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News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

Tylt, a lifestyle technology company, based in Simi Valley, California, has partnered with One Tree Planted, a Vermont-based non-profit. Sustainability is important to TYLT and the partnership with One Tree Planted ensures that TYLT will plant a minimum of 250 Trees per month in various parts of the globe (Donations are based on each Tylt product sold). Tylt has ‘planted’ 2100 trees in Colorado to help with the reforestation efforts after severe forest fires destroyed much of the forests there. The mission of One Tree Planted is to plant a tree for every dollar donated to a location where reforestation efforts are under way all over the planet. http://www.tylt.com/cares Here is a link to the interactive Global Forest Watch deforestation map - http://bit.ly/1MwpFMm


News Article | April 1, 2016
Site: www.sciencenews.org

There’s still enough forest left — if protected wisely — to meet the goal of doubling the number of wild tigers (Panthera tigris) by 2022, says an international research team. That ambitious target, set by a summit of 13 tiger-range nations in 2010, aims to reverse the species’ alarming plunge toward extinction. Forest loss, poaching and dwindling prey have driven tiger numbers below 3,500 individuals. The existing forest habitat could sustain the doubling if, for instance, safe-travel corridors connect forest patches, according to researchers monitoring forest loss with free, anybody-can-use-’em Web tools. Previously, habitat monitoring was piecemeal, in part because satellite imagery could be expensive and required special expertise, says Anup Joshi of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. But Google Earth Engine and Global Forest Watch provide faster, easier, more consistent ways to keep an eye out for habitat losses as small as 30 meters by 30 meters (the space revealed in a pixel). Looking at 14 years of data, 76 major tiger landscapes altogether have lost less than 8 percent of forest, the researchers say April 1 in Science Advances. Finding so little loss is “remarkable and unexpected,” they write. But 10 of those landscapes account for most of the losses — highlighting the challenges conservationists, and tigers, face. Monitoring tiger habitat with Global Forest Watch’s free web data shows areas of creeping forest loss (pink) in an important tiger habitat in Indonesia.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

The hamburger chain Burger King has been buying animal feed produced in soy plantations carved out by the burning of tropical forests in Brazil and Bolivia, according to a new report. Jaguars, giant anteaters and sloths have all been affected by the disappearance of around 700,000 hectares (1,729,738 acres) of forest land between 2011 and 2015. The campaign group Mighty Earth says that evidence gathered from aerial drones, satellite imaging, supply-chain mapping and field research shows a systematic pattern of forest-burning. Local farmers carried out the forest-burning to grow soybeans for Burger King’s suppliers Cargill and Bunge, the only two agricultural traders known to be operating in the area. Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth’s CEO, said: “The connections are quite clear. Bunge and Cargill supply Burger King and other big meat sellers with grain. McDonald’s, Subway and KFC are not perfect but they’re doing a hell of a lot more to protect the forests. If Burger King does not respond immediately to people who want to know where their food comes from, then people should shop elsewhere.” The destruction of tropical forest and savannah land highlighted in the report is concentrated in Bolivia’s lowland forests and in the Brazilian Cerrado, where the pace of deforestation is now outstripping that of the Amazon. One of Burger King’s suppliers buys soy from Bunge that originates in the Brazilian Cerrado, according to commodities data provided by the Stockholm Enterprise Institute. Cargill has also sponsored Burger King’s annual convention in 2015, and donated a five-figure sum to the Burger King McLamore Foundation in 2014. Last year, nearly 2m hectares of land was deforested in Brazil – up from 1.5m in 2015 – while an estimated 865,000 hectares of forest was cleared in Bolivia, compared to 667,000 a year in the 2000s. Not all of the forest clearing was linked to soy production, but Mighty Earth says food companies are not doing enough to prevent deforestation in areas they operate in, and offer financial incentives that spur the process in the first place. Burger King, which is owned by the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital, does not disclose details of its suppliers but has refused to rule out buying products produced on deforested land. Sharon Smith, a tropical forests manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “Burger King is one of the world’s largest fast food companies, but consistently ranks last in the industry when it comes to environmental protection policies. The fast food giant needs to follow its competitors like McDonald’s and demand that its suppliers are not destroying tropical forests as part of their business model.” The fast food giant, which operates at least one joint venture with Cargill, declined to respond to requests for comment. Cargill has also sponsored Burger King’s annual convention in 2015, and donated a five-figure sum to the Burger King McLamore Foundation in 2014. In a written statement to the Guardian, Cargill stressed its commitment to halving incidences of deforestation in its supply chains by 2020 and ending it by 2030. A company statement sent to the Guardian said: “In Brazil, we have seen great progress as we partnered to advance the soy moratorium in the Amazon for more than a decade. Today, we are working with more than 15,000 soy farmers and collaborating with governments, NGOs and partners to implement the Brazilian forest code and advance forest protection.” Campaigners counter that Cargill has refused to extend the soy moratorium beyond the Amazon, with its trade association citing the lack of a “crisis situation”. Bunge said that the report made a misleading correlation between Bunge’s presence in the Brazilian Cerrado and total deforestation figures in that region. “Two facts are important,” it said. “First, most land use change is not directly related to the crops Bunge buys. According to Global Forest Watch, soy covers 25% of land cleared since 2011 in the Matopiba region, where recent deforestation has been most prevalent. Second, our market share for the municipalities where we operate silos in the region is only 20%.” More than half of the Cerrado’s natural vegetation has already been cleared, compared to 25% of the Amazon’s. Investors representing $617bn of assets on Tuesday sent a letter to Cargill, Bunge and several burger chains, in which they “demand that companies reaffirm and extend zero deforestation commitments specific to Latin America”. • This article was amended on 2 March 2017 to add a statement from Bunge received after publication.


