Google Is Everywhere—and That's Great News for Trees

The search giant’s new interactive tool is helping to track and prevent deforestation.
Feb 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Just how staggering is global deforestation? From 2000 to 2012, the world lost roughly 500 million acres of forest. That’s the destruction of 50 soccer fields' worth of trees every minute of every day—for 4,765 days.

In an attempt to curtail illegal logging, Google has partnered with several environmental organizations to create Global Forest Watch, an interactive online tool that sends out alerts when something’s suspect in the leafier parts of the world. It’s like an online neighborhood watch for the forests.

How does it work? The open-source system uses algorithms to scan satellite images for abrupt vegetation density changes worldwide due to logging or fires while letting users sign up for updates from specific regions like Indonesia and Brazil, where deforestation is rampant.

The tool can also aid environmental law enforcement. Despite spanning 1.4 billion acres of forest (half of the earth’s extant tropical jungles), the Amazon has only 200 officers to counter deforestation. So rather than seek out illegal loggers, officials can receive real-time dispatches from individuals and communities who are able to upload their own data.

More important, perhaps, Global Forest Watch could mean major change to big industries: Gone are the days when companies can claim not to be aware of illegal logging that’s occurring several time zones away, according to Businessweek.

“You can see in real time whether the supplier [of wood] is doing what they promised,” said Nigel Sizer, director of the World Resources Institute’s global forest initiative. “The good guys can demonstrate that they’re in compliance and the bad guys are clear for everyone to see. There’s nowhere they can hide.”