Imagine the scene. A dozen people crowd into a small room. The walls light up and they are in a rain forest in the Amazon Basin. The sights are all around them. The noises of the jungle fill the room. Their leader has a remote control and they move through the jungle. Suddenly one of them shouts – a sloth comes into view. It is undisturbed by the silent camera. Then they spot a jaguar and some howler monkeys, again completely unaware that they are being viewed.
An hour later they leave, to go for lunch together. They are on a week’s safari holiday in California. Tomorrow they will explore a jungle in the Congo basin, the day after they will explore in Costa Rica. The week is costly but the experience is priceless.
Meanwhile, in Borneo, another camera is moving through the jungle. All over the world people watch an orang-utan giving birth through their phones and tablets and 3D immersive equipment. Many of them know the animal well. They regularly view this jungle. The birth will generate world-wide headlines.
There are 100 of these rain forest reserves across the planet, each with its specialised wildlife. A small reserve is 10km (6 miles) square, enough to support some big animals, and many reserves are larger. All of them are pristine. They contain a full ecosystem . The animals are valuable to collectors but the local population guard them with their lives. The insects annoy the locals but they are very careful with their insecticide. Their dogs and cats are kept out. The locals know that their income depends on that wildlife.
Each reserve is virtually undisturbed by people, except for the dozens of cameras, the tracks on which they move, and their maintenance. The animals live in peace.
The economics of all this are simple. The viewers pay. The payment varies, but averages around $400 per year in 2013 terms, a similar amount to if they were viewing sports or movies. There are 9 billion people on the planet, and 100 million of them subscribe – rather less then subscribe to sports channels but still a substantial number. Half of the annual revenues of $40Bn go to support the reserves. A 10km square rain forest reserve with healthy animal life and a few rare species can earn up to $150M per year in broadcasting rights. That is around 4 times what it would earn as palm oil plantation.
The local populations have plenty of work. They provide guards. They maintain the cameras and tracks. They provide local guides, who control some of the cameras and provide commentary in different languages. They occasionally intervene in nature when disease strikes, because the extinction of a species would be an economic disaster.
As well as the broadcasting revenue there is business from researchers who come to live near the forests. Tourists come to be near the places they have grown to love on screen and to meet the guides. The local towns are booming. The national resorts have immersive rain forest experience systems for their guests.
Significant additional income comes from international efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Local governments provide support funding because of the beneficial effects of the rain forest for drainage and wider tourism. Pharmaceutical companies pay for licences to access the many types of plant life. The business case for these reserves is strong.
Some reserves are privately owned by local business people or by big international businesses. Some are owned by the local state. All are protected.
OK – let’s return to the present. Is all this possible? Why isn’t it happening? Well partly because the technology is only just becoming available. Another factor is that it is frankly heart breaking to see rain forests being destroyed, so it makes very depressing television. That would change if the rain forests were properly protected.
How much rain forest could we save? That depends on money. People in tropical countries are often poor. The local business men will always pursue profit. They will do whatever earns the best return. In 2013 we anguish about the rain forest but pay for palm oil. The result – we get palm oil. That will need to change. If we want to go green and protect the environment someone will need to pay.
Would enough people be prepared to pay? I don’t know, but I’ve included a poll below to check views.
The poll results may interest others. If tropical land owners started to see dollar potential in their rain forests they might slow down on the burning. And if big technology companies started to see significant business in rain forests they might start to invest..
This is a link to a supporting page – Nature – Rainforests which includes further background information and assumptions. It has a few more related ideas and suggestions. It also discusses some of the weaknesses in this idea, for example that it may not save very large tracts of forest. If you have any comments or advice, please use the comments box below or contact me via the form on the ‘About’ page..
- Human Impacts (taiwanrainforest.wordpress.com)
- Rain forest threat: 30,000 miles of Amazon roads built in just 3 years (nbcnews.com)
- FDA moves to ban trans-fats – good for us, bad for the planet (organicmattersblog.com)
- Palm Oil Is Everywhere. Here’s What to Do About It. (ensia.com)