This is something puzzles and scares some people. Why is most of the Amazon jungle still untouched by fire? Isn't there a risk that the Brazilian wildfires sweep across the entire Amazon and destroy all the remaining tropical forest? However, we get wildfires in Brazil every year, and this hasn’t happened before. In 2005 for instance there were many more fires than today, yet only a small part of the Amazon burnt. So why is that?

I will also cover some other things that scare people, for instance many are scared we will run out of oxygen - no - this can't happen even if we burnt all the biomass on Earth, or even if all plant life magically stopped producing oxygen for thousands of years. Or they worry about the effect on the Paris agreement:

It seems that Bolsonaro has been successful in stopping new wildfires for three days now. I cover details in

This shows that it is possible to have a Brazil without illegal deforestation, but for this to work we also need to step up on the initiatives to improve the productivity and biodiversity of the land already deforested. We do this as part of a worldwide initiative. This can include restoring some of the biodiversity of the original tropical jungles in strips along the rivers that pass through the ranches. These can be backed by commercial timber forests as well, forming a landscape not unlike, e.g. a tropical version of rural UK. We still preserve a fair bit of the biodiversity from the vast forests that used to cover our country after the last ice age 5,000 years ago although only a few patches of the original forests remain. They can then help preserve and support wildlife from nearby tropical rainforests.

This is not just Brazil, the whole world needs to turn around and find new more sustainable ways forward that promote sustainability, a circular economy and biodiversity.

That was the message of the IPBES report earlier this year, with the very positive message that we know how to do it. Brazil is an important part of this, but we need to do it globally. Brazil for sure can't solve our problems by itself either.

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of feeling suicidal about it, by such stories. Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.

This article is based on our answers to their scared questions, either by PM or in our Facebook group. I have written this with the aim to answer questions by others like them, who are scared by the news, and to show how much we are actually doing that is positive in the world. Indeed in Brazil also, the way ordinary Brazilians are showing that they care about the Amazon rainforest is heartening - and Bolsonaro has responded to this by actually working to stop the wildfires, and successfully too. That is a positive development for sure.


The big fierce fires you see on TV are only part of the story. Those are not fires in virgin forest, but in forest that has had fires before and are burning again, a second or third time or more.

The most serious fires of all in terms of biodiversity are also the easiest to put out. Fires in virgin tropical rainforest travel really really slowly. Much slower than fires in temperate forests like the California fires. The reason is that the tropical rainforest is so wet, that the trees themselves do not catch fire. Only the understory does, leaf litter etc

Yet without these slow moving fires, the rest of the process could never happen. The rainforest can't be burnt down without doing this first: Which is good news because it means that protecting the most biodiverse, virgin rainforest is much easier than protecting once burnt rainforest.

(click to watch on Youtube)

These fires travel only 200 to 300 meters in an entire day. Most animals and birds can get out of the way easily.

Such a fire is also easy for any humans to stop just by raking the leaf litter to bare ground as a firebreak, if there are local people there to stop it. They can also just put out the fire by beating it with branches.

Also, it will stop in the rainy season anyway or if there is a thunderstorm - you can see that such a fire would go out easily.

Some of the ones in the news are understory fires - and you see locals putting 0ne of them out just by beating it with branches. These are safe enough for a reporter to stand next to the fire and report on it:

This section starts here.

Complete video - most of these are understory fires:

(click to watch on Youtube)

Tropical rainforests are so wet that fires there are very rare indeed. Surinme and French Gu ana which have virgin rainforest covering the entire country almost, hardly have any fires.

The California fires would burn even if there was nobody there, right back to long before humans evolved, there were fires in temperate forests and in the Arctic.

However, in tropical rainforests they are very very unusual. This is especially clear if you compare Brazil with its neighbours Suriname and French Guiana , which are covered pretty much entirely with tropical rainforest but have no deforestation, legal or illegal.

See the fire map here:

Click for latest version - Global Forest Watch

Zoom in on Suriname and French Guiana

Click for latest version - Global Forest Watch

Two small fires in French Guiana. None in Suriname.

The natural fires happen only around the forest edges. All the fires stop eventually in the rainy season.

