Geopolitics

Global Warming Paradox: Might CO2 Actually Save The Amazon?

An experiment in the Amazon forest will test a hypothesis that higher levels of CO2, due to climate change, can avert the drought and high temperatures it was supposed to cause.

Slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon
Slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon
Rafael Garcia

SAO PAULO â€" Will global warming provide a solution to one of the problems it creates? To find an answer to this intriguing question, a team of scientists started taking measurements last week for what may be the most ambitious experiment the Amazon forest has seen in some 20 years. Ecologists are hoping the project, called Amazon FACE (Free-Air CO2 Enrichment), can tell them whether the forest will survive the drought that global warming is expected to cause.

Led by the Sao Paulo State University and bringing together more than 14 research centers, the experiment consists of permanently bombarding small parts of the forest with CO2. Some believe that higher concentration levels of carbon dioxide can boost photosynthesis, which would compensate for the forest's growth deficit, and even its feared death in case of drought.

"The simulated models show that the fertilizing effect of CO2 could be crucial in keeping the forest alive," explains ecology researcher David Lapola, leader of the experiment. "But for now this is still mere speculation. Only such an experiment will give us an answer."

The Amazon FACE is the first experiment of its kind in a tropical ecosystem. The first phase will take place from 2015 to 2017, and once fully set up, the project will last until 2027.

For that, scientists need to build a "gas ring" around the portion of forest they want to test, with high tube towers connected to a a CO2 tank. During the experiment, the concentration of carbon dioxide will be 200 parts per million over natural levels, a 50% increase of current measurements. The production of CO2 alone represents 62% of the experiment's total cost.

A FACE facility in Nevada â€" Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

The location, 60 kilometers north of the town of Manaus, is well-known to scientists, as it has already been used in previous projects. It provides them with important data that has been collected since 1996, which will enable them to better measure the impact of CO2 in the trees' growth during the experiment.

To know if CO2 fertilization will counter the effects of droughts and higher temperatures, they will however need to feed their simulation models, so as to compare different effects expected from global warming.

"If we're lucky", there could be a drought period during the experiment, which would allow us to compare different situations," says Richard Norby from the U.S."s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who will take part in the experiment.

One of the project's architects, climatologist Carlos Nobre, National Secretary for research and development policies at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, defends Amazon FACE as evidence of Brazil's scientific maturity. "We initiated the project and looked for international collaborators from the best institutions who have experience in these types of environments," he explained.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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