Cover the Amazon Rainforest Like Our Climate Survival Depends on It

One of humanity’s greatest buffers against climate change is in serious trouble.

Amazon rainforest clearance for agriculture near Para, Brazil. (Photo by Ricardo Beliel/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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The world saw this coming. Large parts of the Amazon rainforest, one of humanity’s greatest buffers against climate change due to the carbon the rainforest absorbs and stores, have flipped from being net carbon sinks to net carbon sources, according to a new study published in the journal Nature. It marks yet another grim milestone in the climate story—and a blaring alarm that policymakers and indeed journalists cannot afford to ignore.

For years, successive reports have detailed, first, the potential and, then, the likelihood that such a flip could happen. In 2015, a study also published in Nature (now a CCNow partner) showed that while the Amazon had long acted as an enormous carbon sink, its ability to absorb carbon was decidedly on the decline, due in large part to deforestation. In 2018, on-the-ground reporting by a collaboration of the PBS NewsHour, The Nation, and Public Radio International’s “The World” (also now CCNow partners) showed that a flip was imminent if strong action wasn’t taken. Instead, Brazil’s government under President Jair Bolsonaro doubled down on destructive exploitation of the forest; the rest of the world, meanwhile, was too preoccupied with other concerns to meaningfully pressure Brazil’s authoritarian leader to protect the Amazon. Journalists, sad to say, did little better. And so, a critical opportunity for action was missed.

For Brazil and other countries of the Amazon, a degraded rainforest means more than 10,000 plant and animal species at “high risk” of extinction, according to a separate draft report released this week. For the people living in or near the rainforest, in addition to some of the obvious implications of more frequent and severe extreme weather, it means a big hit to livelihoods; the Brazilian soy industry, which provides a huge portion of the world’s soy, loses an estimated $3.5 billion annually to extreme heat that is driven and intensified by deforestation. For the world, the continued destruction of the Amazon means the already challenging (and all-too-narrow) road to a safe climate future becomes only more harrowing.

Journalists: This is not an international story, or one to leave to the global desk. It is an urgent development pertinent to audiences literally everywhere. It deserves prominent placement, at the top of your homepage and early in your broadcasts. It deserves to be the subject of numerous explainers, data graphics, and multimedia features. To audiences, the story might at first seem abstract and far away. Show them otherwise. Make it relevant, because it is. Especially in the lead up to November’s international climate summit in Glasgow, the world deserves a discourse around the Amazon—why it’s so important, and how leaders can pressure a recalcitrant Bolsonaro to reverse course. Help spark that conversation. Lead.

NEWS FROM US

Column: Ignoring the Global South? Last week, Bangladesh hosted the V20 summit, a gathering of leaders from developing countries to develop a coordinated approach to climate policy, in advance of the UN climate summit in Glasgow this November. Even with other high-profile leaders in attendance, including US climate envoy John Kerry and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, coverage of the event by major Western outlets was virtually nonexistent. That would be inconceivable for a gathering of the G7 or G20, and it leaves audiences badly misinformed about the stakes of the climate emergency, in particular for poorer nations which are bearing the brunt of climate impacts. By Saleemul Huq & CCNow executive director Mark Hertsgaard…

Extreme Weather Talking Shop Recap. Last week’s Talking Shop webinar focused on extreme weather, particularly in the American West, and how to cover it in a way that not only informs people how to stay safe but also makes the climate connection to communicate what’s driving the dangers at hand. The event featured stellar panelists from The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and NPR. Check out our full recording of the event…

ESSENTIAL CLIMATE COVERAGE

New depths. President Joe Biden campaigned in part on ending new oil and gas drilling on federal lands, yet approvals for new projects are expected this year to reach levels not seen since the presidency of George W. Bush. In the first half of the year, 2,500 permits were granted on public and tribal lands, with the most projects in New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and Utah. From the Associated Press…

Bumped, due to billionaire.” Richard Branson’s brief spaceflight over the weekend earned wall-to-wall coverage on many television networks—and on CNN, it led to the cancellation of a segment with climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe to discuss record heat in the American west. Unfortunately, it was hardly the first time that TV news skipped climate for a shiny object (in this case, a grotesquely carbon-intensive object, no less); in a stirring essay, Molly Taft, whose job was once to book climate experts on TV shows, ponders the enduring problem of covering climate in a characteristically distractible medium. For Earther…

An incomplete story. China is bracing for a rough summer of floods and droughts. But climate change is all but absent from the national discourse, in the press and in official public warnings. Instead in the country, climate change is typically framed as a problem elsewhere that China will help solve—leaving many Chinese people unaware of the extent to which it will affect, and already is affecting, them. From Bloomberg Green… 

Strong words. In an op-ed, Columbia University scientist Adam Sobel interrogates the language underpinning The Guardian and CCNow’s new “Climate crimes” series, which looks into decades of deception by the fossil fuel industry and efforts now to hold companies accountable. “Is it really appropriate to call them criminals—and accordingly, to take them to court all over the world? I think the answer is yes,” Sobel writes, because companies knew the truth but deliberately kept it from the public. From Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists…

The Burning Issue. To help document this year’s wildfire season, set to be one for the record books, Grist is launching a limited-run weekly newsletter called “The Burning Issue.” The mailing will dig into policy responses to wildfires, firefighting and fire suppression tactics, and the human impact of these fires. Subscribe here…

REPUBLICATION RECOMMENDATIONS

The following stories deserve special consideration for republication by CCNow partners:

For partner outlets: to submit stories for sharing, please use this form. As always, instructions for republishing and the full list of stories available for republication can be found in our Sharing Library.

ODDS & ENDS

Climate Central extreme heat & health workshop, July 19. Our partners at Climate Central are hosting an informational webinar examining the impacts of extreme temperatures on the body and on our communities. From them: “Heat is the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S., and climate change is making deadly heat events longer and more frequent. We’ll discuss impacts of higher temperatures on human health and the built environment, and the factors that contribute to urban heat islands. We’ll also talk about potential solutions and how communities are adapting to these new normals.” Register for the event here…

Registration open for COP26. Journalists and other attendees can apply now to attend the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, set for October 31 to November 12. Moreover, journalists who have not yet been vaccinated against Covid-19, and are not otherwise able to obtain the vaccine, may do so through the UK COP Presidency. Registration information is here, and information on getting the vaccine is here.

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