Over the last two weeks, large numbers of fires have broken out on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and once again this has led to massive air pollution, carried to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. This time, however, people could see not only the choking, dangerous “haze,” but also the locations of the fires, including which ones were on lands used by companies to produce palm, oil, pulpwood, timber, and other commodities. GIS technology and publicly available data, rapidly analyzed by scientists, brought a transparency to the issue that is so sorely lacking in the air over Singapore.
June 26th, 2013
Transferring Forest Land to Communities Helps Reduce Deforestation – and Can Help Government Budgets Too
June 7th, 2013
Who owns the tropical forests? Till recently, the answer has traditionally been “governments,” at least in formal legal terms. But a quiet revolution in forest land tenure has been going on in several countries over the last few decades, resulting in the traditional land claims of forest communities being recognized, not just in law but also in fact. This change, due to struggles by Indigenous Peoples and their allies, has resulted in large-scale changes in tropical forest land tenure, and ironically, could also bring substantial income to tropical governments too.
May 2nd, 2013
The week before last I had the opportunity to go to London to participate in a workshop at Chatham House, on an idea that may turn out to be very important in ending tropical deforestation. Over the past several years there has been important progress in reducing forest degradation, based on a simple principle: if it’s against the law to cut down trees in one country, then it should also be illegal to import the cut timber from those trees into other countries. In other words, we should respect and help enforce the laws that protect forests in the countries that we import from.
March 12th, 2013
Has there been any progress at all in reducing global warming pollution? Is anybody doing anything to deal with climate change seriously? Is it all bad news, or are there at least a few rays of hope? As a scientist, I try to deal with these kinds of questions by looking at data rather than just listening to the radio or watching the TV news, which can be very discouraging. And in the last few months, three new datasets have been released that show us what has been happening to Amazon deforestation since the 1990s. Although they have lots of differences among them, they do agree that in the Amazon — the world’s largest expanse of tropical forest — there has indeed been some progress.
March 5th, 2013
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and blog posts recently about the expansion of palm oil production into Africa. As near as I can tell, the recent flurry of attention is being caused by Seeds of Destruction, a new report from the Rainforest Foundation UK that highlights a series of large land deals in Africa for the expansion of palm oil. Although most of today’s production is in Southeast Asia, those who follow the palm oil issue are concerned with oil palm’s expansion back to its home continent. It is troubling for a number of reasons. Read More
January 23rd, 2013
On a recent trip to Chicago, I took some time to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo. The highlight for me was the Great Apes Hall, and while I enjoyed seeing the chimps and the gorillas, they didn’t have the ape I was hoping most to see, an orangutan. It may not be too surprising that there are no orangutans in Chicago in winter, but even in their native habitat they are increasingly difficult to find, as their populations have declined by 50% on Borneo and 80% on Sumatra. A recent paper published in the online journal PLOS ONE helps shed some light on the current distribution of those few remaining wild orangutans. Read More
December 21st, 2012
It’s that time of year. Holiday decorations line the streets, days are getting short, and temperatures are falling (well, theoretically at least, it’s still been in the 50’s and 60’s here in Washington). It’s also the time to step back and reflect on what’s happened since the last time the earth was on this side of the sun. Read More
December 3rd, 2012
I’m now in Doha, Qatar, at the international climate negotiations (“COP18″), and today was Forest Day. This annual event focuses on the role of forests and deforestation in emissions of global warming pollution, and often is the venue for presenting some of the newest science from around the world. Read More
November 30th, 2012
We all know that “sustainable” is a good thing but the word is only as strong as its definition. Right now, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has a huge opportunity to strengthen its definition by adding critical forest and climate protections to its standards. The world is watching and waiting to see if “sustainable” palm oil will be a truly sustainable solution for the future. Read More