Fires tearing through the Amazon have been a huge topic of discussion recently, and rightly so, however a climate scientist has pointed out one widely-shared fact about the rainforest is actually incorrect.
Cast your mind back to primary school and you might remember learning about photosynthesis; the process through which, at the most basic level, plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
The Amazon rainforest covers 5.5 million km², with about 60 per cent falling in Brazil and the rest extending into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries.
With this in mind, it would be safe to assume the trees there give off a lot of oxygen.
The forest is described as the ‘lungs of the planet’ and as fires continue to destroy it there is a lot of concern for the environmental impacts.
When discussing the issue, many people have credited the Amazon with providing 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen.
The Amazon rainforest generates more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and is often referred to as “The lungs of the planet”. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, LETS NOT JUST TALK ABOUT THIS. LET'S DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! #AmazonRainforest pic.twitter.com/s0XQtBy6k7
— Emre Can (@emrecan_) August 22, 2019
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted:
Our house is burning – literally.
The Amazon rainforest – the lungs which produce 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!
Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon pic.twitter.com/dogOJj9big
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 22, 2019
There’s no doubting the rainforest is a vital part of our planet but the claim about its oxygen production is actually far from the truth.
Professor Michael E. Mann, one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, took to Twitter on Friday (August 23) to set people straight, saying the Amazon actually produces about six per cent of the world’s oxygen.
The 20 percent figure IS too high. True number closer to 6 per cent as per Jon Foley… and even this is misleading because oxygen levels wouldn’t actually drop by 6 per cent if we deforested the Amazon.
The 20% figure IS too high. True number closer to 6% as per Jon Foley (@GlobalEcoGuy) and even this is misleading because oxygen levels wouldn't actually drop by 6% if we deforested the Amazon. See the longer thread on this w/ @GlobalEcoGuy, @climatedynamics, me & others… https://t.co/bz8eWPHDhC
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) August 23, 2019
According to IFL Science, when it comes to our human timescale the total bank of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere remains almost undisturbed by land use and is more swayed by colossal geological-scale changes.
Scott Denning, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, explains in The Conversation virtually all of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis each year is consumed by living organisms and fires, while nearly all of Earth’s breathable oxygen originated in the oceans.
Denning adds that even if all the organic matter on Earth was burned at once, less than one per cent of the world’s oxygen would be consumed.
However, just because the Amazon fires aren’t depleting Earth’s oxygen supply doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about them.
#EarthAlliance has formed an emergency Amazon Forest Fund with $5m to focus critical resources for indigenous communities and other local partners working to protect the biodiversity of the Amazon against the surge of fires. Learn more & donate: https://t.co/uG2WoEoKqx pic.twitter.com/IbcubQCO4v
— Earth Alliance (@earthalliance) August 25, 2019
Though world leaders are urging for action to be taken, the Brazilian government rejected $22 million pledged by the G7 to help fight the raging fires in the Amazon. They later accepted $12 million from the British government, according to The New York Times.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.