August 14. Good Science News #22. Deep Green.
Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued released a report indicating that the earth will see a 1.5 degree increase in the average global temperature within the next 20 years. This was a benchmark that could have been avoided, but now, given how little has been done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the panel predicts that such an increase will occur within the next 20 years no matter what steps we ultimately take.
The climate crisis hits different communities differently, and the response to it has to be tailored to where communities reside. Take the indigenous resident of the Amazon rainforest as an example. The rain forest is estimated to hold about 123 billion metric tons of carbon within its ample vegetation, and all of that living tissue continuously pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, through the action of photosynthesis, and incorporates it into new vegetation. As such, the forest is not only an active storage depot for a massive amount of carbon, but is also part of the earth’s machinery for atmospheric cleansing.
The rain forest also supports many indigenous people, who often live directly off of the land. These people have tried to protect their local environment from deforestation, but to
date they have been fighting a losing battle as the economic benifits of logging and agriculture have overwhelmed their efforts to slow down deforestation.
A recent report published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests, however, that technical help may be on its way. A group of researchers have been training the local communities to use satellite technology, accessed through a smartphone app, to monitor the forest. Seventy-six communities were involved in the experiment, with individuals from 36 communities provided with smartphones and the remaining communities acting as controls. In each of the participating communities, three members were trained to use an early deforestation warning system on their phones, and to then patrol the forest and document damage. The participants were paid to monitor the forest and to report back to their home communities who would then decide the proper actions that the community would take.
The program worked. In fact, the rate of deforestation fell by half in the communities with forest monitors relative to the control communities where the monitoring was not present. “The implication of this finding is that if one were to continue the program, targeting it to the communities facing the biggest threats should avert the most tree cover loss,” says Slough, a political economist at New York University. “Given that it is implementable at the community level, this represents an important and scalable tool to empower communities to reduce deforestation.”
Communities across the globe have helped to create the global climate crisis by not being responsible, historically, for their local actions. But these same communities may be able to act locally and reverse the trends in global climate change that are occurring worldwide.
It is not much, but it is a start.