Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Sciences’ blog, Environment 360, published a report on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to support the protection of forests and strengthen biodiversity conservation programs. Google Earth and satellites are increasingly being used to find potential sites for conservation activities, support advocacy efforts and target on-the-ground action. Furthermore, the widespread availability of tools like Google Earth has armed “arm-chair conservationists” and local activists with better weapons for fighting environmental degredation. “Citizens and environmental groups are now using Google Earth to tracks threats to pristine rivers from hydroelectric projects, catalogue endangered species, help indigenous people in the Amazon protect their land, and alert citizens and government officials that boats are illegally fishing off the Canary Islands.”
Scientists and conservationists are using these tools to map deforestation in real time. “In the past several years, one of the chief uses for satellite imagery has been to accurately quantify the loss of tropical forests from the Amazon, to the Congo, to Indonesia. In Brazil, scientists and state environmental protection officials can now monitor fires and forest clearing almost in real-time and take action to combat the deforestation.” Additionally, governments are investing in sophisticated environmental monitoring tools. Investment in these tools not only yields environmental benefits, but also, potentially, economic benefits. Developing countries will need to track baseline levels of deforestation activity to earn potential carbon off-set credits that may be provided through the UNFCCC process. Negotations are underway on international financing for developing countries that successfully prevent additional deforestation. According to Environment 360, Brazil now has one of the most advanced satellite systems for monitoring the scope of Amazon deforestation.
To make Google Earth (which is available for download free) more accessible to non-profits, Google has created Google Earth Outreach, which came out of a project by one of its own developers, and focuses on helping organizations develop visual and data support for advocacy and programs. “Rebecca Moore, a programmer at Google, used Google Earth to document a planned logging project near her home in Santa Cruz County, Calif. Working with members from her community, Moore created a virtual map of the area that would be affected. Her subsequent data animation, which took users on a virtual flyover across the proposed logging zone, generated a firestorm of protest and led to the cancellation of the project.” In another example, Environment 360 explains that the Jane Goodall Foundation is using Google Earth to generate three-dimensional images that can show Tanzanian villagers forests are the source of their water, and enlist their help in identifying chimpanzee habitat and elephant paths.