Deforestation

Published on February 23rd, 2014 | by James Ayre

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Deforestation In Real-Time — New Online Tool From Google Lets You See Deforestation As It Occurs

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February 23rd, 2014 by

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.

Deforestation google

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.”

Amazon Google deforestation

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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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • Abnaxus

    I wonder how many North Americans know how hemp/cannabis became illegal in the first place. It’s nauseating. Anslinger/Nixon are the reason for much oppression and misery and corruption. Learning the truths behind the bans and drug laws seems to lead to the realization of many corrupt American acts (often done in other countries, out of our sight. Besides dumping oil waste on purpose, Big Pharma tested their drugs on South Americans who live in poverty….. just to get the drugs approved faster. $$$$$). Hemp, by the way, gets no one high. It takes a tree, what, 60+ years to become mature? Hemp takes 4 months! Hemp makes more paper per acre than do trees. Paper made from hemp last centuries. The Declaration of Independence was written on it. If it were written on tree paper? Well that paper lasts only 25-80 years. You can imagine the rest.

    No government should stand between people and their vegetation or seeds. Stop allowing it. The argument that the hemp industry threatens loggers never made sense to me. Getting 4 crops per year out of hemp would multiply jobs to where everyone could be employed. Harvesting hemp is much less dangerous too. These loggers don’t have to break their backs for a living (even if they like it, they should question the slow rate at which trees grow back). Hemp jobs could bring back all these abandoned Detroit factories. It’s the perfect area for the industry to rebirth.

    Cannabis/Hemp is good for food, fuel, it makes strong rope, and medicine. The great reduction in cluster seizures in patients who use a high CBD cannabis strain should automatically warrant deep study. Stop allowing our ridiculous American government (now run by lobbyists/corporations/wealth) to steamroll over common sense and ‘common’ people (as well as bully other nations to go along). They’ve been dishonest and greedy forever now, all the while smearing and oppressing the ones they feel are inferior, calling them the problem of the world. Their turn is over. Stand up. Expose them. Whistle blow if you’re on the inside. Change doesn’t happen by watching their limited, duplicate tv news stories (as if the same 3 main headlines are the only things going on in the world), staring at the laptop, or by complaining and blaming, or by tuning it out. It happens through action. We have the internet. Let’s get creative. Peace

  • Fazedanation

    Want to clean up the environment, improve the weather? Plant a tree! The major cause of deforestation, … is over-population, and it’s getting worse, a bigger problem then global warming, pollution, disease, and a major cause of the three, but nobody talks about it…… Haiti is but a small warning.

    • dvd

      I question the idea of over-population being the major cause. If no more population were added (and a few wars or plagues were to decrease the global population by a billion), the deforestation would still increase. A dramatic increase in the past decade has been because of a desire to, for example, grow more corn for ethanol. And to provide more grazing ground for increased beef (e.g. hamburger) consumption. Plus to meet demands for housing and furniture, and so much that is made of wood (including paper). Towns and malls spreading out (e.g. more roads, parking lots, buildings) is but a relatively small part of the problem.

      It is fascinating to consider the Haiti vs. Dominican Republic tree coverage on the same island! And I agree that this subject is not receiving the exposure and concern it desperately needs.

  • Ronald Ragan

    This show only trees get cut, but failed to show new trees.
    Another previous Googlearticle show trees were more than got cut down.

  • Henny Penny

    The coloring on the maps seems out of proportion. It appears all the trees in the deep South have been logged. Where is the new growth, how is that identified?
    Also, proper foresting from selective harvesting allows forests to grow faster and healthier, how is that identified? Is it being represented at all.

    • dvd

      I was intrigued by the report last month that old trees grow faster than new trees.

  • StefanoR99

    Well done to google for continuing “not to be evil”.

    Heres an idea, why dont apple and google take some of the billions they are sitting on, create a non profit whose sole purpose is to buy forests to stop them from being cut down.

    A second idea, how about google and apple take some of those billions and start up a non profit healthcare system that can out compete with all other for profit insurance companies on these new health exchanges.

    • HumanBeeing

      Yeah. I tweeted to Warren Buffet that he should use some of his money to create a “client-owned” health insurance company with VERY low cost insurance premiums. I don’t know if he ever saw it, but no one replied. If he can’t do it alone, I’m sure he and Bill Gates and a couple of others could easily all go in together to cover the cost. But it will never happen. They probably all own stock in many health insurance companies.

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