Wednesday, January 18, 2006

If The Rainforest Dries Up, Will We Notice?

David Ignatious's column in today's Washington Post on climate change says scientists are reporting that the Amazon rain forest is drying up:

Is It Warm in Here?
We Could Be Ignoring the Biggest Story in Our History

What got me thinking about the recondite life rhythms of the planet, and not the 24-hour news cycle, was a recent conversation with a scientist named Thomas E. Lovejoy, who heads the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. When I first met Lovejoy nearly 20 years ago, he was trying to get journalists like me to pay attention to the changes in the climate and biological diversity of the Amazon. He is still trying, but he's beginning to wonder if it's too late.

Lovejoy fears that changes in the Amazon's ecosystem may be irreversible. Scientists reported last month that there is an Amazonian drought apparently caused by new patterns in Atlantic currents that, in turn, are similar to projected climate change. With less rainfall, the tropical forests are beginning to dry out. They burn more easily, and, in the continuous feedback loops of their ecosystem, these drier forests return less moisture to the atmosphere, which means even less rain. When the forest trees are deprived of rain, their mortality can increase by a factor of six, and similar devastation affects other species, too.


So many of the things that pass for news don't matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as Lovejoy and Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." She's right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.

I didn't realize Lovejoy worked for one of the foundations controlled by Theresa Heinz Kerry.

Earlier post on Lovejoy: The Sky Is Falling

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