An understory fire doesn’t burn down any trees right away - but it leads to half the trees dying. Like this:

The line of white trees here are the result of a surface fire encroaching on the Amazon rainforest from an open area during the September 2010 drought.

NASA finds Amazon drought leaves long legacy of damage – Climate

As you see the trees didn’t burn but the fire killed them, and they died standing. This leaves a lot of dry dead wood. Those standing dead trees then become fuel for new fires.

Next year if it burns again, those standing dead trees burn, and everything goes up in flames, and there are hardly any trees left.

This is a canopy fire.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Those are fires going through previously burnt jungle.

(click to watch on Youtube)

After a fire you have a burnt landscape like this:

(click to watch on Youtube)

But that’s not the end of it.

If it is not converted to pasture, then the trees will still regrow, but to a lower density forest with three quarters of the density of carbon of a tropical rainforest.

This then is like temperate forests in California etc, it is now much drier and will burn again easily. Given many decades it would restore to tropical rainforest, as some trees are centuries old it restores to the original condition only centuries later. But with humans around it burns again easily even with accidental fires, and then you have this situation of low density forests like the temperate ones.

And remember there have been much worse fire seasons in 2005 and earlier and the entire forest did not go up. It can't do that.

But these are not going to burn down the virgin forest. Fires almost never start in virgin tropical forest.

To find out more:

Amazon fires explained: what are they, why are they so damaging, and how can we stop them?



Before I go any further, I know some of you are really scared that we are going to suffocate as a result of burning down the Amazon rainforest.

  • No we can’t run out of oxygen on any scenario, we have enough in our atmosphere for all oxygen breathing life on Earth for thousands of years even if all photosynthesis magically stopped producing oxygen. Even if all organic matter burnt at once, it would use up less than 1% of Earth's oxygen. Others are worried that burning the Amazon rainforest could mean an end to the Paris agreement
  • It will not scupper the Paris agreement. The total CO2 emissions from all the wildfires are only a few tenths of a gigaton per year. Worldwide emissions are well over 30 gigatons a year at present, 33.1 gigatons in 2018.

For details, skip to: We will not run out of oxygen and CO2 emissions from wild fires do not scupper the Paris agreement



I covered this in detail in my

So, this is just a short summary:

There are fires in the Amazon every year, but this year started off average and then had a major uptick in middle to late August. It soon became clear that most of the fires are manmade and used for deforestation, and started around the time that local farmers in Para province arranged a “day of fire” on 10th August to draw attention of Bolsonaro to their need to burn the forest for their work. It backfired when darkness descended over Sao Paolo at 2 pm, and there were protests worldwide and within Brazil itself.

Bolsonaro agreed that this needs to be stopped making a speech in which he said that

"The protection of the forest is our duty. We are aware of it and we are acting to combat the illegal deforestation as well as other criminal activities that put our Amazon at risk"

He sent in the military and they have been very effective. No new fires for three days and they are putting out the existing fires.

In more detail:

The big uptick in fires started early to mid August.

Global Fire Emissions Database.

Many more fires than in previous years going back to 2012, they were also more intense and many of them started along roads (not adjacent to previously cleared forest and pasture). All this is a clear indication of illegal deforestation fires.

According to the Brazilian newspaper Folha do Progresso, the fires started on August 10 when an association of farmers in the state of Para announced a so-called "day of fire". The idea, according to the publication, was to coordinate a number of simultaneous fires to show Bolsonaro "they are ready to work". On that day, 124 new fires were registered by INPE and the next day 203 more were flagged.

The Public Prosecutor in the State of Para has opened an investigation into the incident

Brazil's Amazon is burning: 'Some families lost everything'

The good news here is that Brazilians are noticing and responding. Bolsonaro is getting massive protests and marches within Brazil as well as international pressure. The black smoke that turned Sao Paolo, turning daytime almost to night at 2 pm really brought it home to Brazilians.

