It started, as many things do, with a rumor. In 2013 Matt Finer, a researcher with the Amazon Conservation Association, heard from locals that someone was cutting down rainforest deep in the Peruvian Amazon, far from prying eyes. So Finer and colleagues did something that would have been unheard of 10 years before: Using high-resolution satellite imagery, they found a couple hectares of felled trees in a seemingly impenetrable sea of forest.
“You could just see this little smidge of forest loss and we said, ‘Maybe that’s it,’” says Finer. Over the next few years, the team watched the destruction spread from just a few hectares to more than 2,000 (more than 4,900 acres). It eventually connected the loss to United Cacao, a company based in the Cayman Islands with ambitions to become the “world’s largest and lowest cost corporate grower of cacao,” according to its website. Armed with dramatic satellite images, Finer and colleagues took the story to the Peruvian government and press, hoping to make a difference. The case is now in Peruvian court to determine if the company undertook the proper steps before clearing the forest. In the meantime, according to Finer, the agriculture ministry has responded by slapping United Cacao with a “paralyzation” order to halt its operation. But, says Finer, weekly satellite imagery shows United Cacao is not complying. “The deforestation is happening as we speak,” he says.
In 2008, biodiversity expert Norman Myers said that deforestation in the tropics was “one of the worst crises
since we came out of our caves 10,000 years ago.” Ongoing loss is driving fears of mass extinction. But the loss of forests—both tropical and temperate—also plays a big role in the global climate crisis: Experts estimate that 10 to 15% of current greenhouse gas emissions are due to land use change. Not only that, but forests are vital to mitigating soil erosion, stemming floods, maintaining precipitation, and even boosting human health and happiness
The world has struggled for decades to stem deforestation through a variety of means, including setting aside new protected areas, improving laws and enforcement at the national level, creating international programs such as REDD+, and making corporate commitments to cut out deforestation altogether.
Yet nothing has changed how we approach deforestation like satellite monitoring. In recent years, this has revolutionized our ability to track deforestation. Instead of relying on local government statistics, researchers and activists are now able to monitor changes in the forest from their laptops and smartphones.
What does this information tell us about how we’re doing at beating deforestation—and what we might do to make further progress toward this global goal?
> CONTINUE ARTICLE AT QUARTZ – an important read!