Now or Never: Save the Amazon Rainforest

Earth Day is a time for us to demonstrate our support for environmental protection and our planet. This year we see an urgent call to action to protect one of our greatest natural resources: the Amazon Rainforest. Time is running out to act before it turns into a savanna. We’re at a critical tipping point and if we don’t take action now, the consequences will be devastating to our planet, and future generations.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released findings outlining options to decrease emissions worldwide by at least half before the year 2030. These findings come at a point when we are warming the climate at “a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years,” according to IPCC’s report.

And we’re already seeing the impact of the climate crisis, with more weather extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones since the 1950s, according to the IPCC report.

According to Statista, the Amazon Rainforest has lost a significant amount of forest cover since 1970 just in the Brazilian portion.

While there is already some irreversible damage to the atmosphere, we still have time to save the planet from “the most harrowing future.” Temperatures have already risen 1.1 degrees Celsius, but scientists estimate it will continue to rise about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next two decades. We may not be able to change the outlook for climate change in the near future, but we do have the power to prevent global temperatures from rising further.

Because we don’t know how much time we have before we reach the point of no return, it is absolutely essential that we do everything we can now to prevent even more damage from happening. Scientists know that once we see visible signs of the Amazon turning into a savanna, it will be too late. This is our warning, and we need to take it seriously.

Once we lose the Amazon Rainforest, we impact the health of the entire planet in a significant way. Not only does the Amazon store a huge amount of carbon, but it also is the home to numerous plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Losing the Amazon Rainforest could result in the elimination of available resources for medications, fresh water and homes for indigenous people, who have already suffered a decrease in their population.

The carbon the Amazon currently absorbs would also be released into the atmosphere, eliminating one of our biggest defenses against global warming. It will be much harder to overcome the climate crisis if the Amazon is no longer a rainforest.

Reduce, reuse, recycle is still a great mantra, but it’s not enough to reach our goal by 2030. An individual can make a small impact on the climate crisis, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference if the majority continue to destroy the planet. Governments and citizens around the world need to work together to really make an impact.

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40–70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla in the press release for the IPCC report. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

As we work to protect the environment, we can use these policies, infrastructure and technology resources to build a better world that preserves the future of the planet and humankind. Engineers, current and future, have a responsibility to take sustainability into consideration as they build and maintain infrastructure. What we do in one part of the world could impact other areas, including the Amazon Rainforest.

As we create and repair communities, we need to engineer them to be more sustainable without damaging the planet. This can be as simple as ensuring there are a variety of stores near residential areas so people can walk or reduce their driving to consume less gas. We can also build or convert roads to have bike lanes, making it safer to bike to work, shops or to visit friends and family.

Lifestyle changes are hard, especially for those who are hesitant or don’t understand the urgency of the climate crisis. If we engineer a world that encourages us to reduce emissions, we are more likely to find success. If our world is already set up with protecting the environment in mind, we are more likely to reach our goals.

If we don’t do something now to preserve the Amazon Rainforest, it might be too late by the time we finally decide to act. Even if we are years away from an Amazon savanna, starting now could prevent additional irreversible damage to our environment and our population. Let’s do our part and use every opportunity we have with our students to impress upon them the critical importance of their future role in helping to solve this crisis — we can, but time is not on our side!

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Michael Milligan

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.