(click to watch on Youtube)

There have been protests worldwide including within Brazil itself.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Bolsonaro is responding to this pressure too. He has got the military in, which shows he realizes something has to be done. It's not like he responded "who cares about the forest". Instead he said

"The protection of the forest is our duty. We are aware of it and we are acting to combat the illegal deforestation as well as other criminal activities that put our Amazon at risk"

This is Fox News, Trump's favourite TV network in the US, reporting on it:

(click to watch on Youtube)

Trump also agrees that action is needed urgently to stop this, offering the help from the US to help put out the fires if that is needed. Even though both Bolsonaro and Trump do not think that human induced climate change is happening, this is a point of agreement with the rest of the world. Trump is able to agree with the rest of the world on the value of the Amazon rainforest and importance of protecting it.

Because of Bolsonaro's quick action - there have been fewer fires from 24th to 26th and we are not yet at the end of the month.

Also they are acting to stop the fires that are already burning.

It's clear the military intervention is working.

This also proves it can be done, to reduce the fires. If you have the will and put enough into it. Compare the 2019 figures with the other years when there were many new fires over those three days.

Global Fire Emissions Database - Totals

Also they are acting to stop the fires that are already burning.

It's clear the military intervention is working.

This also proves it can be done, to stop the fires. If you have the will and put enough into it. Compare the 2019 figures with the other years when there were many new fires over those three days.

[Sorry earlier version of this article said there were no new fires, that was based on an earlier version of the online tables - seems they have now spotted more fires]



It would be a major breakthrough if he is able to stop illegal deforestation for the rest of the year and for future years.

Technically there is no reason why they can't do that. We know how to fight fires and we have satellites to detect them and with responses like they are doing today we could have firefighters out on the ground the same day the fires start most likely.

The understory fires in virgin tropical rainforest are especially easy to stop and with prompt responses there is no reason to have them burning for any length of time, even for a day, at 200 to 300 meters a day. Far easier to stop than, say, the California fires, if they can only get enough fire fighters on the ground to stop them. There is really no reason at all why any Amazonian tropical rainforest should burn, beyond a few hundred meters from time to time due to accidental fires, now that we can detect them so easily from orbit.



This is the northern summer which is why we have fires in the Arctic and Canada. It will soon be the fire season in California again, so expect California fire news once more. It is also, coincidentally, the dry season in the southern tropical rainforests such as Brazil (their colder time of year).

July and August are the driest months in Brazil, the fire activity peaks in September and stops mid-November (see Fires in Brazil)

Forest fires are natural in the temperate rainforests like California and the Arctic - patches of forest go on fire every year and have been doing this since long before humans evolved. But they are not natural in tropical rainforests.


skip to: We will not run out of oxygen and CO2 emissions from wild fires do not scupper the Paris agreement

The fires matter for biodiversity and for the carbon sequestration. But I want to put this into a wider perspective here. We need to stop deforestation and work on reafforestation worldwide, not just in Brazil. We used to have forests covered most of Europe 5,000 years ago but they sadly are long gone now. But we do still have these vast forests in Brazil, which are also especially biodiverse, more so than any other forests on the planet.

They are a treasure for all of us, but saving them has to be part of a global solution, where we work together at all levels, local, governmental, and intergovernmental and also changing our lifestyle on a personal level to restore the planet and return to a sustainable way forward which also involves recognizing the knowledge, innovations, and practices, institutions and values of indigenous people and local communities.

That is the vision of the IPBES report which I covered a few months back in my

I will go into this more later on.



Some are scared that we can suffocate through lack of oxygen if the forests burn down. No, that is not remotely possible. We have plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere for thousands of years even if somehow magically all plant life and algae stopped producing oxygen and all the animals continued to use it. See my Debunked: If we cut down all the forests we will run out of oxygen to breathe - they are not the “lungs of the planet” in any literal sense

See also Scott Denning's

Also the CO2 emissions from the wildfires, though important, are only a tiny fraction of global emissions. In 2010 they released over 400 teragrams of CO2. That’s 0.4 gigatons. In 2018 they released less than 0.1 gigatons. It’s not likely they go up to the 2005 levels. When you realize our yearly emissions are over 30 gigatons then it is clear that the Amazon wildfires are not going to have any effect on the Paris agreement target, to rapidly reduce emissions to zero by 2050 for the 1.5 C goal.