News Article | October 5, 2016
Site: www.nature.com

Ask Matthew Hansen to show off his data and he hunches over his computer like a possessed video gamer. With a few mouse clicks, he flies over the globe and zooms in on a forest in Indonesia. The area is designated as a preserve — supposedly protected from deforestation — but Hansen's data reveal a different reality. Bird's-eye images of the trees taken every eight days flash by on the screen. At first, a few red spots perforate the green canopy around the preserve's edge. Then they spread, like bloodstains. “That's got to be illegal fires,” he says. “The forest is getting chewed up.” Hansen is among the world's foremost forest sentries. In 2013, he and his colleagues used satellite data to produce the first global, high-resolution maps of where trees are growing and disappearing1. Those images revealed some large-scale patterns for the first time, such as that Indonesia had nearly equalled Brazil as the country with the world's highest rate of tropical deforestation. Since then, his team has refined its methods and can now reveal the loss of trees within days. Just as important is what Hansen does with the underlying data. Unlike some scientists, he makes them freely available online, giving activists, companies and others the ability to monitor activities such as illegal logging and mining, which have destroyed millions of hectares of forest per year over the past few decades. The data have enabled non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and officials in Peru, Congo and other nations to see deforestation as it happens. And they let countries monitor each other's trees — potentially a crucial step in enforcing the international climate agreement signed in Paris last December. But some have argued that the maps do not always work as advertised. For instance, they lump together destruction of natural forests and the harvesting of managed ones, which critics say leads to inflated estimates of deforestation. And others question whether satellites can monitor forest loss and growth accurately enough to determine how well countries are complying with their commitments on climate change and deforestation, including the Paris deal. One thing no one disputes is that Hansen is showing the world how mapping from the sky can have an impact on the ground. “If you want to know what's up, you look at what Matt's doing,” says Martin Herold, a remote-sensing expert at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Nobody's even close.” Hansen instantly disarms people with his down-to-earth nature. On an unseasonably warm day earlier this year, he was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt when his assistant reminded him that he was due at a meeting. “I'm not dressed for that at all,” he laughed as he set off across the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park. His informality helps when working with both African farmers and Hollywood actors, with whom he mingles as easily as with other scientists and policy wonks. But beneath the casual exterior is an intensity that has made Hansen one of the world's most sought-after experts on forests. Growing up in Indiana surrounded by farm fields, Hansen did not spend a lot of time among trees. But he was struck by trips to the state's few remaining patches of original hardwood forest, which reminded him of Lothlórien, the sylvan kingdom of the elves in The Lord of the Rings. He studied electrical engineering at university and then was accepted into law school, but neither stoked his passion. What did excite him was adventure, and he got plenty of it when he headed to what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to volunteer with the Peace Corps. But when he returned, he still had no clear career direction. “I came back and I thought, what do I like? I like maps,” he says. So he went to the University of North Carolina in Charlotte for master's degrees in geography and civil engineering. He took a job at the University of Maryland in 1994 and has been mapping land-cover change using satellite data ever since, picking up a PhD in 2002. Hansen has pursued a single goal: to map global land cover with the highest possible resolution using cheap or free data, to better visualize the human footprint on the planet. He has specialized in writing programs to identify diverse types of vegetation — from boreal conifers to palm plantations — using the handful of light frequencies that satellite sensors collect. “He's an exceptionally good geographer,” says long-time colleague Thomas Loveland of the US Geological Survey in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “He really has an understanding of what this planet's made of.” Hansen and his colleagues also meticulously 'ground-truth' their maps by picking random samples of GPS points and getting to them by any means necessary. “It's his favourite type of vacation, to throw random points on ground and go visit them,” says his postdoc Alexandra Tyukavina. In the mid-1990s, when Hansen was starting, the best information about tree cover came from country-level ground-based assessments, in which crews measured individual trees in representative plots and then extrapolated across large regions. Such measurements were — and still are — used alongside remote-sensing data by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its periodic global forest assessments. But many countries lack the resources to conduct regular surveys, and others publish statistics that seem unreliable. So Hansen set his sights on producing what he calls a “globally consistent, locally relevant product” from data available to everyone in the world. But first he had to wait for technology — sensors in space and computer processing power on the ground — to catch up. The first global land-cover map from the University of Maryland came out2 in 1994, using data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (one of a series of orbiting imagers operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It had enormous pixels of one degree latitude by one degree longitude, much too coarse to make out details of forests. A big step forward came when NASA launched its two Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments, which gather data at a resolution of up to 250 metres. In 2008, Hansen and his colleagues produced a map3 that started to reveal large-scale trends in the tropics, such as that nearly half of widespread humid tropical-forest loss between 2000 and 2005 occurred in Brazil. Around that time, scientists working for both the Brazilian government and local NGOs used MODIS and other data sources to develop their own maps and issue alerts when large clearings appeared. This helped officials to use financial pressure, law enforcement and other means to dramatically reduce deforestation in the Amazon, the world's largest and most carbon-rich tropical-forest region. That success inspired Hansen. But in many other tropical countries, rising consumer demand for commodities such as cattle, soya beans and palm oil has created powerful incentives to clear tropical forests. And in poorer countries, where heavy tree-felling equipment is rare and clearings tend to be small, MODIS's blocky images have proved less useful. Hansen knew that he needed to make his maps sharp enough to show roads snaking their way into previously untouched forests — an almost universal harbinger of larger clear-cutting. “We had to push the spatial resolution because we're interested in humans,” he says. In