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Matthew Owen talk

MatthewOwen_portraitThe first session is on Open Communities.

Matthew is reminding us of the main policies which have reduced carbon emissions: solar, hydropower, reducing industrial gas emission, and number one is protecting rainforest.

Every rainforest talk has a tree frog image, which he has got out of the way early. Instead he has zoomed into a small village called Cuti Vireni in the Amazonian rainforest. It used to be 300km from chainsaws, then 5km, then it was offered $250 for 40 odd cedar trees. Not good value, but ready cash if they need to get food or carry a child to get medical care. In other words, poverty is the issue, and the barriers to loggers’ entry are low.

Piecemeal degradation is the biggest threat to rainforest now, and no longer clear cutting. We care more now where our beef, soya and palm oil comes from… and the US makes its own ethanol. But we still lose 260,000 acres every day, or the equivalent number of trees, and degradation is four times worse than clear-cutting.

Illegal loggers always find a way of circumventing regulations, e.g. by shipping illegal trunks back to their logging concession to pretend they are legal, and even shipping and replanting stumps. There is also a lot of hidden coca farming, the raw material for cocaine, often by the same people.

Logging is not a commodity trade. It’s negotiated tree by tree, on the ground, locally. This is what lies behind the Cool Earth model – offering an alternative to selling trees for short-term cash.

Cuti Vireni looked for advice, and were introduced to Cool Earth. Cool Earth cobbled together $8000 as payment to the village to keep the trees in the ground – half up front, half in a year. They asked the village to form an association, and tell neighbours about it a year. The villagers invested in mosquito nets, and importantly a cacao drier, offering an alternative cash crop. In a year, instead of a meeting with neighbours, the village had a sport tournament, involving 14 other teams. It was a great success, and nine other villages then joined the project. As a result, local canopy loss has been only 0.5% instead of 29% more widely. 150,000 acres are under the communities’ control, but 1.5m has been shielded from loggers.

The best bit is how little Cool Earth needs to do. The villagers make the decisions and do the work. So Cool Earth can work anywhere, and there are now over 1m acres shielding 10m acres, and it is continuing to grow. David Attenborough says they are not just saving the rainforest, but saving the world, and we are all benefitting.

[Please note that in these live blog posts I aim to report what the speakers present. I may well miss bits, but that is because I can’t keep up rather than anything nefarious. I try not to let my personal views shape the argument or intrude, except for the occasional light interjection in square brackets.]