Global Fire Emissions Database - Totals

Now, if we do get close to zero emissions then at that point the Amazon wildfires would be very significant. Need to get Brazil on board for the Paris agreement.

Also they are important as part of the worldwide need to reduce deforestation and increase reforestation, and for biodiversity preservation. But the Amazon rainforest itself is only part of the whole picture. We need to work on this together, to conserve forests and reverse desertification and reverse deforestation worldwide, not just in the Amazon.



Over the northern hemisphere we have already destroyed our forests. The UK used to be covered by trees, after the last ice age (first entirely ice up to kilometers deep, then tundra, then forest).

Around 5000 years ago, we had vast stocks of carbon in those forests. However, in Europe, most of them are gone, long ago.

Humans came along and cut down our forests for agriculture, as in Brazil, for timber, we kept grazing animals, we killed the wolves so that deer got out of control and ate the trees, and we ended up denuding our landscape of trees. Scotland where I live is covered with moorland, heather, grass. It looks pretty and is nice walking and seems pristine but it is actually the result of a similar deforestation process to what is going on in Brazil, humans destroying a forest that used to cover every hill right to the summits.

This is what most of the Scottish countryside looked like in the past

Now it looks like this

Frames from this video

(click to watch on Youtube)

It is no different from what Brazil is doing today.

I’ll paraphrase: History of Scotland’s woodlands

Around 5,000 years ago the UK was covered in trees all the way to Shetland and the Western Isles.

By AD 82 when the Romans under Agricola invaded Scotland, at least half the native woodland was already gone, mainly for agriculture, but much of it replaced by peatland.

By 1900 only 5% of Scotland was covered in forest as many small blocks, leading to a loss of species that need larger blocks, such as the larger mammals and predators.

We then set up the Forestry Commission to provide a native timber supply. By the early 21st century that 5% had increased to 17%. Most of that though were non native species such as sitka spruce.

In the last decade we have had a major increase in native species. But our woods remain small and isolated, which limits the biodiversity and nature services like timber.

So - in a way Brazil is doing nothing different from what the rest of us have done for thousands of years. Been doing it for 5000 years in Scotland.

But since then we have come to value forests. In northern latitudes we are trying to preserve and reafforest our landscape. In Scotland we are trying to restore the Caledonian forest.

(click to watch on Youtube)

For the Scottish forests, find out more here:

It is the same over much of Europe. This map shows the reafforestation potential for Europe. It includes treeless areas where trees can grow but it excludes cropland, the map also leaves out natural grassland and wetlands. It’s only degraded ecosystems that otherwise would have trees.

This is the restoration potential - it doesn’t include existing forests unless there are gaps in them that can be restored.

This is another view on the data:

If you were to include cropland, most of the area is actually naturally forest.

You can explore the reafforestation atlas interactively here: Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities and find out more about it here: Forest Restoration & Reforestation. For the paper see The global tree restoration potential

This shows the global potential tree cover if you were to plant trees everywhere, on cropland, pasture, everything, i.e. an idea of what the tree cover would be like without humans.

From: The global tree restoration potential

This paper shows the current cover: High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change - see pdf

So, the UK is naturally covered in trees, especially in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the West coast. It is grassland but it’s grassland that originally had forests, now gone.

I cover this in more detail in

The main difference in Brazil is that it has managed to retain its forest to the present day. What’s more, its tropical rainforest is especially diverse, far more biodiverse than our temperate forests ever were, and captures more carbon than temperate forests.

If we can reverse deforestation then it offsets a lot of carbon and it also preserves biodiversity and it helps with nature services for instance the forests help keep Brazil with high levels of rainfall which they also need for agriculture.

So what we need is a sustainable way forward here, to reverse deforestation but do it in a way that helps the local people that they are able to produce more food from the same land. If it means they starve or become very poor, then it is not going to work, obviously. The good news is we know how to do it.

