Rhett Butler is the founder and editor of Mongabay.com
, one of the leading sites on the Web covering tropical forests and biodiversity.
More from Rhett Butler
After decades of sobering news, a prominent conservationist says he is finally finding reason to be optimistic about the future of tropical forests. Consumer pressure on international corporations and new monitoring technology, he says, are helping turn the tide in efforts to save forests from Brazil to Indonesia.
Few companies have done as much damage to the world’s tropical forests as Asia Pulp & Paper. But under intense pressure from its customers and conservation groups, APP has embarked on a series of changes that could significantly reduce deforestation in Indonesia and serve as a model for forestry reform.
The once-magnificent tropical forests of Borneo have been decimated by rampant logging and clearing for oil palm plantations. But in the Malaysian state of Sabah, a top official is fighting to reverse that trend by bringing sustainable forestry to the beleaguered island.
Rhinoceroses worldwide are under siege as their habitat shrinks and poachers slaughter hundreds annually for their valuable horns. Now, in Indonesia, conservation groups are engaged in a desperate struggle to save the last 40 Javan rhinos on earth.
A new imaging system that uses a suite of airborne sensors is capable of providing detailed, three-dimensional pictures of tropical forests — including the species they contain and the amount of CO2 they store — at astonishing speed. These advances could play a key role in preserving the world’s beleaguered rainforests.
In recent years, palm oil development in Malaysia and Indonesia has devastated tropical forests there. With Brazil on the verge of its own palm oil boom, can sustainable cultivation of the crop actually help save the rainforest, rather than hastening its destruction?
Norway and other nations have vowed to invest billions of dollars to help preserve Indonesia’s remaining tropical forests. But can foreign involvement stem the tide of graft and uncontrolled logging that has steadily decimated one of the world’s largest areas of rainforest?
Large corporations, not small-scale farmers, are now the major forces behind the destruction of the world’s tropical forests. From the Amazon to Madagascar, activists have been directing their actions at these companies — so far with limited success.
Since the government's collapse after a coup last March, Madagascar's rainforests have been plundered for their precious wood and unique wildlife. But now there are a few encouraging signs, as officials promise a crackdown on illegal logging and ecotourists begin to return to the island.
Clearing land for cattle is responsible for 80 percent of rainforest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. But with Amazon ranching now a multi-billion dollar business, corporate buyers of beef and leather, including Wal-Mart, are starting to demand that the destruction of the forest be halted.
As Borneo's rain forests are razed for oil palm plantations, wildlife centers are taking in more and more orphaned orangutans and preparing them for reintroduction into the wild. But the endangered primates now face a new threat — there is not enough habitat where they can be returned.
Armed with vivid images from space and remote sensing data, scientists, environmentalists, and armchair conservationists are now tracking threats to the planet and making the information available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Long an isolated land with abundant forests and biodiversity, Laos is rapidly developing as China and other Asian nations exploit its resources. One of the first casualties has been the wildlife, now being rapidly depleted by a thriving black-market trade.
Despite the creation of protected areas in the Amazon and other tropical regions, rain forests worldwide are still being destroyed for a simple reason: They are worth more cut down than standing. But with deforestation now a leading driver of global warming, a movement is growing to pay nations and local people to keep their rain forests intact.
With soaring prices for agricultural goods and new demand for biofuels, the clearing of the world's largest rain forest has accelerated dramatically. Unless forceful measures are taken, half of the Brazilian Amazon could be cut, burned or dried out within 20 years.
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A three-part series Tainted Harvest
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is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The Warriors of Qiugang
, a Yale Environment 360
video, chronicles a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant. It was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
Watch the video.
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland
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, winner of the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest, documents the work of African researchers monitoring wildlife in Uganda's remote Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Watch the video.