June 18, 2018

Size matters

Most of us grew up with the same images of deforestation: Huge machines clearing the way for vast pastures. Thousand-acre cattle ranches where virgin forest once stood.

But it’s no longer bulldozers that we need to focus on, it’s machetes.

Cool Earth was born right at the moment that small-scale deforestation began to become a problem. Back in 2007, little attention was paid by conservation groups to the crucial role that local people play in determining the future of rainforest. Cool Earth’s pioneering approach is to work solely with local communities: those that have the most to lose from rainforest devastation.

The success of the environmental movement

Campaigns to limit industrial-scale deforestation are the success story from the environmental movement over the last ten years, reflected in a big reduction in clear-cutting. Corporates have cleaned up their act, and legislation has been introduced at government and global level. When it comes to rainforest loss, bigger obviously isn’t better. But it’s what we have been used to.

You might think that this means overall levels of deforestation are falling too. But sadly, they’re still rising. The difference is rapid growth in small-scale logging and degradation. Now, it’s the smaller areas of destruction that are having the greatest impact. And conservation is having to adapt. Deforestation is now characterised by small, fragmented clearings less than 25 hectares in size. And unlike the international drivers of clear-cutting, illegal logging, mining and slash and burn are difficult to fight.

The answer to bulldozers lay in boardrooms. The answer to machetes is on the ground. In most cases, small-scale deforestation is driven by poverty. When a community’s only asset is its trees, there are few choices when emergency funding is needed. Cool Earth exists to offer an alternative.

Papua New Guinea

An ambitious mission

By working to develop sustainable incomes from the forest, trees suddenly become more valuable with their roots in the ground. This is what Cool Earth has done and will continue to do until tropical deforestation and degradation plays no part in climate change. It’s an ambitious mission, but it’s working. Empowered households, villages and communities are able to stop small-scale rainforest destruction. They just need a helping hand.

Further reading


  • Chris Minty says:

    Small scale slash and burn agricultural
    has been a problem for as long as the bulldozers and before – its something some of us have even recognised as being a bigger problem in many areas and of course “Local People” are the key – that’s not a recent “Cool Earth” discovery as your film suggests ! But your report doesn’t tell me much about what Cool Earth are specifically doing to address the challenges just that you want more donations to do it – can you send me some more details on project specifics ?

    • Chloe Rickard says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for your message. I take your point that it’s always been an issue. We were highlighting a more recent tipping point that while large-scale deforestation has decreased, small-scale deforestation is increasing dramatically (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-19358-2) And of course, local people have always been the key, and perhaps we need to make it clearer that it’s not our discovery! We do know however that much of the traditional conservation failed to recognise the role that local communities play in both the drivers and prevention of deforestation. In terms of the specifics, it varies. Cool Earth funds are invested by communities in whatever they need – usually livelihood development- that makes selling their trees a less attractive offer. For example in Peru, we’ve invested heavily in sustainable cacao farming, which the community is now selling to a local cooperative. Have a look at the ‘our approach’ section of our website to read more, and do drop us a line ([email protected]) if you want any more information. Thanks.

      Chloe Rickard
      Communications Manager

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