fact, the data that he needed already existed. Since 1972, Landsat satellites had been collecting images of Earth's surface, starting at a resolution of 80 by 80 metres per pixel and improving to 30 metres in 1982 — roughly the size of two basketball courts side-by-side. But those images had to be bought individually, at costs from hundreds to thousands of dollars each — much too expensive for a global study. That changed in 2008, when the US government made all Landsat images free, including 3.6 million archived ones. Hansen immediately began making 30-metre-resolution maps showing how tree cover was changing in regions of interest, such as Indonesia and parts of Russia. But making a global map still required processing power out of reach of any university computer cluster. A solution appeared when Hansen met Google engineer Rebecca Moore at a conference in Brazil. Moore was looking for scientists to try out her Earth Engine, a platform to analyse remote-sensing data using Google's cloud-computing capabilities. Hansen and Moore's teams processed the Landsat archive back to 2000 and translated it into annually updated maps that anybody with a computer and an Internet connection could view. “Matt was the first scientist who really leapt onto the platform with a global-scale analysis,” Moore says. In 2013, Hansen, Moore, Loveland and others published1 their results in Science, showing where trees had appeared or disappeared every year from 2000 to 2012. The maps lit up the research community, which for the first time could see the world's forests shift in one consistent picture (see 'Better eyesight in space'). The fact that Hansen put his raw data on the web for others to scrutinize and use has also drawn admiration. But it didn't take long for the critics to chime in. Many have objected to Hansen's use of 'forest', which he defines to include oil-palm plantations and agroforestry, categories not included in FAO data sets. That made his deforestation estimates higher than many previous ones, such as the FAO's. The widespread publicity has further stoked concerns that non-experts are ill-equipped to interpret the data. “I personally think the data set was in some sense oversold,” says Herold. Hansen's visibility added to the scientific scrutiny. On the day that his Science paper was published, for example, he was in California showing his maps to actor Harrison Ford in a scene filmed for the 2014 US television series 'Years of Living Dangerously'. Ford later confronted Indonesia's forestry minister with some of the findings. Other concerns have emerged. Some drier forests, such as those in parts of Africa and South America, have relatively sparse tree cover and might never reach the threshold that Hansen uses to define forest, which is that 30% of a pixel is occupied by vegetation at least 5 metres tall. So when those areas are cleared, the change might not register as forest loss, says Peter Holmgren, director of the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Indonesia. Satellites struggle even more to capture forest gain, he adds, because the signal from growing trees is subtler than that of trees falling. For these and other reasons, he has warned against using Hansen's data to assess progress towards international climate and deforestation commitments, arguing that nations should instead invest in on-the-ground monitoring systems. Hansen acknowledges that his maps do not supply everything. “You can't fit everybody's needs,” he says. But his team is working to add data and make improvements that will show what activities are causing forests to change, and will differentiate plantations from natural forests. “That's what we have to do next, to make it more valuable.” Some of the objections have been more political. Hansen's map was particularly embarrassing for Indonesia because it came out during the 2013 UN climate talks, and revealed that deforestation rates in the country had spiked after a 2011 moratorium on new logging permits was announced. Indonesia's forestry ministry countered that Hansen and his colleagues were including large areas that the government had designated as plantation, unfairly overstating the deforestation. Hansen's group responded the following year with a more sophisticated analysis4, which confirmed that, in 2012, more primary tropical forest had fallen in Indonesia than in any other country. For Hansen, the country's refusal to come clean about its forests is frustrating. But increasing transparency will take time, says Belinda Margono, a scientist with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry who earned her PhD with Hansen and led the follow-up study by his group. She says that the maps have already helped to set that shift in motion, by promoting a culture of data sharing and openness, and by creating pressure to respond. “Sometimes the government has more courage to release the data after they see what's reported by the global system.” Larger forces are also at work. Nations and corporations are under increasing pressure to show that they are conserving forest to meet commitments under the Paris agreement or in sustainability-certification programmes for products such as palm oil. Since his 2013 paper, Hansen has become a globe-trotting door-to-door salesman of sorts, hawking his maps to forest ministers, corporate accountability officers, NGOs and others who need to keep an eye on forests. As almost 200 nations were hammering out the climate deal in Paris last December, Hansen was nearby, receiving a glowing introduction before he spoke at an environmental conference. “Matt and his team ushered in really a new era of measuring deforestation,” said Frances Seymour, a forest-policy researcher at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC. “He's now immortalized because everybody talks about the Matt Hansen data on tree-cover change.” Hansen is now working to push his technique even further. Inspired by Brazil's alerts, he has begun processing and displaying data on tree loss as it happens in Peru, Congo, parts of Indonesia and Brazil. In the few months since the alerts went public, Peruvian environmental ministry personnel have used them to expose and shut down an illegal gold-mining operation. The alerts' very existence can have an impact, says remote-sensing scientist Fred Stolle of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, which is releasing them weekly on its Global Forest Watch online platform. “People know now that they can be seen from space.” Hansen hopes to expand his alerts to the whole tropics by the end of the year, and later to cover the globe. The European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 satellites, which will collect data starting next year with a resolution of up to 10 metres, will enable him to update even more frequently. Between the travel and the research, Hansen keeps a hectic schedule. But on a rare quiet afternoon, he can explore the world's forests from his desk on the edge of the Maryland campus. As he pans over Peru, a sea of green gives way to a rectangular island of pink that has grown during the past two years. “Someone went out there and clear-cut that,” he says. The view that Hansen has opened up, of trees falling all over the world, does not always reflect the best in people. “It's fucking alarming,” he says. “The human footprint is amazing. We are a rapacious species.” But making that view available to everyone, he says, could help to rein our species in. “I hope it will bring some order to the chaos.”


