In the freshest apocalyptic omen since last month, the Amazon rainforest is current on fire—tens of thousands of fires, deliberately started, and greenlit by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right, populist leader. G7 heads could only muster a combined $22 million in proposed aid—around two-thirds of the budget for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2—and even that paltry sum was rejected by Bolsonaro, who claims he’ll only accept the cash if French premier Emmanuel Macron apologizes for calling him a “liar”.
The Amazon Rainforest currently produces around 6% of the world’s photosynthetic oxygen, and holds 17% of its vegetation-trapped carbon. Bolsonaro’s consent for industrialists to destroy large swaths of it (at a rate 84% more than last year) has opened up the possibility of an “Amazon dieback” scenario, whereby enough rainforest is cut to allow savannah to creep into its place forever. That, in case it’s not clear, is a very, very bad thing.
But while the global media trips into eschatology, is there anything tech can do to save the rainforest? After all: digital marketing, self-driving cars and and smartphones are great, but if we’re not around to use them what’s the point? Here are three ways the tech industry is attempting to redress the human-plant imbalance Bolsonaro is helping to accelerate.
1. Search to plant more trees
When you Google something, you oftentimes find it, and Google gets a bunch of money. Ecosia, a search-engine startup based in Berlin, Germany, does something more. The value from its searches are spent planting trees across the word, and supporting NGOs and non-profits that do so. This June the company planted its 60 millionth tree. That might only be about 1/6,500th of the Amazon—but it’s certainly better than anything Google has managed. The platform currently has over eight million users, with revenues topping $10m. So get searching, and fight deforestation from your desk.
2. Drones for the win
Recent discussions about drone technology may have focused on their use in warfare, which isn’t very tree-hugging. But drones have another use: preventing, fighting and replanting forest fires. Last year Red Herring met Menashe Haskin, CEO of Edgybees, a Tel Aviv drone firm that pivoted from AR gaming to emergency detection and relief. DroneSeed, a Seattle-based startup, uses drones to replant forests after fires. Its 55-pound creations can plant up to 800 seeds an hour—perfect for tough-to-access spots, and brackish forestry like mangroves, which are disappearing at alarming rates worldwide.
3. Mapping the damage
If you don’t know the extent of a problem, how can you begin to solve it? The World Resource Institute knew this, which is why it recently partnered with Google, UM, USGS and NASA to build the world’s most comprehensive forest map—whose powerful platform can pinpoint even small-holder agricultural activity in near-real-time. The ability to view and analyze fast-changing data is vital in giving state, and non-state, actors the chance to predict and divert potential climate catastrophes. Powered by Google Earth Engine and Earth Builder, the map could be pivotal in minimizing the activity of loggers, farmers and other workers on forest environments worldwide.