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Rainforests, Data Centres, and Adopting a Tree


This is the first post I wrote in my capacity as UNEP’s blogger for World Environment Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’ll be posting all 5 leading up to and throughout Rio+20.

With the start of 2012 came the news that the world’s tropical rainforests hold 229 billion tons of carbon, which is 20% more than was previously thought.

So it’s a good thing Brazil is making a concerted effort to stop deforestation—with a decrease from 27,000 square kilometres of forest lost in 2004 to 6,451 in 2010.

Worryingly, however, deforestation has recently been on the rise in certain regions of Brazil, which calls for decisive action and innovation.

To that end, in 2011 Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen challenged UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Don Cheadle to a race. The winner would be the one who inspired the most people to launch events in conjunction with 2011’s World Environment Day. Bündchen won—earning Brazil 50,000 new trees in the process. She planted the first one today, at Green Nation Fest.

Gisele Bündchen planting a tree at the Green Nation Fest

And it just so happens that Green Nation Fest was the very first event I attended as the World Environment Day blogger.

I, too, took decisive action. Within five minutes of arriving, I became the proud father of a tree I was persuaded to adopt. I haven’t named it yet—that is, assuming it doesn’t already have a name. If it doesn’t, I welcome suggestions.

This is me, looking slightly bewildered at my newfound responsibility:

Signing up to adopt a tree

I pushed this new development to the back of my mind long enough to speak with Nick Nuttall, a spokesperson for UNEP. During our conversation, he made an interesting point about the spread of digital photography. It was this: we think of our photos as intangible, like fairy dust. That isn’t accurate. We tend to store multiple copies of our favourite photos—on our cameras, our backups, our inboxes, and our outboxes. Meanwhile, data servers generate a level of CO2 on par with shipping and aviation. We need to start keeping only the photos we like, and deleting the rest.

After speaking with Nick, I looked down at the camera hanging from my neck.

I resolved then and there to take only photos as awesome as this one, which features me standing in front of the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge:

In front of the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge. Credit: Chris Tackett

Well…I confess, I didn’t take that photo. Chris Tackett—the TreeHugger blogger who’s also covering World Environment Day—took it. But I hereby pledge to go through all my Rio photos with a critical eye once I return to Newfoundland.

I followed up my conversation with Nick by asking Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP, what makes Brazil an attractive host for this year’s World Environment Day (other than the advent of Rio+20). He answered that UNEP doesn’t choose nations that have achieved “environmental nirvana”. Brazil is a good host in large part because here, the debate is alive and well over whether economy and ecology are in opposition to each other.

I’m eager to watch that debate play out over the next two days. It is, after all, the central theme of World Environment Day 2012: “The Green Economy: Does it Include You?”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/11/2012 5:21 PM

    Reblogged this on P. C. Zick.

  2. 06/13/2012 11:16 AM

    The population must go down fast enough to prevent a mass die-off event. The maximum food and water for humans that the planet can produce in 2050 will be at least a third less than today and possibly even less than half. The cumulative effects of AGW, soil losses, water losses, and oil loss/huge expense, will take a heavy toll on yields. If people start to compost more and grow and buy locally more, it will be on the low end. Business as usual until then will be the high end of crop and water loss. The population will be close to 9 billion living on enough food for only 3.5-4.7 billion. If there was some great leader who could say, and people obey, that we need a moratorium an having kids for 20 years, then the natural death rate would reduce the population by at least 50 million per year. Let’s say 60 million per year reduction with almost no births. In 10 years it would reduce .6 billion, in 20 it would reduce 1.2 billion. Then one child families would keep the reduction rate at 20 million per year, so by 2050 there would be roughly 5.4 billion in a world that can only support 4.7 billion in the best case. So 700 million would starve or die of thirst, rather than 8 billion over a period of 20 years or so.
    That is if there was such an edict and new morality and it started immediately. That is about the best mitigation we can hope for. Let us say it was an instant going to one child families with education and free forms of birth control and changes to social systems to provide for the disabled and elderly. Then 38 years of 20 million per year net drop would be 6.3 billion in a world that can support a max of 4.7 billion. There would be more deaths from starvation, 1.6 billion in a short period, and a greater chance of warfare over resources. Still, it would be better than the crash of 8 billion or more in around 20 years, in similar fashion to Easter Island 1150 AD. Warfare, theft, cannibalism, diseases, starvation, all too fast to even bury the remains. Even if the crash were “gentler” and the reduction took 50 years, it would include most of the births in that period, maybe 2 billion more humans, total. The bottom will be at most a billion left, and probably less than half that. Glad we won’t be around, but you can see that by “reduce quickly”, I mean enough to mitigate the crash to something not nearly as bad.

  3. Andrea permalink
    06/13/2012 11:48 PM

    I hadn’t thought about photos that way (though have groaned numerous times when viewing others’ online photo albums that include obviously crappy shots that really ought not to take up server space) and am glad to hear you’ll think twice before uploading the images from your trip.

    As for naming the tree, would you consider “humanity’s best friend”, seeing as without trees there wouldn’t be enough clean air for us to breathe, and our species would go extinct? :)

    • 06/22/2012 4:20 PM

      So far I’ve had your suggested name and ‘Sprout’. Hmm…tough call! Maybe there should be a vote.

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