The Amazon rainforest’s impending “tipping point”

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3 min readApr 22, 2024


🌎 The Amazon Basin has been warming at an average of 0.27 degrees Celsius per decade since the 1980s, with some regions warming even faster
Also today: evolving cities, old dogs, and marriage tips
Jon Gluck

What Is The Amazon ‘Tipping Point,’ Exactly?” by Quentin Septer doesn’t pull any punches. “The Amazon Rainforest is dying a slow, degradative death as a result of climate change and human-caused habitat destruction,” says Septer, a science writer and former environmental chemistry analyst. “Scientists worry that these trends may soon push the Amazon over the edge.”

Inspired by a paper recently published in Nature called “Critical Transitions in the Amazon forest system,” Septer’s 22-minute read is an in-depth look at the subject that relies on the work of numerous authorities in the field.

One way to think about the degradation of the Amazon is in terms of what the authors of the Nature paper call “water stress,” Septer writes. “Hot, dry air saps the Amazon’s soil of its moisture. Tree roots struggle to draw water from desiccated earth. Some trees die as a result. Others begin to decline in health, losing their ability to absorb and evapotranspire water and perpetuate the humidity that is characteristic of the Amazon Rainforest.”

As a result of that and related dynamics, the authors of the Nature paper warn, the Amazon may not be a rainforest at all by 2050, “but a vast swathe of arid savannah and grassland,” a scenario referred to by another expert Septer cites as “the savannization of the Amazon Rainforest.”

Worse, Septer writes, scientists believe the Amazon’s tipping point could contribute to a larger, parallel tipping point in the climate as a whole “that would drastically and irreversibly accelerate climate change, not only in the Amazon but around the globe.”

Fortunately, another expert Septer spoke to remains hopeful about the Amazon’s fate. “These forests are amazing in terms of their regenerative capacity, if you let them,” the scientist told Septer.

Can you think of a more important “If?”

What else we’re reading

Also on the subject of loss, Ashely L. Crouch introduces us to the Welsh concept of Hiraeth in “What We Lose When “the Rent Skyrockets.” The term has no direct translation in English, writes Crouch, the descendant of a Welsh family, but it roughly reads as a sort of homesickness and longing for the departed. “Hir means ‘long’ and aeth roughly translates to ‘grief or sorrow,’’’ particularly the yearning you feel for a home and culture you might never experience again. Her essay is about her current home city of Montreal, but it’s relevant to any number of other places as well. “This type of longing can be held by individuals and cultures who have lost a piece of themselves to the march of time, colonialism, culture shifts, or arguably, even the loss of their city’s energy due to mass tourism and skyrocketing living costs,” Crouch writes. As a New Yorker, I get it.

From the archive

Okay, here’s something more cheerful. Actually, never mind. I’m going to ride the loss vibes all the way today. In “Lessons from an Old Dog About Creaky Bones and Graying Hair,” the best-selling author Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief, The Library Book) explores what she calls “the terrible truth about pets aging faster than you.” Prompted by the acquisition of a pandemic puppy, Orlean laments the inevitable death of her other, older dog. “She and I share some secrets, as old friends do, along with our morning stiffness and gray hairs. Soon — too soon — she won’t just be a little older than me; she will be much older than me, moving past our mutual middle age and into something more fragile,” Orlean writes. “I miss her already.”

Your daily dose of practical wisdom (about marriage — and travel)

Traveling “strips us down to our core being and breaks down the walls which we spend so much time building around ourselves. To share this experience with someone is to find out who they really are and it’s much better to find out before the wedding than on the honeymoon.” — Paul S. Marshall in “Want To Marry Someone? Travel With Them First

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Edited and produced by Scott Lamb, Harris Sockel, & Carly Rose Gillis

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