News Article | April 2, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

At the turn of the 20th century, roughly 100,000 wild tigers roamed the forests of Eurasia. Today, that number has dwindled to a global population of under 3,500 individuals, driven to the brink of extinction by anthropogenic pressures like poaching and the loss of 90 percent of their historic range to human encroachment. But the good news is that this iconic predator is finally beginning to rebound in some areas, in the wake of concerted efforts to restore its habitat. The extent of this slow bounceback is analyzed in detail in a study published on Friday in Science Advances, which collates satellite observations of forest loss from 2000 to 2014 in 76 regions earmarked for tiger conservation across 13 countries including China, India, Indonesia, and Russia. The team, led by University of Minnesota conservation scientist Anup R. Joshi, demonstrate that this space-down Big Data approach is proving to be instrumental in tracking the recovery of tigers with precision detail and in near-real time. Satellites allow scientists to see exactly which stretches of the animal’s limited range are imperiled the most, and they can use that global view to make estimates about the health of tiger populations and to direct resources to threatened areas. “Our analysis wouldn't have been possible without free access to satellite data and Google Earth Engine [Google cloud] for computation,” Joshi told me via email. “[M]ore governments and organizations are providing free data to the public,” he continued. “With advances in technology, more data on Earth observation is coming in every day than we can analyze. Machine learning algorithms are becoming more reliable, which will change the way we monitor forest and other natural resources in coming years, to quickly analyze large data sets and identify trouble spots.” In particular, this study focused on the progress toward the “Tx2” goal, set by the governments of tiger-inhabited countries in 2010, which aims to double the worldwide tiger population to 6,000-plus individuals by 2022. In a pleasant twist, satellite imagery sourced from Google Earth Engine and Global Forest Watch revealed that forest loss was not as bad as anticipated, with most of the trouble spots confined to only ten of the 76 prioritized landscapes, according to the new study. This means that reaching the Tx2 goal is still on the table, so long as conservationists continue to ensure tiger habitats are restored and protected. That said, the data confirmed that the conversion of tiger habitat into farming and urban communities continues to plague the cats—particularly with regards to oil palm plantations. “Expanding oil palm plantations in the tiger range countries has been one of the main causes of forest conversion and habitat fragmentation and loss,” Joshi said. “In Indonesia alone, more than 4,000 square kilometers or 1,544 square miles of forests have been allocated for oil palm concessions.” “Forest clearing has a direct effect on tiger habitat and its prey species. Tigers need large areas to meet their food, shelter, and mate needs. Others threats are growing infrastructures, such as roads and cities to support the increasing human population.” Indeed, tiger territory frequently overlaps with dense rural human populations in nations with some of the fastest-growing economies on Earth, such as China and India. That is bound to be disruptive to their habitat and breeding. But as our space-down view of the world becomes sharper, it will be easier to identify which areas require the most urgent attention. As an example, Joshi’s team zoomed in on satellite footage of the Khata and Basanta corridors in Nepal, which are forested links between larger wildlife reserves. The results revealed a stark contrast: the Khata corridor is thriving due to forestry stewardship efforts and anti-poaching campaigns, while the Basanta corridor has been crippled by increasing human encroachment. It is this kind of precision analysis of specific regions that will help tiger advocates to root out where conservation efforts are failing, and further intervention is needed. The best part is that this technology is not accessible to scientists alone; anyone can go to Google Earth Engine and Global Forest Watch to keep an eye on critical tiger habitats. “Local communities will be able to see how their government officials are managing forest resources, protected areas,” Joshi said. “Likewise, donors and advocacy groups would be able to monitor projects thus more transparency and accountability. When people have interactive tools which are simple to use, more people will participate in discussing issues and coming up with solutions.”


