Ask an Amazon Expert: Why We Can't Afford to Lose the Rainforest

Ask an Amazon Expert: Why We Can't Afford to Lose the Rainforest

Scientist and National Geographic Fellow Dr. Thomas Lovejoy is leading a charge to combat deforestation and protect the Amazon.


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Biology, Ecology, Geography

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About one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared.

Forest has been lost from farming, building cities and logging. Millions of different plants and animals live in the Amazon River region. The loss of forest harms plants and animals. It also affects people around the world.

Some of the world's best scientists are trying to save the forest. Dr. Thomas Lovejoy is one of those scientists. We talked to him about the Amazon and why it matters.

NG: You have worked in the Amazon for more than 50 years. How have you seen the region change?

TL: It is an area as large as the United States. In the 1960s, it had only one highway and three million people. Today, there are more than 30 million people and countless roads. Much of the forest has also disappeared.

But there have been positive changes. Today, there are many more national parks there. More than half of the Amazon is protected.

Many people do not feel connected to the region. How can we change that?

It is true that we are far away. Yet our lives are very connected to the Amazon.

There is a snake there called the bushmaster. This snake uses a poison that can make your heart stop. Scientists studied this snake to develop medicine for human hearts.

Climate change affects everyone on the planet. The plants in the Amazon hold carbon dioxide. If we lose them, the carbon dioxide goes into the air. That means there will be even more climate change.

What will happen in the Amazon?

Nothing is gone until it is gone.

We hope for the Amazon to return to what it once was. We want it to be managed together by these Amazon countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. We want to see people there work together.

Fast Fact

The Birthplace of BiodiversityThere’s a reason scientists working in the Amazon had to come up with a term to describe the incredible wealth of plant and animal species present in the Amazon basin. The region is home to one in ten species known on Earth.

Fast Fact

Carbon Contributor?While the Amazon is currently a carbon sink—meaning it stores carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to climate change—that might be changing. The World Wildlife Fund states that forest loss and reduced rainfall may turn the Amazon into a net source rather than capturer of carbon emissions.

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Ryan Schleeter
National Geographic Society
Jessica Shea, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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Related Resources

The BIO Program at the Inter-American Development Bank
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation