The Sponge: July 16-July 22

Welcome to The Sponge, the place to soak up a week’s worth of environmental news.

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest was a Carbon Sink…Aaaand Now That’s Gone

A new study shows that the Amazon Rainforest has been emitting a billion more metric tons of carbon dioxide than it absorbs.

Isn’t that just photosynthesis?

You’ve got it backwards. The Amazon Rainforest has earned the nickname for being the Earth’s “lungs”, because its 390 billion trees absorb 5% of global carbon emissions annually and produce tons of oxygen. (In other terms, the Amazon rainforest stores twice to triple the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United Kingdom since 1750.) But, when its trees are destroyed, due to things like deforestation and forest fires, they actually release all that CO2 back into the atmosphere. The innovative research methods used in this recent report now exposed just how bad those emissions actually are.

Fine, I’ll print double-sided now.

Not gonna cut it. Even with the pandemic putting much of the world at a standstill last year, the rates of deforestation worldwide actually increased in 2020. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsanaro has directly weakened and deauthorized conservation measures and indirectly increased the rainforests rate of deforestation to a 12-year high. The infuriating part is that much of this happens not only intentionally but legally, for economic exploitation. The global demand for beef has especially fueled the destruction of the rainforest, as vast expanses are cleared for cattle grazing and soybean fields.

At least it’s kind of like the circle of life?

More like a vicious cycle. Trees help recycle water into the atmosphere. However, fewer trees means less rain and hotter temperatures, which negatively affects the trees still standing. And now that we know the Amazon produces more carbon than it absorbs, there is even more pressure to radically cut carbon emissions from other sources. Just when you think the climate disaster clock couldn’t tick any faster.

In Other News…

Natural Disasters Rage On…and On…

Extreme weather continues to grab headlines, as climate change accelerates their increasingly normal presence. Massive flooding in Europe killed at least 196 people last week when a slow-moving storm dumped a month’s worth of rain in a day in some places. In the American West, another heat wave battered communities already reeling from previous heat waves only weeks before. Wildfires in the region have burned more than 1.2 million acres so far this year. Dry winds have fast-tracked their fiery campaign, as the fires are now so big that they are creating their own weather patterns, including dry lightning storms.

**Checks insurance**

Entire countries are doing the same. In fact, this string of recent disasters has prompted soul-searching for richer nations who have been able to avoid climate change’s worst effects, despite being some of the biggest polluters. Environmentalists look to the UN climate negotiations in November as a potential opportunity to globally address the root carbon-cause of these climate catastrophes. Until then, U.S. Democrats have proposed a “Carbon Border Tax” to levy on products from countries that do not have ambitious climate targets. If only we could practice what we preach…

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You…Except It Can

Linda Birnbaum has just about had it. The former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is helping lead the charge for more transparency regarding “EPA-approved” toxic chemicals used in fracking operations. Currently, fracking companies can get away with not disclosing the “secret ingredients’’ in their drilling chemicals. But new data suggests that many of those secret ingredients actually break down into PFAS “forever chemicals”, which are linked to liver, immune, and developmental disorders. (Forever chemicals are toxic substances that notoriously remain unchanged in an environment for a really long time.)

I Stand With Linda.

Us too. Birnbaum suggests that fracking companies should have to disclose their chemicals in the same way that pharmaceutical companies do for their products. It’s really not a big ask, since fracking sites are already shown to negatively impact the health of surrounding communities. Here’s to hoping this change happens sooner rather than later.

And also…

Wobble Baby Wobble Baby Wobble Baby Wobble Yeah

What Color Beach Flag Is This? Brown?

“Oopsies, I Started a Wildfire”

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Aquagenuity Team

Aquagenuity helps consumers, corporations and cities answer the question “What’s In Your Water?” Featured by Forbes, Google, WIRED, TEDx 🙌🏽💧