News Article | November 3, 2016
Site: www.npr.org

There's a seductive idea, currently being road-tested, for how to stop the world's forests from disappearing. It relies on big food companies. That's because most forests are being cleared in order to grow crops or graze cattle. And the resulting palm oil, soybeans or beef find their way into foods being sold by a relatively small number of global companies. So here's the strategy: Get those companies to boycott products from deforested land, and much of the economic incentive to clear more forests will disappear. This should slow down or even stop the loss of forests. At first glance, the strategy looks like it's working marvelously. According to a new report from some leading environmental groups, 400 of the biggest global food companies have taken steps to make sure that at least some of their suppliers aren't responsible for deforestation. About 90 percent of those companies do buy raw materials from deforestation "hot spots" like Indonesia and Brazil. But there's a catch. In fact, there is a whole series of catches, according to the report. "We have this big problem," says Charlotte Streck, director of a group called Climate Focus and co-author of the new report. "We look at what the companies are doing, but we do not know how effective it is." For one thing, some companies are making promises that aren't firm commitments. "If a company only says, for example, 'We procure certified palm oil if it is available,' but doesn't help the producers make that supply available, then it is a relatively easy way out," says Streck. According to the report, companies should instead provide farmers with financial and technical support to help them transition into growing those crops in a more sustainable way. A bigger problem, though, is that the companies making these pledges are mostly retailers and food manufacturers, and those companies don't know what's happening at the other end of the supply chain, on the farm. Very few big food companies can trace their palm oil back to particular plots of land. They just know which mill processed the palm fruit into oil. So they have to rely on others, such as organizations that put their stamp of approval on particular suppliers, to verify that a particular shipment of palm oil came from land that hadn't been cleared of trees recently. What's more, they know even less about the origin of their soybeans or beef. "In the lifetime of [a] Brazilian cow, it goes through many owners and many farms, and it is almost impossible to check on all the farms, that they are not associated with deforestation," Streck says. Finally, it's hard to know whether the companies that have pledged to shun deforestation actually control a big enough share of the market to make a difference. Companies with headquarters in Europe or North America account for about 90 percent of the corporate anti-deforestation commitments. Those companies are major players in the palm oil trade, but not in beef production in the deforestation hot spots of Brazil. "Most of the beef in Latin America — about 80 percent — is eaten in Latin America," Streck says. "So that means that the consumer pressure in Europe and North America has limited effect." That's a particular problem because beef is "by far the largest driver of deforestation,' she says. "The carbon footprint of beef related to deforestation is about nine times bigger than palm oil." In all, scientists estimate that deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to Streck, that's more than all the cars, ships, and airplanes on Earth. Instead of tracing commodities from consumer back to supplier, some environmental watchdogs are starting at the other end of the supply chain, in the deforestation hot spots themselves. The World Resources Institute has set up a project called Global Forest Watch. It has created a database of palm oil mills around the world, and it's analyzing satellite images to measure deforestation within 50 km (about 31 miles) of each mill. The group can flag any mills located amid disappearing forests, and companies can check whether they are buying oil from that location. Despite all these shortcomings, though, Streck thinks that food companies will make a difference. "I do not think that an individual company, even a big one, has the power to reduce deforestation," she says, "but i do think that there is a critical mass [of companies making deforestation pledges], and that matters."


