High on a tower overlooking the lush Amazon canopy, Gisele Bundchen and Brazilian climate scientist Antonio Nobre talk about the importance of the rain forest and the impact of cutting down its trees.

As Nobre explains, the rain forest is not only home to an incredible diversity of species, it also has a critical cooling effect on the planet because its trees channel heat high into the atmosphere. In addition, forests absorb and store carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere—CO2 that is released back into the atmosphere when trees are cut and burned.

Nobre warns that if deforestation continues at current levels, we are headed for disaster. The Amazon region could become drier and drier, unable to support healthy habitats or croplands.

Find more of this story in the “Fueling the Fire” episode of the National Geographic Channel’s Years of Living Dangerously series.

The Amazon rain forest absorbs one-fourth of the CO2 absorbed by all the land on Earth. The amount absorbed today, however, is 30% less than it was in the 1990s because of deforestation. A major motive for deforestation is cattle ranching. China, the United States, and other countries have created a consumer demand for beef, so clearing land for cattle ranching can be profitable—even if it’s illegal. The demand for pastureland, as well as cropland for food such as soybeans, makes it difficult to protect forest resources.

Many countries are making progress in the effort to stop deforestation. Countries in South America and Southeast Asia, as well as China, have taken steps that have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the destruction of forests by one-fourth over the past 15 years.

Brazil continues to make impressive strides in reducing its impact on climate change. In the past two decades, its CO2 emissions have dropped more than any other country. Destruction of the rain forest in Brazil has decreased from about 19,943 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) per year in the late 1990s to about 5,180 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) per year now. Moving forward, the major challenge will be fighting illegal deforestation. 

carbon dioxide emission
Noun

quantity of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activities, such as fossil fuel combustion.

Noun

destruction or removal of forests and their undergrowth.

greenhouse gas
Noun

gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.