Reasons to be Optimistic about Deforestation

Submitted by: Greg Selfe 02/12/2014

Prominent conservationist, Rhett Butler, says he is finally finding reason to be optimistic about the future of tropical forests.

Tropical forest loss is decreasing, but it still remains at a critically high level. Declining from an annual average of 11.3 million hectares during the 1990s, deforestation between 2009 and 2012 was roughly 9.3 million hectares annually.

Despite these high rates of forest loss, Butler is finding himself more optimistic about the future of our World's forests. First of all, there has been a shift in the motive for deforestation. Today forests are more often cleared to produce commodities for urban markets, rather than for subsistence by the indigenous farmers- a shift Butlers refers to as 'poverty-driven' to 'profit-driven'. This trend is significant as it means there are fewer entities responsible for clearing forest and therefore fewer entities for conservationists, campaigners and governments to focus their attention on. Consumer pressure on large corporations to take responsibility of their economic impacts is also having a noticeable impact on deforestation.

As well as these factors, Butler also talks of technological advances which are contributing to conservation. Advanced satellite technology can now give an almost real-time view of the state of the World's forests, as well as chemical sensors measuring carbon levels. Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, which can be operated cheaper, faster and in previously unobtainable areas, can now provide conservationists with high quality images of evidence of deforestation. Ground technology such as traps, sensors and mobile phone based systems can work in conjunction with local authorities to alert them instantly if the noise of deforestation is detected.

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Source: Rhett Butler, 2014. "A Conservationist Sees Signs of Hope for World’s Rainforests". Yale Environment 360, 30 October.