The IPBES report earlier this year said one of the main things that needs to change are perverse agricultural subsidies, worldwide, that encourage non sustainable farming. Also other fossil fuel subsidies etc. There are vested interests to oppose them but governments need to override that. We need to change them to subsides that encourage sustainable agriculture and a circular economy (i.e. recycling more).

We also need to involve local communities in decision processes and also work on an intergovernmental level too - work on it at all levels - and the solutions need to be specific to local conditions, and local culture. And also have to change things in our own life styles too.

It was such a good report in my view far better than the IPCC ones because of the sociological element with expert sociologist which I think is key to really solving this.

My article about the report is here:



But the aim is not to stop all forest fires. The world needs forest fires to maintain its biodiversity and nature services. There would be hardly any bears, moose, owls, berries, voles in the Arctic regions if it weren't for the fires which also only temporarily release CO2 which is taken up again soon with vigorous regrowth.

However in tropical rainforests forest fires are not natural and they release a lot of CO2 and the regrown forest has only three quarters of the carbon of the original and if it keeps going to savannah then you lose most of that too. So it is important for CO2 emissions to stop tropical rainforest fires also important for local biodiversity and forest people and nature services.



Many people probably don't realize that 40% of the Amazonian rainforest is outside of Brazil. Other parts of the forest are much better protected.

An example of a country that has Amazonian rainforest with high protection standards is Suriname, smallest country in South America, and one of the few CARBON NEGATIVE countries absorbing 8.8 million tons of CO2 every year. That's 16 tons of CO2 per year per person.

Photograph from the summit of Mt. Volzburg in Suriname by David Evers

The world average is to emit 5 tons per person per year. So it offsets the CO2 for 1.7 million additional people every year.

Heard Of This Small But Hugely Carbon Negative Country? Suriname In Amazonian Rain Forest - From Today's Talanoa Story Dialogs



Nearly all forests have wildfires, naturally, but they are much rarer in tropical rainforests because they are wet year round. The natural fires mainly happen where the forests meet drier pastureland / savannah and in the Amazon region they are driest in July onwards to mid September.

This shows fires from space - if you could take such a video ten million years ago it would still show many fires, though the fires would be started naturally rather than manmade.

(click to watch on Youtube)

This is a short summary from NASA about why we get forest fires in various parts of the world.

(click to watch on Youtube)

In most areas the fires are actually needed to maintain the diversity of the ecosystems. Scotland, California, Siberia, Canadian forests - they have all evolved fire resistant species of trees and wildlife that sometimes requires fires to survive at all. For instance the Arctic fires are needed for the landscape. They need to be controlled if we get too many because of dry conditions and human activity, or if they happen near to where people live, but the aim is not to stop all fires in the region. For instance in Canada many of the creatures there depend on fires:

For Brazil, most of the fires we get at present are manmade and are started deliberately as the easiest way to remove tropical rainforest in order to convert it to grassland for cattle ranching.

You can see some of the ranching from space in this video at the end.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Sometimes they spread further than intended. This has gone on for many years now and we always have the stories at this time of year about the fires in the Amazon seen from space.

  • The burnt areas do not become desert and with global warming the Amazon will not turn into a desert region

It turns, rather, to grassland as the end process over multiple fires. However, if there is a forest fire and it is not immediately followed up by ranching activity to convert it to pasture, the trees regrow quickly, though to a lower biomass forest with only 75% of the carbon. Eventually after repeated burning it becomes savannah - but not desert.

After it burns a second time the forest is much less diverse and drier and prone to burn over and over every few years. These fires burn the trees right to the treetops killing almost all the trees left. The rainforest birds are gone, replaced by different species that prefer low biomass forests. See Avifaunal Responses to Single and Recurrent Wildfires in Amazonian Forests

Given enough time over many decades and perhaps centuries, these drier forests can restore to tropical rainforest again.

In a warmer world some of them will turn to savannah with scattered trees, similar to the habitat known as the Cerrado, though it won't be as biodiverse forming this way.

  • We do not risk losing the Amazon as a whole in any of the climate scenarios through to 2100

That is something they used to think a few years back, that at some future tipping point the entire forest would go, turning to drier savannah. However that was based on simplifying assumptions that turned out to be misleading.

