Your news feeds have probably been set ablaze with constant updates of wildfires currently washing over the Amazon rainforest. These record-breaking fires not only threaten the complex ecosystems in the surrounding region but are sure to have an impact on our planet and has the potential to affect our climate for the worse.
According to the National Institute for Space Research, so far this year there have been 80,000 fires, an unprecedented 80% jump compared to the number of fires that occurred last year within the same time period. Yet, these are things you might know already.
Nevertheless, there is one fact out there about the Amazon that is wrong and that needs to be cleared up. So, no, the Amazon rainforest does not produce 20% of the planet's oxygen.
Getting the facts straight
Now the Amazon does, in fact, regulate part of the Earth’s carbon cycle, water cycle, and climate too. However, this “20% of oxygen” idea that a few media outlets are sharing and politicians are quoting is simply not true. So, no you do not have to start holding your breath every so often to ensure that your neighbors get the right amount of oxygen.
The 20% figure IS too high. True number closer to 6% as per Jon Foley (@GlobalEcoGuy) and even this is misleading because oxygen levels wouldn't actually drop by 6% if we deforested the Amazon. See the longer thread on this w/ @GlobalEcoGuy, @climatedynamics, me & others... https://t.co/bz8eWPHDhC— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) August 23, 2019
So, how much is it exactly? Renowned climate scientist, Professor Michael E Mann tweeted the answer stating, “The 20 percent figure IS too high True number closer to 6 percent as per Jon Foley… and even this is misleading because oxygen levels wouldn't actually drop by 6 percent if we deforested Amazon.”
Understanding our planet
As mentioned above, even if the Amazon comprised 20% of our oxygen, it would not mean that our planet’s oxygen supply would automatically drop 20%. Now, yes forests play a large role in the production of oxygen, but there are other unsung heroes found on our planet.
Even, the microscopic phytoplankton dwelling in our oceans also produce large amounts of oxygen. However, they do not even play that big of a role in our oxygen consumption as most of that same oxygen is ingested back into the marine biosphere’s own oxygen cycle through the process of respiration. Our planet is far more complicated than you think.
As mentioned by Scott Denning, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, “Even if all organic matter on Earth were burned at once, less than 1% of the world's oxygen would be consumed.”
“There's enough oxygen in the air to last for millions of years, and the amount is set by geology rather than land use.”
Now, the Amazon situation is horrendous and illustrates how human activity is exacerbating environmental change for the worse. Yet, in a situation as important as this, it is important that the facts used are accurate.