Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Search for the Trees

About a month ago, I read a Wired Science article, flashed back to thoughts I'd had about Australian "greenies" and their impact on tropical real estate value, and decided we could save the rainforests if we mobilized massive amounts of philanthropic capital and paid landowners not to deforest.

Today, my friends over at Dansko sent me this link, and it introduced me to Forestle.

Very simply, Forestle is Google Search adjusted to incorporate a few extra ads. The additional advertisers pay Forestle. Forestle passes 95% of that income over to The Nature Conservancy (the 5% covers administrative costs). And The Nature Conservancy adopts little pieces of rainforest, protects them, restores them, manages them, etc.

It's not exactly my vision from back in July. No massive donors are involved, and I'm pretty sure The Nature Conservancy doesn't hire mercenary armies to protect their adopted lands. But if Barack Obama and Kiva have taught us anything, it's that lots of tiny donations can go a long way.

If The Nature Conservancy adopts and manages well, and if Forestle can tell a good enough story to get people to spend 30 seconds downloading their little Firefox plugin, then maybe we won't need big donors or incorporation of forests into carbon markets.

Those are some big ifs, some serious challenges for both The Nature Conservancy and Forestle, but 18,644 meters squared into the project, I'm excited.

Note: One silly thing about Forestle, which you'll notice if you click through from here or download from this plugin link and start searching, is that the US version of Forestle measures in square yards instead of square meters. Feet I could understand. Pounds. Gallons. Ounces. Miles. But yards? I'm pretty sure we've started incorporating the meter into everyday American life. We don't have trouble with 100 meter races in the Olympics anymore, do we? I thought the days of the yard were over, that American football was the last swath of habitat supporting the endangered unit of measure. Forestle proved me wrong.

Update (Aug 28, 2008): Stories about mare's milk led to discussion of the term "mare's nest" and sent me running to the internets to settle a definition dispute. I typed "mare's nest" into my Forestle-powered Firefox search bar, and I got this. Apparently Google is not happy with Forestle, so Forestle can no longer search. Hmmm. Controversy.