The research has moved on. A large part of the Amazon rainforest will remain through to 2100 even with high emissions, especially the Western Amazon forest. This region survived the previous glacial minimum when it was warmer and will survive any anthropogenic warming through to 2100.

The Amazon as a whole is vast. Even through to 2100 even at high levels of warming the Western Amazon will be largely intact. I cover this in my previous article under: SURVIVAL OF LARGE AREAS OF WESTERN AMAZON EVEN AT HIGH LEVELS OF WARMING THROUGH TO 2100

Also it does not seem to have a climate or deforestation tipping point where suddenly most of the Amazon turns to grassland in a few years as used to be thought, see the previous article under: TIPPING POINT AND DIEBACK SCENARIO

The study last year about fragmentation of forests was much misunderstood and misreported. It is not accurate to call this a "tipping point" as if the forest would suddenly all disappear and be gone.

What they did is to discover an intriguing fractal distribution of forest fragments. A few large areas, then more medium sized fragments, more smaller ones and so on. This pattern is the same in all forests worldwide despite the many different reasons for felling them and methods of doing it. See previous article under: CRITICAL POINT FOR FOREST FRAGMENTATION

To take an example, not from their paper, the UK is clearly in phase 3, much less than 59% is forest. We lost our largest forests thousands of years ago, back when the ancient Britons first introduced agriculture, and are left with much smaller ones. They are still large, just not as vast as the original forests that use to cover our land almost entirely after the last ice age.

Europe, North American and parts of Asia have had more reafforestation than deforestation in the last few centuries, but forest loss exceeds forest gain in most tropical countries.



The sad thing is that no forest would need to be burnt for deforestation, if Brazil’s cattle ranching was just a bit more efficient. It can mean small changes in how you do things sometimes, just a few new ideas.

Here is an example of a cattle rancher who increased the number of cows from 1 to 2.5 per hectare with simple methods such as rotation grazing (grazing one patch at a time so allowing other patches to recover instead of constantly grazing the entire area):

(click to watch on Youtube)

And here is an example of a family who went far further and restored large areas of their land to tropical rainforest again (as best they could)

(click to watch on Youtube)

They planted over two million seedlings of more than 290 species of trees native to the Atlantic Forest - Wikipedia in Brazil.

These are some of the species that returned:

33 species of mammals, and 172 species of birds, with some of them listed as vulnerable in the IUCN red list such as the Red-browed Amazon (shown top right in that montage) with an estimated 2,500-9,999 worldwide.


I’ll summarize Results from on-the-ground efforts to promote sustainable cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon

In the next decade, beef is forecast to grow by 24%, soy by 39% and bioethanol by 27%.

Brazilian beef productivity is currently only a third of its sustainable potential. So much of the land is taken up for ranching that in theory Brazil could meet its entire demand for Beef, crops and timber through to 2040 by increasing its beef productivity from a third to a half of its sustainable potential.

The right side of this photo shows the effect of replanting the grassland to increase productivity, left side is unplanted, and this is only one month after planting

In this pilot study then farms were able to increase productivity by 30–490%

This required an initial investment of US$410–2180/hectare with a payback time of 2.5 to 8.5 years.

But - that's not necessarily easy for a poor farmer in Brazil to do. Loans are expensive and they can default on them. So part of that also is finding ways to get finance or investment, but how that is done of course is important too, you don’t want to end up with a generation of farmers in debts they can’t pay off.

Here are some local Brazilian farmers talking about their work changing to a more sustainable paradigm

(click to watch on Youtube)

This is Imaflora, one of the companies mentioned there who work on sustainability and traceability. They also help them to survey the regions and respond rapidly to changes.


This is the Novo Campo program,

Sustainable cattle ranching in Brazil's Amazon

Their aim is to divide the ranches into different areas

  • Intensified area with pasture reform and management
  • Supplementary feeding for the livestock, especially in the dry season
  • Keeping the livestock away from rivers, so that natural forests can grow up along them
  • Reforestation with commercial timbers. The trees provide shade for the animals and extra income for the ranchers.

