Why climate change is a greater threat to tropical rainforests than cropland expansion

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When I was child, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember going to Sarett Nature Center in the southwest corner of lower Michigan, where I learned about the wonders of tropical rainforests, their destruction to make space for cropland, and the threat of global warming. Those ideas eventually provoked the question investigated in a recently published research paper that I co-authored with Alex De Pinto of the University of Greenwich (UK) and Nicola Cenacchi of IFPRI: Which danger poses the greater threat to rainforests, climate change or cropland expansion?

Here is the short answer from our modeling: Climate change is likely to be more than 2.5 times more destructive to tropical rainforests than cropland expansion at the global level between 2005 and 2050.

Where did this alarming number come from? To begin with, we looked at how much land area experienced different climates in the recent past and how that will change in the future. Figure 1 below shows combinations of temperature and rainfall and counts up how much land area experienced them globally as of 2005, the baseline for our study.

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