Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Amazon: It's not all despair

I am the resident doomsayer. "EXTINCTION! CLIMATE CHANGE!" Maybe I come across as a Chicken Little sometimes. So it's nice to have some light in the midst of all of the gloom I bring.

A few weeks ago I posted a piece on the Copenhagen Climate Council that has since incurred a a bit of a push back regarding what seemed like too much zeal by some of the scientists present at the meeting. Climate change is real. It's bad. It might be really bad. But where and how to act and how fast? There are some differences of opinion on that matter among the participants. Since that time, some people have come out on different sides of the issue. I won't go through it here because DotEarth has a good round-up you can check out. We can hope that some of this will be cleared up by the United Nations Climate Change Conference also to be held in Copenhagen in December.

Some of the people at that conference released some extraordinarily sour news about the fate of the Amazon and The Guardian covered it. But maybe it's not all bad. Maybe there's some good news about the Amazon. Namely, it's not irrevocably doomed. Phew!

A recent response piece in The Guardian by some people studying Amazon deforestation states:

Scientific understanding advances over time, and all this discussion of uncertainty could be considered as the normal "to and fro" of the scientific process if the stakes were not so high. On the one hand, there is a clear and pressing need to communicate the overwhelming scientific evidence for the severity of potential climate change to a sometimes sceptical public and lethargic political process. But journalism that highlights only the most catastrophic scenarios has the potential to backfire.

If rainforests were already doomed based on the bulk of scientific evidence, then so be it. But when such a story is promoted, based on a model simulation that has not yet been reviewed by other scientists, it may do a lot of damage.

Climate change is undeniably a serious threat, and our comments should not be seized upon as an excuse for delay or inaction. Rather, conserving Amazonian forests both reduces the carbon dioxide flux from deforestation, which contributes up to a fifth of global emissions, and also increases the resilience of the forest to climate change. The potential impacts of climate change on the Amazon forest must be a call to action to conserve the Amazon, not a reason to retreat in despair.

I am reminded here of the words of Wendell Berry: "What is the use in saying, 'There is no use?'" In despair there is sympathy and the knowledge of some other way. In despair there is hope. The Amazon might yet be saved.

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