The Novo Campo Program Practicing Sustainable Cattle Ranching in the Amazon

Implantation of an intensified area, with pasture reform and management;• Supplemental feeding for livestock, especially during the dry season; • Isolation and recuperation of riparian forests, and installation of watering systems;• Reforestation with commercial timbers, providing animal well-being and an extra income for producers

Althelia funds provided €11.5 million of financing for 20 farms, to restore 10,000 hectares of pastureland (100 square kilometers), and sustainably manage 34,000 head of cattle by 2017.

This is part of the Initiative 20x20 to restore 20 million hectares of land by 2020 (that’s two hundred thousand square kilometers), in Latin America and the Caribbean.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Discussion here:

(click to watch on Youtube)

Initiative 20x20

And a short video about it

(click to watch on Youtube)

For more on this see

That in turn is part of the larger global Bonn Challenge launched in 2011 aiming to restore 150 million hectares worldwide by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. That’s 1.5 million square kilometers of restored forest by 2020 and 3.5 million by 2030 - as large as an area 3,500 km by 1000 km.

Here are some of the places we can restore forests worldwide:

You can explore the reafforestation atlas interactively here: Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities and find out more about it here: Forest Restoration & Reforestation. For the paper see The global tree restoration potential

This is part of something we need to do worldwide according to IPBES in their report earlier this year, both to preserve biodiversity and nature systems, increase resilience and reduce carbon emissions.

Changing the structure of financial incentives is key. At present, worldwide, they are in the wrong direction, perverse financial incentives that are encouraging non sustainable practices.

Also top down doesn't work. It needs much more co-ordination between local and government levels as well as between governments than we have today.

The ordinary folk and consumers are also part of the transformative change. For instance two things we can do as consumer can make a huge difference

  • Reduce food waste - currently we waste 20% of all meat at the consumer’s end.
  • It’s the same for vegans and vegetarians they also can do a lot to improve food waste

    Food waste amounts to: 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35% for fish.” Key facts on food loss and waste you should know!

    But there is a multiplier effect for meat, depending on the type of meat
  • Reduce meat consumption - a 20% reduction in meat, e.g. to have one day a week without meat,

27% of our land area is used for livestock - so, for dairy and meat. Only 7% of the Earth’s surface is used for crops. This ingenious map shows this graphically.

Yields and Land Use in Agriculture (not from the report)

If we could save 20% of that 27% used for livestock - that’s 5.4% - enough to increase the 7% to 12.4% of the Earth’s surface for cropland, if it was used for crops instead of meat.

Either of those measures, or both, can make a significant difference to the sustainability of world agriculture.

It also matters what kind of meat we eat and how it is kept. E.g. in the UK then keeping cattle using rotation farming along with crops is clearly low impact as is sheep grazing on mountains. Keeping them indoors and feeding them animal food only is very high impact.

They found large differences in environmental impact between producers of the same product. High-impact beef producers create 105kg of CO2 equivalents and use 370m2 of land per 100 grams of protein, a huge 12 and 50 times greater than low-impact beef producers.

Low-impact beans, peas, and other plant-based proteins can create just 0.3kg of CO2 equivalents (including all processing, packaging, and transport), and use just 1m2 of land per 100 grams of protein. Aquaculture, assumed to have relatively low emissions, can emit more methane, and create more greenhouse gases than cows. One pint of beer can create 3 times more emissions and use 4 times more land than another. This variation in impacts is observed across all five indicators they assess, including water use, eutrophication, and acidification.

New estimates of the environmental cost of food

This can make a big difference, but you can’t get the animal products down quite as far as vegetable products even with the best methods

For example, a low-impact litre of cow’s milk uses almost two times as much land and creates almost double the emissions as an average litre of soymilk.

With a completely vegan diet we would need ~3.1 billion hectares (76%) less farmland. That’s a saving of 31 million square kilometers, or more than three times the area of China, or the USA.

'This would take pressure off the world’s tropical forests and release land back to nature,'

says Joseph Poore.

However going only part way there makes a big difference. If we just stopped eating meat from the highest impact producers, and replaced that be plants, reducing animal products by 50%, that by itself achieves 73% of the reduction you’d get by eating only plants.