News Article | November 3, 2016
Site: www.npr.org

There's a seductive idea, currently being road-tested, for how to stop the world's forests from disappearing. It relies on big food companies. That's because most forests are being cleared in order to grow crops or graze cattle. And the resulting palm oil, soybeans or beef find their way into foods being sold by a relatively small number of global companies. So here's the strategy: Get those companies to boycott products from deforested land, and much of the economic incentive to clear more forests will disappear. This should slow down or even stop the loss of forests. At first glance, the strategy looks like it's working marvelously. According to a new report from some leading environmental groups, 400 of the biggest global food companies have taken steps to make sure that at least some of their suppliers aren't responsible for deforestation. About 90 percent of those companies do buy raw materials from deforestation "hot spots" like Indonesia and Brazil. But there's a catch. In fact, there is a whole series of catches, according to the report. "We have this big problem," says Charlotte Streck, director of a group called Climate Focus and co-author of the new report. "We look at what the companies are doing, but we do not know how effective it is." For one thing, some companies are making promises that aren't firm commitments. "If a company only says, for example, 'We procure certified palm oil if it is available,' but doesn't help the producers make that supply available, then it is a relatively easy way out," says Streck. According to the report, companies should instead provide farmers with financial and technical support to help them transition into growing those crops in a more sustainable way. A bigger problem, though, is that the companies making these pledges are mostly retailers and food manufacturers, and those companies don't know what's happening at the other end of the supply chain, on the farm. Very few big food companies can trace their palm oil back to particular plots of land. They just know which mill processed the palm fruit into oil. So they have to rely on others, such as organizations that put their stamp of approval on particular suppliers, to verify that a particular shipment of palm oil came from land that hadn't been cleared of trees recently. What's more, they know even less about the origin of their soybeans or beef. "In the lifetime of [a] Brazilian cow, it goes through many owners and many farms, and it is almost impossible to check on all the farms, that they are not associated with deforestation," Streck says. Finally, it's hard to know whether the companies that have pledged to shun deforestation actually control a big enough share of the market to make a difference. Companies with headquarters in Europe or North America account for about 90 percent of the corporate anti-deforestation commitments. Those companies are major players in the palm oil trade, but not in beef production in the deforestation hot spots of Brazil. "Most of the beef in Latin America — about 80 percent — is eaten in Latin America," Streck says. "So that means that the consumer pressure in Europe and North America has limited effect." That's a particular problem because beef is "by far the largest driver of deforestation,' she says. "The carbon footprint of beef related to deforestation is about nine times bigger than palm oil." In all, scientists estimate that deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to Streck, that's more than all the cars, ships, and airplanes on Earth. Instead of tracing commodities from consumer back to supplier, some environmental watchdogs are starting at the other end of the supply chain, in the deforestation hot spots themselves. The World Resources Institute has set up a project called Global Forest Watch. It has created a database of palm oil mills around the world, and it's analyzing satellite images to measure deforestation within 50 km (about 31 miles) of each mill. The group can flag any mills located amid disappearing forests, and companies can check whether they are buying oil from that location. Despite all these shortcomings, though, Streck thinks that food companies will make a difference. "I do not think that an individual company, even a big one, has the power to reduce deforestation," she says, "but i do think that there is a critical mass [of companies making deforestation pledges], and that matters."


