The Potential Impact of Complete Deforestation and the Technology Preventing It

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There is a moment in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road in which protagonist tells his son, All the trees in the world are going to fall sooner or later. But not on us.” This bleak forecast is a requiem for nature set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the man and his son inhabit, a dying Earth in which most of the natural world has ceased to exist.

The significance of this lament is two-fold, both the total loss of the Earth’s trees and the fact they will not fall on the two protagonists, likely because they will no longer be around to see them fall. Because without trees, how may they survive?

This kind of brutal warning can now be evoked in our world as we look towards the burning forests that are consequential of the large-scale deforestation underway in the Amazon or the illegal logging taking place in Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest. Like McCarthy’s ruined landscape, these environments are feeling the stress of human activity and the wildlife and indigenous people that inhabit these places are also under threat. These places are not only important to those that live there either.

Forests are the lifeline of our world.

Dr. Meg Lowman, Director, TREE Foundation

The Tree Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Florida, US, that is committed to research, exploration, and education as well organizing expeditions that introduce participants to “environmental and cultural aspects” of forests around the world, such as the Amazon, “without them, we lose extraordinary and essential functions for life on Earth,” says Lowman. Therefore, there needs to be a shift towards thinking about how we can slow down the rate of deforestation and prevent illegal logging techniques and over production on the industrial scale.

To prevent any catastrophic event, we need state-of-the-art solutions orientated towards the preservation of the future and the natural world. Rainforest Connection is an initiative currently leading the way using technological solutions that aim at ending illegal deforestation in real-time.

Using Google’s open-source machine learning framework TensorFlow to aid their efforts, they have created acoustic monitoring systems to help protect forests around the world. According to UN reports, over 90% of logging in tropical rainforests is illegal. The team at Rainforest Connection believe that, “If you can protect the trees, you end up protecting everything else.”

Stopping illegal logging and protecting the world’s rainforests may be the fastest, cheapest way for humanity to slow climate change. And who’s best suited to protect the rainforest? The locals and the indigenous tribes that have lived there for generations.

Topher White, CEO and Founder of Rainforest Connection, writing for Google’s blog

While it is common knowledge that Trees are responsible for carbon storage and producing oxygen, it can be taken for granted that they also provide homes for innumerable species and dynamic ecosystems – as well as their base material (wood) being utilized for building materials. Thus, due to the needs of growing populations and developed countries as well as ever expanding markets in the construction and agriculture industries, very little thought is given to their true natural significance.

According to a 2015 study in the journal Nature, it is thought that some 5.8 trillion trees have been torn down to make way for human progress. Yet, if we continue on at this rate, we might not be able to make any progress tipping the balance of nature against our favor. The current climate emergency is accelerating towards disaster and our methods and practices need to be rethought as the magnitude of current industrial practices in the rainforests is exacerbating climate change. It is thought over 70,000 fires have burned through the Amazon alone in 2019.

In fact, the impact of human activity on the climate is massive and the way in which we are metabolizing the natural world – including trees – for our own gains is potentially reversing tens of millions of years of photosynthesis. In addition to deforestation, the rate at which we burn fossil fuels is also a potential harbinger of a grim fate awaiting us.

Let me just start with how horrible a world without trees would be – they are irreplaceable.

Isabel Rosa, Lecturer in Environmental Data and Analysis, Bangor University

Rosa continued, “If we get rid of all the trees, we will live [on] a planet that might not actually be able to sustain us anymore.” This is why the imperative is finding a way beyond the traditional exercising of industrial methods.

The ground-breaking technology developed by Rainforest Connection, dubbed RCFx, may come to be an important tool in the future of preserving the world’s forests. The monitoring system combats illegal logging due to its capability of real-time detection that can instantly send alerts pertaining to any unusual activity. What’s more is that their Google TensorFlow powered system also records ecosystem data vital to providing important information necessary for increasing protection in vulnerable forest areas.

White stated, “We’ve come to use TensorFlow, due to its ability to analyze every layer of our data heavy detection process The versatility of the machine learning framework empowers us to use a wide range of AI techniques with Deep Learning on one unified platform.”

The total loss of trees is not something we should try imagining but nevertheless, for some time now the rate of population and market growth has made it seem a not-too-distant reality. Advancing technological schemes such as Rainforest Connection should be welcomed as they not only provide a highly efficient alert system to prevent illegal deforestation but can also connect you or I better to the natural world as they have also developed an app that allows users to listen to live audio streams of the rainforest in Peru, Ecuador and beyond. It is much better to imagine a world with trees than one without as we would struggle to survive in a world in which they have all fallen.

You can download Rainforest Connection’s app via Google Play and the Apple App Store.

David J. Cross, M.A

Written by

David J. Cross, M.A

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.

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