Opinion

Turning the Amazon Into the Serengeti Seems Like a Bad Idea

It certainly doesn't seem like the time to revive the Keystone XL Pipeline.
IMAGE LEOFFREITAS / GETTY IMAGES

What have those clever Chinese Climate Hoaxsters been up to recently? Well, according to people who study their activities closely, they’ve been very busy turning the Amazon rainforest into savannas and potentially blacking out Utah. From The New York Times:

The scientists said their research did not pinpoint when this threshold, which they described as a tipping point, might be reached. “But it’s worth reminding ourselves that if it gets to that tipping point, that we commit to losing the Amazon rainforest, then we get a significant feedback to global climate change,” said one of the scientists, Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England. Losing the rainforest could result in up to 90 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide getting put back into the atmosphere, he said, equivalent to several years of global emissions. That would make limiting global warming more difficult.

And in this country, we’re losing Lake Powell. From CNN:

The US Bureau of Reclamation told CNN it is currently anticipating water levels in Lake Powell to reach a significant elevation of 3,525 feet above sea level sometime between March 10 and 16. Drought contingency plans define the 3,525-foot mark as a significant "target elevation" for the reservoir, under which the situation becomes dire. As of Thursday, Lake Powell had fallen to just over 3,526 feet in elevation, which is just over 24% of capacity and less than two feet away from the critical level.

And this isn’t just about losing a pretty body of water. Lake Powell is a large part of making states that ordinarily would be half-deserts fit for human habitation.

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Lake Powell's plunging water level threatens Glen Canyon Dam's capacity to produce hydropower, much like Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Glen Canyon Dam provides power for many states including Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Nebraska. The 3,525-foot target is crucial because it allows a 35-foot buffer for emergency response to prevent Lake Powell from dropping below the minimum pool elevation of 3,490 feet above sea level, the lowest at which Glen Canyon Dam is able to generate hydropower.

Water managers on site are improvising like mad. The problem is that, given the success of the Chinese hoaxsters, they may be running to catch a train that’s long gone from the station.

If future projections show the monthly releases are not enough to protect Lake Powell, the Bureau of Reclamation will need to consider other avenues. At the moment, the agency and the Upper Basin states are continuing to work on a Drought Response Operations Plan, which they expect to complete this April. But given the rate at which the planet is rapidly warming, Mankin worries about the potential aftermath recovery process: "Then what? Do we go back to kind of normal operations?" he said. "I feel a bit nervous about the fact that the climate is changing, but our management of water is not.”

Back in the rainforest, the problems are becoming just as acute. A historic drought has descended on land already damaged by clear-cutting and other human interventions. And, as a result, there is a real possibility that the rainforest will convert itself into another kind of ecosystem entirely, and one that will not be able to do the massive work that the rainforest does in keeping the Earth habitable.

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“You can imagine that as the Amazon dries you start to see that resilience being lost even faster and faster,” Dr. Boulton said. Forests might then decline and die off relatively quickly and become more like a savanna, with grasses and far fewer trees. Not only would the loss of forest trees add the carbon stored in their tissues back into the atmosphere, savannas would also take up far less carbon than the large, broad-leafed trees they replaced. Savanna habitat would also support far fewer species. Dr. Nobre said the research shows that the Amazon “is on the edge of this cliff, this switch to a different ecosystem.” And if it were to happen, he added, “that would be the new ecosystem for hundreds of years, perhaps thousands of years.”

With all this going on, what better time could there be to have the country subjected to a massive and opportunistic propaganda barrage from fossil-fuel corporations and the politicians they sublet? They have looked at the carnage in Ukraine and, with a predator’s instincts, leaped at the opportunity. They can applaud the president’s decision on Wednesday to ban the importation of Russian oil, and yet discreetly toast another opportunity to lobby for drilling and to gouge prices. Shell can cease operations in Russia, and still look hungrily at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Hell, there’s even a push to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel and conservative fetish object that died the death it long deserved when the White House changed hands. (Of course, the Canadian politicians who are coated with tar-sands oil are fully on board, too.) White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki found herself harangued at a recent briefing with loaded questions on the subject.

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The reasons to make sure that project stays really, most sincerely dead remain unchanged. It would still carry the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. It will inevitably leak, conceivably near important water sources. The owners of the pipeline still cannot be trusted as far as you can throw a length of the pipe. The oil still would go out to the world. And Lake Powell is still drying up, and the Amazon rainforest is still turning slowly into the Serengeti. The world is starting to tip in so many ways and so many places.

FromEsquire US

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About The Author
Charles P. Pierce
Charles P. Pierce, lead for Esquire Politics US, has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently 'Idiot America.' He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children.
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