Fact check: Is the Amazon a ‘carbon bomb’?

Claim: “Amazon rainforest dangerously close to irreversible ‘tipping point'”[1]

“Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, ‘calculates’ that if the current rate of deforestation is maintained over the next few years and government policy failure continues, that’s when the world-renowned [Amazon] rainforest will reach tipping point. In her policy brief that states the Amazon is a ‘carbon bomb’ the world needs to avoid setting off, she outlines how the fires in Brazil represent a government policy failure over many years, with Brazilian public agencies that are supposed to curb man-made fires ‘deliberately weakened’.

She said in keeping with his ‘far-right’ nationalist campaign promises, President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has intentionally backed away from efforts to combat climate change and preserve the environment, which has emboldened farmers, loggers, and other players to engage in predatory activities in the rainforest”.

Source: News.com.au

The story is accompanied by the usual J-curve ‘tipping point’ chart. The blue line shows actual deforestation while the red line shows projected deforestation according to the quoted source.

The picture is captioned:
Picture: Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE)[actual] and author’s calculations[projected]

Blue: INPE (actual) data,
Red: Author’s ‘calculations’

Bolle goes on to claim that the Amazon is a ‘carbon bomb’.

The trees of the Amazon store 60 billion to 80 billion tonnes of carbon.

“The rainforest is often wrongly called ‘the lungs of the world’”, de Bolle said.

“It stores carbon, but that is not what fights climate change. It would be more apt to describe it as a ‘carbon bomb’”.

“Setting fire to the forest for deforestation may release as much as 200 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere a year, which would spur climate change at a much faster rate, not to mention associated changes in rainfall patterns that may result from deforestation”.

This is fake on several counts:

  • The process of carbon release from deforestation is linear – there is no compounding effect which would allow the use of the term ‘tipping point’
  • The ‘carbon’ stored in the Amazon has been inflated. In fact, “the rate of carbon capture in mangroves ‘is an order of magnitude higher than rainforests'[2]
  • The rate of deforestation in the Amazon is *declining* according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research(INPE)[3]
    Year Change(sqkm) Cover(%1970)
    2000 18,226 87.9%
    2005 19,014 85.4%
    2010 7,000 83.7%
    2015 6,207 83.3%
    2018 7,900 82.7%
  • Reforestation is not taken into account
  • The increase in deforestation is fake. In fact, the rate of deforestaion is decreasing.

References:

  1. “Warnings over ‘carbon bomb’ Amazon’s dangerous tipping point” – News.com.au
  2. “Local Wetlands more of a Climate Change Powerhouse than the Amazon” – National Geographic
  3. “Deforestation Figures for the Amazon” – Mongabay.com
  4. “Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest” – Wikipedia