August 17, 2019: Orange lit smoke billows from a fire in Humaita, an area affected by the Amazon fire.

Why do peo­ple call the Ama­zon rain­for­est the lungs of the earth”?

The devastating fires in the Amazon will have a knock-on effect for the rest of the world.

For three weeks the Ama­zon rain­for­est has been on fire, with 73,000 sep­a­rate fires record­ed – the high­est num­ber since records start­ed in 2013.

Emmanuel Macron has called it an inter­na­tion­al cri­sis”, while Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel has backed the French president’s call to action, much to the dis­dain of their Brazil­ian coun­ter­part, the far-right Jair Bol­sonaro. Bol­sonaro, for his part, has attempt­ed to deflect blame for the devastation. 

Yes­ter­day, envi­ron­men­tal­ist Nick Rose post­ed a pho­to to his Insta­gram of the fires in the Ama­zon rain­for­est with a cap­tion: Ter­ri­fy­ing to think that the Ama­zon is the largest rain­for­est on the plan­et, cre­at­ing 20% of the earth’s oxy­gen, basi­cal­ly the lungs of the world, has been on fire and burn­ing for the last 16 days run­ning, with lit­er­al­ly NO media cov­er­age what­so­ev­er! Why?”.

Thanks to Leonar­do DiCaprio, Cami­la Cabel­lo and Instagram’s most fol­lowed per­son Cris­tiano Ronal­do, who all quick­ly regrammed the post, the phrase lungs of the earth” quick­ly gained trac­tion. But what exact­ly does it mean?


The Ama­zon rain­for­est has long been referred to as the lungs of the earth”, and it’s easy to see why. 

The largest and most diverse trop­i­cal rain­for­est on Earth, cov­er­ing a stag­ger­ing 5.5m square kilo­me­tres, the trees with­in its stretch have the abil­i­ty to draw in car­bon diox­ide and breathe out oxy­gen – just like the human lung. 

It’s a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non called car­bon sink­ing” and with­out it, we’d be in some deep shit. Seri­ous­ly – rough­ly a third of the world’s pri­ma­ry forests are housed in the Ama­zon basin, which accounts for rough­ly 90 to 140b tonnes of CO2 being tak­en out of the atmos­phere yearly.

And with fires rag­ing through this impor­tant ecosys­tem – endan­ger­ing both the one mil­lion indige­nous peo­ple, as well as the three mil­lion species of plants and ani­mals who call the rain­for­est home – the plan­et will be affect­ed in many ways. 

Accord­ing to @theintercept, los­ing anoth­er fifth of Brazil’s Ama­zon will trig­ger the feed­back loop known as dieback, in which the for­est begins to dry out and burn in a cas­cad­ing sys­tem col­lapse, beyond the reach of any sub­se­quent human inter­ven­tion or regret.”

@ShannonGSims tweet­ed: the sky ran­dom­ly turned dark today in São Paulo, and mete­o­rol­o­gists believe it’s smoke from the fires burn­ing *thou­sands* of kilo­me­ters away, in Rondô­nia or Paraguay. Imag­ine how much has to be burn­ing to cre­ate that much smoke(!). SOS”.

While @WMO (World Mete­o­ro­log­i­cal Orga­ni­za­tion) shared a har­row­ing map. Pro­duced by @CopernicusEUs atmos­phere mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice, it shows the smoke reach­ing the Atlantic coast and São Paulo”.

This real­ly is an inter­na­tion­al cri­sis. With the world’s cli­mate cri­sis reach­ing a state of emer­gency and the point of no return fast approach­ing, we can­not ignore what’s going on in Brazil right now. The earth’s lungs are on fire. If we lose them, the body could be next.

Act now: here are eight ways you can help save the Ama­zon rainforest.

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