Rainforests, Data Centers, and Adopting a Tree at WED

© Scott Bartlett
Gisele Bündchen planting a tree at the Green Nation Fest.

This post was written by Scott Bartlett, who is in Brazil covering World Environment Day (WED) for the UNEP.

With the start of 2012 came the news that the world’s tropical rainforests hold 229 billion tons of carbon, which is 20% more than was previously thought.

So it’s a good thing Brazil is making a concerted effort to stop deforestation—with a decrease from 27,000 square kilometres of forest lost in 2004 to 6,451 in 2010.

Worryingly, however, deforestation has recently been on the rise in certain regions of Brazil, which calls for decisive action and innovation.

To that end, in 2011 Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen challenged UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Don Cheadle to a race. The winner would be the one who inspired the most people to launch events in conjunction with 2011’s World Environment Day. Bündchen won—earning Brazil 50,000 new trees in the process. She planted the first one today, at Green Nation Fest.

And it just so happens that Green Nation Fest was the very first event I attended as the World Environment Day blogger.

I, too, took decisive action. Within five minutes of arriving, I became the proud father of a tree I was persuaded to adopt. I haven’t named it yet—that is, assuming it doesn’t already have a name. If it doesn’t, I welcome suggestions.

This is me, looking slightly bewildered at my newfound responsibility:

© Scott Bartlett
Signing up to adopt a tree.

I pushed this new development to the back of my mind long enough to speak with Nick Nuttall, a spokesperson for UNEP. During our conversation, he made an interesting point about the spread of digital photography. It was this: we think of our photos as intangible, like fairy dust. That isn’t accurate. We tend to store multiple copies of our favourite photos—on our cameras, our backups, our inboxes, and our outboxes. Meanwhile, data servers generate a level of CO2 on par with shipping and aviation. We need to start keeping only the photos we like, and deleting the rest.

After speaking with Nick, I looked down at the camera hanging from my neck.

I resolved then and there to take only photos as awesome as this one, which features me standing in front of the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge:

© Chris Tackett
In front of the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge.

Well…I confess, I didn’t take that photo. Chris Tackett—the TreeHugger blogger who’s also covering World Environment Day—took it. But I hereby pledge to go through all my Rio photos with a critical eye once I return to Newfoundland.

I followed up my conversation with Nick by asking Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP, what makes Brazil an attractive host for this year’s World Environment Day (other than the advent of Rio+20). He answered that UNEP doesn’t choose nations that have achieved “environmental nirvana”. Brazil is a good host in large part because here, the debate is alive and well over whether economy and ecology are in opposition to each other.

I’m eager to watch that debate play out over the next two days. It is, after all, the central theme of World Environment Day 2012: “The Green Economy: Does it Include You?”

Tags: World Environment Day