The Internet of Wild Things: Technology and the battle against biodiversity loss and climate change (cover story PDF)

The potential to install a regime of benign surveillance over the natural world is immense, ranging from earth-observation satellites to smartphones listening out for chain saws in the forest.

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From the story:

The interrelated issues of biodiversity loss and climate change are rising fast up the popular and political agenda. One reason is that the world increasingly appears to be — on fire.

In August 2019, wildfires — many started deliberately — consumed large areas of Amazonian rainforest, reducing the Earth’s ‘lung capacity’, rendering indigenous people and wildlife homeless, and releasing copious amounts of greenhouse gases. In September, on the other side of the world, forests in Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra burned. Again, human agency is widely suspected, as palm oil planters clear the jungle to make way for their crop. Massive bushfires are currently raging in eastern Australia, which experienced its hottest recorded summer in 2018/19.

Wildfires are also occurring in the far North with increasing frequency and intensity: in June 2019 (the hottest on record in the region), fires in the Arctic emitted 50 megatons of carbon dioxide — equivalent to the total annual CO2 output from Sweden. Evidence that Arctic permafrost is melting faster than previously expected only exacerbates the carbon release problem.

Why is the world apparently fiddling while Rome burns?

The tendency for national governments to have a short-term focus, addressing immediate problems and deferring longer-term issues for successive administrations or generations, is not helpful when confronting planet-scale problems like climate change and biodiversity loss. That’s because incremental ‘business-as-usual’ activities can run into irreversible tipping points that flip systems unexpectedly into new and undesirable states (the Amazon being an increasingly urgent example).

Although supranational bodies such as the UN and the EU try to take a wider view of such issues, recent years have seen a rise in nationalism around the world, leading to suspicion and even rejection of such bodies, often accompanied by the denigration of scientific evidence and expertise.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is an area of science and technology that can help in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change. In this article we’ll outline the current state of the IoT and examine some examples of its use in vulnerable ecosystems.

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