How the Internet May Save the Amazon

May the worms not win

The Amazon region of Brazil is beset with conflicting isometrically opposed pressures .  There is the vast, unimaginable forest hiding untold secrets under an ocean of green.  This is patrimony.  This ocean is being eaten away, eroded as a body is by maggots over time.  In time-lapse photography a corpse can be seen to move and heave as its internals are eaten away.  

So it is with the Amazon.  The timber is poached by entrepreneurs who do it because they can.  Up the timber roads come succeeding waves of would be latifundários to raise cattle,  farm soybeans, or mine precious stones and gold, enlarging their claims as opportunity permits.  Dams are the inevitable result of growing urban demand; the green retreats under cover of blue as the water invades the private, unseen crannies of the jungle.

The people flee; those who don’t die.  They die of white man’s diseases or lead poisoning.  They are endangered peoples, part of the world’s patrimony, weakly protected by FUNAI and other agencies, who ineffectively protect them against the universe of  loggers, ranchers, miners and others seeking to exploit the riches of the green mother.

However, technology may be the replacement for arrows and rocks. 

Carbon stocks and cultural mapping in the Amazon Rainforest

Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 2:55 PM, Posted by Tanya Birch, Program Manager, Google Earth Outreach

In 2008, the Google Earth Outreach team visited the Surui tribe in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest for the first time, upon request of Chief Almir Naramagoya Surui. Their goal was to learn how to share and preserve their culture using Google MapsGoogle Earth, and other online tools includingPicasaYouTube, and Blogger. We were honored to play a role in empowering the indigenous people of a region that had been ravaged by illegal logging to tell their stories to millions of people around the world. Filmmaker Denise Zmekhol documented this experience in a video called Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops.

Then, in 2009, Rebecca Moore, head of the Google Earth Outreach team, returned to the Amazon to teach the Surui about Open Data Kit (ODK), a new suite of open-source tools that streamlines the process of data collection in the field with Android phones. Using ODK, the tribe takes pictures of what’s happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging that is taking place on their territory.

The Surui also began using ODK and Google Earth to visualize the carbon reserves of the forest they live in. This process is part of their 50-year sustainability plan, and serves as a model for how indigenous tribes who have lost much of their ancestral land to logging and deforestation can thrive with the help of a new emerging market based on carbon credits.


Chief Almir, in his joint presentation with Rebecca Moore, celebrated the validation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project on Saturday, May 12th at TEDxBeloHorizonte in Brazil. This is a groundbreaking outcome for the Surui people for two reasons. First, this is the first indigenous-led project in the world to be validated. Equally important, it’s also the first REDD+ project in Brazil to get certified by both the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) to sell stocks in the carbon market, and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Gold Standard to get extra gains from other ‘co-benefits’ of forest preservation, such as increasing biodiversity for a region, or preserving the livelihood of local communities who depend on the forest. The project was validated by Rainforest Alliance and the Brazilian NGO IMAFLORA.

The Surui and their partner IDESAM have already measured a baseline of carbon stored in the indigenous reserve and will avoid the emission of 6 million tons of carbon over the 30 years of the life of the project by avoiding the deforestation of 40 thousand hectares of forests and protecting an additional 200,000 hectares. Coordinated by Forest Trends, the Surui will work with the Brazilian government and those who want to neutralize their emissions to develop financial mechanisms to ensure the forest is protected and well managed, while also assuring the quality of life for the Surui community. The primary financial vehicle has been designed by FUNBIO, a Brazilian NGO specializing in creating financial mechanisms for conservation.

The TEDx talk was made on the heels of another Google Earth Outreach workshop held in Cacoal, Rondonia in May — this one intended to teach the Surui people how to create a cultural map using Google Earth. Creating a new platform for storytelling online and an interactive repository for shared memories, the Surui students have interviewed their elders to map their ancestral sites, such as the site of first contact with western civilization in 1969, places where the tribes battled with colonists in the 1970s, as well as places of interest, like sightings of jaguars, capybaras and toucans. Once the Surui students have completed the first version of the map, it will be available for all to explore both as a Google Earth KML, powered by Spreadsheet Mapper 3.0, and as a narrated tour in Google Earth.

We are very excited for Chief Almir, the Surui people, and their partners, including ECAMAmazon Conservation TeamForest TrendsIDESAMKanindeFUNBIO, among others, who are entering into a new phase of global significance with the validation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project and the Surui Cultural Map.

About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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3 Responses to How the Internet May Save the Amazon

  1. ritaroberts says:

    Thanks for your reply Carlos. I understand what you mean,but lets hope it works without to much unnecessary stress for these people.

  2. ritaroberts says:

    This news is so exciting Carlos, At last help for the Surui People.

    • carlos says:

      More than this, Rita. We cannot expect indigenous peoples contacted by the outside world to remain static and unaffected by their interaction within a bubble, take, for example, the Yanomami of Venezuela and Brazil. Once contacted nothing is ever the same from the introduction of steel tools, disease, and social upheaval. The US native populations are another example and the outcomes are not promising.
      The internet can provide an early warning system of incursions for the exploitation of protected natural resources and territory. I don’t believe that these societies can be protected from change, only adapted to the mechanisms available to fight exploitation.

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