Reducing consumption of animal products by 50% by avoiding the highest-impact producers achieves 73% of the plant-based diet’s GHG emission reduction for example. Further, lowering consumption of discretionary products (oils, alcohol, sugar, and stimulants) by 20% by avoiding high-impact producers reduces the greenhouse gas emissions of these products by 43%.This creates a multiplier effect, where small behavioural changes have large consequences for the environment. However, this scenario requires communicating producer (not just product) environmental impacts to consumers. This could be through environmental labels in combination with taxes and subsidies.

New estimates of the environmental cost of food

The paper is here Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers


skip to This gives a massive margin for any future food crisis

Another way to look at this. Currently food security is high. We have a stock to use ratio for grains of 30%, every year farmers are holding back 30% of their crop to sell in future years, for better prices or part of government programs for food security.

If we ever reach some future crisis where we can’t feed everyone - then the US and Brazil alone grow enough crops to feed directly to cattle (not even talking about ranch land) to feed 2.5 billion people.

By rationing meat in a future crisis, as we did during WWII, we could immediately free up enough food for billions of people.

This is another study. It looks only at crops grown for animals or humans. This map shows how much of agricultural crops (e.g. maize) is grown directly for human consumption, and how much is grown to feed to animals which we then eat:

I got those details here: Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare. The authors of that map and paper concluded from its analysis that if those calories were all used for human consumption instead of feeding humans, and other uses (such as biofuels) they could potentially feed approximately 4 billion extra people. We could feed over 10 billion people from the same land just by rationing meat.

This gives a massive margin for any future food crisis

skip to Feeding nine billion people

If we ever meet some global crisis with billions facing potential starvation, we could immediately free up large amounts of crops, and feed up to four billion extra people, just by rationing, such as was used in the UK during World War II.

We don’t even need to convert pasture to crops to do this. Just grow less of the crops that we grow only to feed animals.

It’s not likely to come to that, but I hope this thought can help people who panic that we won’t be able to feed everyone and will go extinct or our society collapse, through global starvation. Nonsense! Not on any scenario.

For more on this, see my Debunked: Soon we won’t be able to feed everyone because the world population is growing so quickly

Feeding nine billion people

skip to See Also

In 2050 we may have two billion more people, but more than that, the growing economies of China and India will want to eat more dairy products, eggs and meat, putting more pressure on agriculture to feed all those chickens, cows and other animals. Research in 2011 projected that we may need to double food production by 2050 to feed everyone.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects a 70% increase in demand. Either way it is a lot of extra food.

Jonathan Foley who directs the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota presents a five step program to do this

  • Step One: Freeze Agriculture’s Footprint - about the destructive impact of expanding into biodiverse tropical rainforests etc.
    [though surely not a problem expanding into deserts]
  • Step Two: Grow More on Farms We’ve Got

    We have really low yields in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe and improved farming practices could boost yields in these places several times over.

    There is a map here where you can explore places where yields can improve

Interactive version of this map in: Feeding 9 Billion - National Geographic

  • Step Three: Use Resources More Efficiently:

    There they make a point that the original green revolution involved high levels of fertilizer and intensive and non sustainable use of water and fossil-fuel based chemicals. Instead we need custom fertilizers tailored to soil conditions, organic farming, which greatly reduces water and chemicals with cover crops, mulches and compost, and more precise irrigation such as subsurface drip irrigation.
  • Step Four: Shift Diets:

    Finding ways to switch to less meat-intensive diets. Eliminating waste, and also shifting from grain-fed beef to pasture-raised beef could free up substantial amounts of food.
  • Step Five: Reduce Waste

    Consumers in developed world could reduce this by serving smaller portions, eating leftovers and encouraging cafeterias, restaurants and supermarkets to develop measures to reduce waste.

These five measures could more than double the world’s food supplies. It would also dramatically cut their environmental impact.

See: Feeding 9 Billion - National Geographic


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For the IPBES report see my

See also my

There is a lot positive going on. See for instance my

If you want to hear some happy news for a change, then the Happy Eco News blog may help.

See also my

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