The Incredible Story Of How Old Cellphones Are Saving The Rainforest

This TED Talk by Topher White Will Make You Realise Just How Brilliant Many Of Our Young Minds Are Today At Overcoming The Problems Faced By Our Environment.

According to Rainforest Connection, the organisation that was set up by White, deforestation accounts for 17% of all global carbon emissions each year. They also note that, the United Nations estimates up to 90% of all logging in tropical rainforests is illegal.

These are two very salient facts that if you link together suggest one very straightforward way in which we can massively reduce carbon emissions – we simply stop illegal logging.

even if you were just a few hundred metres away you would most probably not hear the chainsaws

Of course, stopping people going into a rainforest and chopping down a tree is virtually impossible. First, the areas involved are massive, and secondly, even if you were just a few hundred metres away you would most probably not hear the chainsaws, even the super loud ones, because the rainforest is … well … a rainforest, and almost always full of incredible sounds, chirps, buzz, chatter and all other forms of full-on background noise.

Topher White analysed the problem while visiting a gibbon sanctuary on holiday in Borneo in 2011. He saw that much of the sanctuary’s work involved the very basic and sadly unbelievable task of simply having to protect the forest around the sanctuary from illegal logging.

As an engineer, he realised the most logical solution would come from monitoring the background sound in the rainforest and whenever the monitor picked up the distinct frequency of a chainsaw an alarm system could be put into operation. He also discovered to his delight that most areas where rainforests are under threat also had good phone connectivity. Add that to an already dedicated team of workers in the case of the gibbon sanctuary and he had a plan.

Back home in the USA he realised that the expensive monitoring equipment would make the project unfeasible – until he hit on the idea of using old cellphones as monitors. Using his parents garage as a workshop he started taking people’s old phones as his basic instruments and then adding a unique solar array that could still create energy under a rainforest canopy to power them in remote areas.

The monitor phones, when created, each had a listening range of around 3km square.

old donated cellphones protect an area … equivalent to roughly 135 Monaco’s

Today, five years after they installed their first monitoring system, they have used old donated cellphones to protect an area of 26,000 hectares, or to put it another way, land equivalent to roughly 135 Monaco’s.

Nice work, and the fact that this also equates to 1.3 million cars being taken off the roads, shows the impact of new thinking for what was becoming ‘same old, same old’ problems.