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(where tech is saving the rainforest)

04 August 2021, 11:57 AM

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The Amazon rainforest is one of the most remarkable places in the world. It’s home to millions of species of animals and around 3,344 native communities.

Their home is being destroyed. But never fear – tech is here!

Over the past 40 years, governments and environmentalists have invested heavily in the use of satellite technology to monitor the removal of trees. The communities living in the Amazon have been equipped with satellite data and smartphones by conservation groups trying to save the rainforest. This new technology is helping native communities to limit tree loss in the Amazon.

The project set out to see if putting information directly into the hands of forest communities would make a difference. The conservation groups found 76 remote villages in the Amazon and randomly chose 36 to participate in this new monitoring programme.  

Three members of each community were trained to use the technology and shown how to carry out patrols to verify deforestation. When satellite information showed suspected deforestation activity in the area, photos and GPS coordinates were loaded onto USB drives, carried up the Amazon river and delivered by couriers (that’s an Uber ride we’d give 5 stars to).

The information was then downloaded onto specialised smartphone apps which guided them to the suspected locations.

When these forest patrols confirmed any unauthorised deforestation, they reported back to an assembly of community members to decide on the best next step. If the activity is perceived as less risky, the community can intervene directly and drive the offenders off their land themselves. Take that, tree choppers!  

Why is this work so important?

Between 2000 and 2015, around 17% of tree loss in the Amazon occurred on protected areas that are home to local people. 

Over the next decade, if nothing changes, indigenous people in the Amazon are projected to lose 4.4 million hectares of rainforest, mostly to outsiders who intrude on their land to cut down trees. Just to put that into perspective, two and a half football pitches make up one hectare. We’ll just let that sink in a sec… 

Intruders are cutting down trees for mining, timber and oil extraction and illegal activities, and this adds greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing extreme weather, increased wildfires which are all effects of climate change.

And cutting emissions is now more urgent than ever with the Amazon rainforest producing more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year!

Most of the emissions are caused by fires, many deliberately set to clear land for beef and soy production. But even without fires, hotter temperatures and droughts mean the Amazon has become a serious source of carbon dioxide.  

Scientists have discovered that part of the Amazon is emitting carbon even without these fires, and it is most likely because of deforestation. The trees produce most of the region’s rain, so fewer trees means more severe droughts and heatwaves, which means more tree deaths and fires.

But enough doom and gloom – let’s get back to tech saving the day!

When researchers examined the impact of this new approach, they found that deforestation dropped by 52% in the first year. That’s over half! Through the power of technology, these communities were empowered to make a difference right on their doorstep.  

And just imagine if this monitoring system was widely adopted in rainforests around the world? We could not only save our rainforests, preserve wildlife and the homes of many rural communities, but we could also massively slow the pace of climate change. Now we think that’s lush!

Next article: What’s the beef?

Warning: may blow your mind!

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