A Google event today at the global climate talks in Cancún featured the release of a new technology called Google Earth Engine. It allows worldwide, daily monitoring of changes to our planet’s environment and really could usher in a new era in forest protection.
Should these negotiations produce a plan to save tropical rainforests, the Google platform could be a central component of success. (See the above video of Michelle Passero, The Nature Conservancy California’s senior policy representative for climate, discussing her reaction to Google’s announcement.)
A good example of how this technology works was highlighted at the event. The Surui Tribe in Rondonia, Brazil live in a small area of the Amazon and they were disgusted that clear-cutting had made its way right up to their territorial boundary. So they created the Surui Carbon Project.
The project entailed getting trained by Google engineers back in 2008. While the Earth Engine was still being developed, several members of the community were given Android phones that allowed them to calculate the carbon emissions of trees in their forest.
Until now, it would take weeks if not years for forest mappers to monitor changes in forest cover. By then, the illegal loggers would have been long gone before anyone could do anything about it. Now, when the Surui Tribe and other native people throughout the world see suspicious changes in their forests, all they have to do is send a text message and perhaps some photos through their phones. Forest monitors in labs all over the world and local authorities (as well as anyone on the Earth Engine website) will see these changes in real time.
This is what the democracy of forest protection looks like, and one Google engineer called it “the coolest product that Google is working on.”
So if a REDD+ agreement (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) truly becomes of result of these Cancún talks, Google Earth Engine may play a central role in helping compensate countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico for protecting their tropical rainforests, which in turn is one of the most inexpensive ways to protect all of us from climate change.
Video by: Paul Mackie/The Nature Conservancy
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