News Article | March 24, 2016
Site: phys.org

In the aftermath, automobile, electronic, chemical, and retail sectors worldwide, which relied on Japanese manufacturers for parts and materials, suffered massive shortages. Few affected companies knew enough about the complex Japanese supply chain to respond to such an immense disruption. "Companies hadn't been keeping good mapping records of where their suppliers were, or where their suppliers' suppliers were, so they asked us to deploy [Sourcemap] inside their supply chains," Bonanni says. "All of a sudden all these maps—the first to show products all the way from raw materials to consumers, every step of the way—became a critical tool for manufacturing companies." Motivated by this incident, Bonanni launched Sourcemap commercially so companies could keep better tabs on their supply chains. Today, dozens of pharmaceutical firms, food producers, and clothing and electronics companies use Sourcemap. The software, which operates in the cloud, gives companies a visual map of all connected global supplier locations for their products. The software also pulls news feeds on significant political events or environmental disasters to alert companies to potential interruptions. Sourcemap has also continued its original mission of increasing the transparency of supply chains for consumers. The company offers an open-source platform for anyone to publish supply chain maps. And today Sourcemap announced what Bonanni calls "the most ambitious supply-chain transparency project ever." Partnering with Imaflora, a certifier in Brazil, Sourcemap is deploying an online tool, called Origens Brasil, that allows consumers in the country to enter serial numbers of numerous products and see exactly where the products came from. Moreover, Bonanni says, consumers can see if certain products—such as cocoa, palm oil, and paper—come from producers that are contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. To do so, the software looks at Global Forest Watch satellite imagery for any noticeable decrease in leaf cover where all ingredients of a product are made. The tool could also be attractive for multinational corporations pledging to support only producers that do not contribute to deforestation, Bonanni says. "This is a totally new level of confidence that you can have when you buy things," he says. Supply chains are surprisingly complex systems of organizations, people, and resources that transform raw materials into finished consumer products. Major supply chains, such as those for mobile phones, can sometimes include hundreds or thousands of direct and indirect suppliers of hardware, components, parts, and software. In fact, Bonanni says, when most companies see their entire supply chains mapped instantly for the first time, they're quite shocked. "They are struck by the amount of zigzagging that is going on," he says. One of the most complex supply chains Bonanni has seen was the first one he tried mapping himself 10 years ago, as part of a research project through the MIT Media Lab and MIT Center for Civic Media: that of the computer chip. One chip, he says, consists of about 50 different materials—including some rare-earth elements—produced from at least that many countries. He never finished the map. "The computer chip will travel dozens of times around the Earth, if you add up all the paths of all of its subcomponents, before it's finally created," he says. "What's amazing is you have millions of people to make a computer chip, and billions of people now own computer chips. So if you draw the whole supply chain of semiconductors, it's a social network that includes almost everyone on the planet." Traditionally, companies hire consultants to map their supply chains. This is a labor-intensive process, where consultants track down parts and materials, draw out maps with computer tools, and analyze for risks and opportunities. Sourcemap, however, is automated, fast, and visually appealing, Bonanni says. Using Sourcemap, companies upload product and supplier data, and revenue from each product line. Surveys are sent to suppliers to provide missing information, such as where their raw materials and subcontractors are located. Supply chains appear as color-coded dots (supplier locations) and lines (shipment paths) connecting across a map. For each supplier, Sourcemap reveals the inventory count and calculates the money the company would lose if that location went offline for any reason, accounting for time to find a new supplier and how long inventory will last. Companies can also modify supply chains to plan for new products, customers, or suppliers. The software also employs predictive analytics to analyze real-time news feeds about disasters, corruption, local conflicts, or climate change, and alert companies to find alternate routes to avert disaster. It will track customer demographics in different locations to help companies decide on branching out to new markets. "[Companies] see whether they need to think strategically about shifting the company direction in a big way to avoid running into a wall, whether that means climate change is making the crop that you rely on harder to grow or the demographics of your customer base is shifting," Bonanni says. "It's not until you see the entire operations mapped on one screen that you can start to make those decisions." According to Bonanni, companies are beginning to share their data to make supply chains—for products such as minerals, apparel, or cocoa—more transparent within industry. Under increased public scrutiny, he adds, companies are becoming more socially conscious of their supply chains, as well. In 2010, when Sourcemap was still a research project, Stonyfield Farm mapped their entire ingredients supply chain for the public. In 2013, Sourcemap partnered with Mars Chocolate on Vision for Change (V4C), an initiative to improve cocoa productivity and open up direct connections with cocoa farmers to improve their livelihoods. Last year, Fairphone, a company that aims to make environmentally sustainable smartphones, became the first electronics company to publish a Sourcemap of its supply chain, which included more than 300 parts from companies from Japan to North America. Origens Brasil is another step toward Sourcemap's mission of greater supply chain transparency, Bonanni says. "The goal for us is to enable that type of visibility, enable companies to see beyond their walls," he says. "For financial gain, but also for social good, to make sure they're not using up natural or social resources faster than they can be replenished." Explore further: What smart companies can learn from Apple's supply chain woes


