point on which the Amazon forest pivots is already starting to wobble.

NOTE: I recorded Aubrey Meyer and other speakers at the event in 2007 and subsequently played his talk at a virtual meeting in Second Life (international meetings without air travel), see:

You can hear the talk on the rolling programme of Second Life Simultaneous Policy Adopters' Group (SL-SPAG) radio at:

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