What If The Amazon Rainforest Was Destroyed?
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
The natural world is something to be protected. For this list, we're looking at all the devastating things that could unfold if this tropical basin is burned to the ground. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we'll be counting down 10 things that would happen if the Amazon Rainforest was destroyed.
10 Things That Would Happen if the Amazon Rainforest Was Destroyed
The natural world is something to be protected. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down 10 things that would happen if the Amazon Rainforest was destroyed.
For this list, we’re looking at all the devastating things that could unfold if this tropical basin is burned to the ground.
#10: Climate Change Speeds Up
Trees are a vital part of the planet’s defences against climate change. One of the most dangerous greenhouse gases we need to combat is carbon dioxide, a major contributor to the sun’s rays getting trapped in the atmosphere and heating up the planet. At the moment, the Amazon holds 100 billion metric tons of carbon; so, burning the forest would release all of this, plus it would create even more CO2 simply via the process of burning trees in itself. We’d be adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing the best means we have of getting rid of it, annihilating one of the planet’s largest carbon sinks.
#9: A Small Oxygen Loss
A widely circulated statistic claims that the Amazon produces 20% of the planet’s total oxygen but, according to more recently calculated numbers, it actually produces somewhere between six and one percent. Not that this means we shouldn’t worry; any oxygen decrease is bad news. But, again, the main concern is more the carbon dioxide that’s not being taken out of the atmosphere, because there only needs to be a slight increase in CO2 to make the air difficult and dangerous for humans to breathe. Destroy the Amazon and, yes, we’d lose a small amount of oxygen from the air, but we’d also risk a far higher percentage of CO2. And that’s the problem.
#8: Major Flooding
As the forest disappears, a knock-on effect should be that it starts to rain less and less across the area. But when it does rain, it could be much more extreme. In fact, flash floods have already started to happen in some parts of the Amazon where deforestation is at its worst - thanks to sudden rainy spells that are incredibly intense… so much so that in the last century, floods in the Amazon basin have become five times more common. Man-made climate change is largely to blame for these changes, and the region isn’t coping well with them at all - with floodplains remaining underwater for much longer than usual, and people’s homes and livelihoods being ruined.
#7: The Forest Could Become a Savanna
In 2018, two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre, published a study on the Amazon’s “tipping point”, suggesting that a loss of 20% of the land remaining could trigger an ecological disaster. According to their estimates, if enough trees are felled for whatever reason then we could see an effective death spiral begin, plunging the Amazon into savanna-like conditions. The once lush and green landscapes would become arid and desolate, with the species which had lived there unable to adapt and acclimatise quickly enough.
#6: The Water Cycle Changes
Rainforests are a vital part of the water cycle – they’re called “rain” forests for a reason, after all, and should receive wet weather for most of the year. But deforestation not only messes up when and how regularly it rains in the actual Amazon, it also reduces the amount of rainfall that falls even far from the forest itself. No trees means that air currents can’t pick up moisture from those trees, which means there’s less moisture in the clouds in general. This means that, should the forest be destroyed, the wider Amazon region could also suffer lengthy droughts, affecting huge numbers of people and various types of industry - most notably agriculture. With such weather extremes becoming the norm, the Amazon (and anywhere close to it) could become a very difficult place to call home.
#5: There Would Be Even More Fires
The region already makes the news for the fires that erupt there, but soaring temperatures, a lack of rain, and dried-out landscapes mean that eventually what’s left of the Amazon would become even more susceptible to large-scale wildfires. In fact, sweeping fires are one of the largest threats facing the Amazon today - with experts fearing that they could spark at almost any moment. The heat could get too much, a stray bolt of lightning could wreak havoc, or the industrial fires we currently see could get even more out of control. Even if deforestation was one day halted completely, it might be too late to save the Amazon from this particular fate.
#4: The Economy Crumbles
While in the short-term the economy could arguably thrive with a larger-than-ever local agricultural industry… in the long run, the destruction of the Amazon will prove financially catastrophic. Naturally, the types of agriculture expansion that we’ve seen will one day become an unsustainable venture, given that once the forest is gone there will be no more areas to expand into. Then, the smaller economies and networks in towns and cities in and around what used to be the jungle could face ruin - with millions of people directly relying on the Amazon to sustain their livelihoods. At the moment, certain initiatives look set to “use up” the rainforest… but when that’s done, they and every other Amazon-reliant business will have nothing to base themselves on.
#3: We Would Lose Vital Medicines
Even now, we’re constantly discovering new species deep in the wilderness of the Amazon basin. And, more than simply being something of interest to us, many of these organisms are vital in the development of our drugs and medicines. Since around three-quarters of vital drugs used to treat cancer reportedly originate from the natural world, it’s clear that such abundantly diverse places need to be protected - in case there’s yet more treatments that we can yield from them. For example, venom from the deadly jararaca viper, endemic to the Amazon, has been used to develop medicine to treat high blood pressure. But, if the rainforest goes, then opportunities to discover similar medicines disappear as well.
#2: There Would be Extinctions
A huge 10% of all the known species of plants and animals in the entire world inhabit the Amazon rainforest, many of which can only be found within its unique ecosystems. While some could well survive the fall of their home thanks to conservation efforts run by wildlife organizations and some zoos, many of them would die if the destruction to the forest isn’t halted. Already, lots of species in the Amazon are classified as endangered thanks to mass deforestation, and every day more and more are put at risk. The disappearance of the Amazon would be a loss of biodiversity for our planet on an unprecedented scale, and would include the loss of some creatures that haven’t even been discovered by humans yet.
#1: Millions of People Will Die or Be Displaced
According to the WWF, the Amazon as a whole is home to around 30 million people; including 2.7 million indigenous peoples - all of which would lose their homes were the rainforest to be destroyed. If climate change kills off the Amazon gradually over time, these populations would be forced to relocate into the surrounding and unfamiliar cities, helpless as their entire way of life is eradicated. If the Amazon is destroyed even more rapidly by vast forest fires, though, the results could be even worse; with particularly isolated settlements at risk of not being able to escape the blaze itself. No matter how it happens, if the Amazon goes then it would mean entire cultures wiped out.