One of the main reasons why wild animals go extinct is the loss of habitat. Tigers, one of the world's most endangered species, however, may be able to proliferate and double in number by 2022, as a new study has found that there are enough forests to serve as their habitat. In the span of 10 years, the tiger species was greatly reduced by 97 percent, with only about 3,200 left in the wild today. This has prompted international leaders from 13 Asian countries, where tigers predominantly live, to decide on doubling the tiger population. In order for it to happen, they must be able to provide enough habitats where the tigers can proliferate. In their contribution to the conservation efforts, researchers monitored several forests and their rate of destruction from 2001 to 2014. The study also included efforts to track wild habitat destruction and its prevention. Using the satellite-based monitor, Google Earth, and tree-cover-loss alert system Global Forest Watch, the team was able to track the evolution of forests in 13 countries. The study allowed them to draw analysis from the 14-year forest loss data that covered 76 landscapes highlighted for tiger conservation. The data gathered from the study helped conservationists plot out tiger proliferation. Scientists have found that even if there was a forest decline over time, it was much lower than what they had suspected. Since 2001, habitat lost was only 7.7 percent. Many of the habitats did not show major changes, but about 10 of them had a combined habitat loss of 98 percent. Had this been conserved, 400 wild cats could have been supported. The largest habitat loss was found to be in forests used in palm oil expansion. From the 76 landscapes monitored, only 29 were considered ideal for tiger conservation and proliferation, and this would be enough to allow tigers to double in number by 2022. "Before undertaking the analysis, we predicted habitat loss to be much higher, considering that (i) the 13 tiger range states represent some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and (ii) many of the South Asian habitats that dominate the 29 highest-priority Tiger Conservation Landscapes are surrounded by human-dominated areas supporting the highest rural population densities on Earth," researchers wrote. Experts believe that the tiger population could grow three times in 20 years if no further forest loss would occur. But it is rather too ambitious, as industrialization comes with deforestation and destruction of corridors. Researchers recommended that continuous forest loss monitoring is necessary, as it would be a useful real-time tracking tool to prevent future habitat loss. They also recommend, ensuring that forest loss would be kept to a minimum, that officials look for a greener alternative when building infrastructures. Ultimately, the researchers are pushing for the immediate transfer of the tigers to the best conserved forest so they can start doubling up. The recent study highlights the efforts in conserving these endangered wild cats. In India, tiger population increased by 30 percent in just a span of three years. From 1,706 in 2011, tiger population grew to 2,226 in 2014. The increase is due to efforts to curb poaching and the careful planning of tiger-human interaction by limiting encroachment on native tiger habitats.


News Article | April 22, 2015
Site: www.wired.com

Forests are often described as the lungs of our planet. They’re home to countless animal and plant species, provide humans with oxygen and food, and help stave off the effects of global warming. Yet we as a species are constantly imperiling these vital ecosystems. An estimated 46 to 58 thousand square miles of forest are cut each year. At the current rate of deforestation, the world’s rain forests could be obliterated within just 100 years, according to National Geographic. Now environmentalists are turning to artificial intelligence and satellites to combat forest destruction in real time—that is, in time to stop it. Last year the World Resources Institute launched a website called the Global Forest Watch to provide up-to-date information about the state of forests worldwide. The trouble is that the site has often been stuck reporting deforestation after the fact. Now one startup is working to give the organization the tech to spot deforestation risks before they cause irreversible harm. Orbital Insight, founded by former Google and NASA robotics and artificial intelligence expert James Crawford, plans to collect satellite imagery of tropical forests to track changes over time. The company will set its machine vision algorithms loose on the images to detect small alterations in the landscape that humans might miss but that could indicate illegal logging. At first, the visual impact of building a new logging road in a huge forest is so small that the human eye will have trouble noticing any difference, Crawford explains. But as loggers use that road to clear more and more trees, the effects become more and more obvious. If that road can be spotted before much logging has actually been done, activists and governments stand a much better chance of preventing more damage. Crawford says Orbital Insight will draw on a wide range of satellite image sources and analyze the data using an artificial intelligence technique known as deep learning — the same approach that companies like Google and Facebook are using for image recognition and other tasks. He says the company may also pull in other data, such as temperature and rainfall, as part of the analysis. The project is still in its earliest stages, but Orbital Insight has done this sort of work for private customers before. For example, it has helped hedge funds determine which big box stores have the most customers by comparing the number of cars that routinely appear in each company’s parking lots. It’s estimated the world’s oil reserves by analyzing changes in the shadows cast by the floating lids of oil tanks around the world. Crawford says the Orbital Insight team wanted to find ways to apply its technology to other problems that might benefit humanity, and they were all impressed with the work that WRI has been doing. Ultimately, Orbital Insight and environmentalists don’t have the ability to stop logging. That responsibility will fall on governments and citizens. But the job might get a little easier if the people working to save forests can anticipate the damage before it’s done, rather than being left to do damage control after it’s too late.

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