February 23rd, 2014 by James Ayre
If you want to get a sense of just how rapidly the world is being deforested, and words aren’t enough for you, well, now there’s a new online tool that can help you with that.
The Global Forest Watch — backed by Google and more than 40 other business and conservation groups — is a new global monitoring system capable of providing “near real time” data on deforestation occurring around the world.
The Global Forest Watch works by utilizing the information provided by “hundreds of millions of satellite images” in conjunction with data from the ground. Google’s backing of the project is down to it’s desire to demonstrate “that their products are sustainable,” according to BBC.
Despite the growing level of public awareness of deforestation, and its causes and effects, over the past decade, rates haven’t slowed. The money thrown at the problem hasn’t addressed any of the fundamental causes. According to Google and the University of Maryland the world lost about 230 million hectares of forest between the years of 2000 and 2012.
For some perspective, that’s the “equivalent of 50 football fields of trees being cut down, every minute, of every day, over the past 12 years.”
This new monitoring system is an effort to limit forest loss by locating and determining the exact causes of the clearing. With the great availability of modern satellites, that’s now a possibility. The new system utilizes data from NASA’s Landsat program in conjunction with the cloud computing power of the Google Earth Engine, the Google Maps Engine and new algorithms developed by the University of Maryland.
The WSJ explains:
Advances in technology have also allowed people to almost instantaneously notify others about what’s happening in the forests. That’s important, particularly since many of the world’s most biodiverse rainforests are located in remote places where law enforcement is weak. Indonesia, for example, has laws in place to curb deforestation, but often people don’t know that trees are being felled until it’s too late.
Governments can use the maps on Global Forest Watch to detect illegal forest clearing and better enforce those laws, say researchers, while companies can use the platform to make sure products such as palm oil and timber are not coming from suppliers involved in deforestation.
“Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests,” stated Dr Andrew Steer from WRI.
“Deforestation poses a material risk to businesses that rely on forest-linked crops. Exposure to that risk has the potential to undermine the future of businesses,” stated Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever. “As we strive to increase the visibility of where the ingredients for our products come from, the launch of Global Forest Watch – a fantastic, innovative tool – will provide the information we urgently need to make the right decisions.”
Some of those involved in the project think that it, in addition to being a tool used to hold large corporations accountable for deforestation that they’re associated with, that it could “also promote greater trust between traditionally suspicious groups.”
“Civil society will have a tool to maintain democratic vigilance over their governments,” explained Felipe Calderon, the former President of Mexico. “The partnership we are launching will, I believe, change the current paradigm that in the fight against climate change it is corporate interests versus governments versus activists.”
Hmmm…. What do our readers think about that spin? Certainly an interesting project though.
Image Credit: World Resources Institute/Global Forest Watch/Google
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