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Jan Lee headshot

Climate Change: Old Cell Phones Can Now Protect Old Growth Forests

Words by Jan Lee

Environmental groups have long been searching for a way to stop illegal deforestation in old growth forests. According to Interpol, up to 90 percent of the logging that takes place in tropical rainforest areas like Africa, Asia and South America isn’t by large corporations that own the tracks of land, but by illegal poachers who can use stealth and advance planning in dense areas where surveillance is difficult and costly.

The environmental advocacy organization Rainforest Connection (RainforestCx) has figured a way to get around this problem and make it easier for law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations to stop illegal cutting while it’s happening. And like any great ecological brainstorm these days, they’ve also figured a way to underscore the importance of what musician Neil Young refers to as the connection between the “rainforest and you”: the cell phone.

There’s no end to the places to unload our retired, semi-functioning cell phones these days, but this may be one of the first that directly helps protect the forest from mass deforestation. Techies at the San Francisco-based startup have figured a way to convert old Androids and other cell phones to surveillance systems that “hear” suspicious sounds like chainsaws and transmit that information to monitoring stations. Law enforcement can then apprehend the team in action. They've also come up with a Kickstarter campaign to promote the idea and raise the funds to put into action.

Stopping deforestation numbers not only benefits the regional area, but is also a fundamental must for halting climate change, say researchers. According to RainforestCx’s estimations, one transmitter can protect one square mile of forest from being cut down – which translates to saving as much as 15,000 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. While it may take a lot of transmitters to cover the 2.5 million miles of the Amazon Rainforest Basin, the concept provides a starting point for protecting old growth forests in areas where covert listening systems are often one of the only real cues that illegal deforestation is taking place.

To protect the unit from vandalism, RainforestCx will camouflage the posts and affix them high in the trees. The organization says that earlier tests indicate that the units are undetectable to poachers and have already proved successful stopping illegal cutting in the dense and valuable Kalaweit Gibbon Sanctuary in Indonesia.

And there’s one other benefit to RainforestCx’s idea: Cell phone users will be able to tap into the sounds captured by the transmitters and actually hear what a rainforest sounds like, anywhere in the world.

The Kickstarter campaign is off to a good start. With only 19 days left to go, the campaign has already raised more than two-thirds of the $100,000 RainforestCx says it needs to launch the program. Supporters can choose pledge amounts that range from $10 to $10,000 with varying rewards, of course. They will also get the benefit of knowing they’ve launched a new, experimental concept for protecting the Earth’s valuable old growth forests, and just possibly, helping to slow climate change. Images and video courtesy of Rainforest Connection.

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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