saving the amazon with google earth

Mongabay, a conservation and environmental news aggregator, reports on the efforts of the Amazon Conservation Team to assist Amazon natives in using Google Earth and global positioning systems (GPS) to protect the rainforest.

This is my favourite part.

“Indians log on to Google Earth and study images, inch by inch, looking to see where new gold mines are popping up or where invasions are occurring. With the newly updated, high-resolution images of the region, they can see river discoloration which could be the product of sedimentation and pollution from a nearby mine. They are able to use these images to find the smallest gold mine.”

Once the Indians pinpoint suspect areas using Google Earth, they note the coordinates, then go on foot patrol to investigate further or mark the spot for future airplane flyovers, where five to six Indians go up with government officials to scout for illegal incursions. Van Roosmalen says that without the aid of satellite imagery, flyovers can be of limited effectiveness due to the extent of the forest.

Of course, the satellite images can aid in further destruction of the rainforest and marginalization of indigenous peoples, even as the images and technologies aid preservation. There are many caveats — see

Robert Rundstrom 1991 Mapping, Postmodernism, Indigenous People and the Changing Direction of North American Cartography. Cartographica 28(2): 1-12.

Robert Rundstrom 1995 GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity. Cartography and Geographic Information Systems 22(1): 45-57.

Nonetheless, there’s ample evidence that advanced spatial technologies are increasingly becoming an appropriate technology to counter the mining companies, preserve habitat and a community’s way of life, advocate for land claims, allow native people to make maps using their own symbols, and enable and values to be transmitted from generation to generation. GIS, GPS and RS (remote sensing) are becoming the “killer app” for the rest of the world too.

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