Posts Tagged ‘deforestation’

Last week we took a camera to Fulford Secondary School in York, UK, to get reactions from students as they were introduced to the DeforestACTION project.

These students connected with Dr. Willie Smits via Skype, and began working together with other students around the world to learn about the issues of deforestion.

Later in the week, they were invited to meet the Crown Princess of Jogyakarta, and pledged to expand their involvement in the project to help fund further orangutan rescues and to fight the destruction of important forests for palm oil production.

This is such an engaging project, because it connects students with one of the most importat topics on the planet, and makes it as real as possible. A big thank you to all the students and teachers at Fulford Secondary School for sharing this with us.  Are you a teacher? You can connect your students with those at Fulford by signing up at http://www.deforestaction.org.

Are you are an expert in deforestation or orangutan conservation?  We are looking to provide as much information as possible to students from around the world and are always on the lookout for new, engaging content.


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'Innovate! Collective Wisdom from Innovative Schools' featuring Michael Fullan, Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Buckley, Will Richardson and loads more. All funds raised from the sale of this book will go directly to the DeforestACTION project.

It was a major hit at the BETT Show in London, with the first print run completely wiped out in only three days.  The new book “Innovate! Collective Wisdom from Innovative Schools” features the best examples of educational innovation from across the planet, and powerful ideas from the leading educational ‘gurus’.  It is a must read for anyone in education.

Perhaps best of all,  DeforestACTION is featured throughout as an exemplar of education best practice,  and all proceeds (yes, 100% of money raised) from sales of this book go directly to DeforestACTION.

This is good news for young people around the planet who are  continuing to fight deforestation and protect the endangered species including the orangutan.

The book was written in a very unique way.  Over 400 educational leaders collaborated across four days, sharing their best ideas, inspirations, quotes and case studies in an uber- OneNote document.  This process allowed the distillation of the most current, cutting edge educational thinking from the best in the world, quickly, powerfully and simply.  By leveraging the power of cloud technologies, and the single most powerful educational software tool – OneNote, this book is groundbreaking, not only in what it contains, but also in how it was created.

The book will soon be available through Amazon and other online booksellers.

DeforestACTION explained with examples of student work and great links to teaching and learning ideas.

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Her Royal Highness, Princess Gusti of Jogyakarta pledged to personally recruit 1 Million students from Indonesia to the DeforestACTION project

Why would her Highness, Princess Gusti Pembayun of Jogyakarta want to open one of the world’s most important education events, and challenge school leaders from across the globe to get behind the DeforestACTION project?  And why would she stand before this powerful leadership group and personally commit to enrolling another one million Indonesian students into the project?

Last week in London, the British Council hosted the annual Education World Forum.  This three day long event draws Ministers and senior policy makers from across the world to consider the future of education and was opened by Princess Gusi Pembayun, who spoke about the importance of large education systems embracing DeforestACTION.

During her address, the Princess highlighed the incredible work students from around the world had already undertaken through the project.  She spoke of the challenges faced by local people in Indonesia, and how education could help stop the destruction of the important rainforests, the orangutans, local industries, and protect the futures of the local people.

Her message was simple.  Deforestation is a global problem.  We must work together as a global community to solve it – beginning with our young people. New solutions are needed – more agile, more creative solutions.  She finished with a personal commitment – she will work to bring another one million Indonesian students into the program so they can interact with students around the world through the DeforestACTION online spaces, through new DeforestACTION fact sheets, teacher guides, and other resources that can be distributed to non-connected students.

So why what were the main reasons for such a commitment?   Here are some of the key drivers:

1. Access: Over 50% of students in Jogyakarta have access to the internet today, but in the near future, this will be 100%.  Connectivity will allow unprecedented opportunities for global collaboration.  DeforestACTION is one of the best ways for students and teachers to quickly connect, engage in collaborative projects, and to solve problems together.

2. Awareness of the problems of deforestation are the key to the solutions.  The more young people understand about the value of the forests, the importance of the wildlife, and the potential benefits of preserving both, the better. The new DeforestACTION resources make it easy and fun for students to increase awareness.

3. Empowering students to feel they can make a difference was a key theme in the presentations at the EWF.  Offering students a chance to take meaningful action to solve problems that are relevent to them is a global imperative.   DeforestACTION is a powerful channel for young people to explore issues, learn about the challenges, but best of all to propose solutions and take action.

4. Urgency – Time is running out.  Young people need to be educated about these issues quickly, before there are no more orangutans, before the peat is all destroyed, and before the future is bankrupted by corporate greed.  Education is the key.  There is no more time to waste.

The Princess and Dr. Willie Smits will spend another week travelling through Europe promoting DeforestACTION with packed houses and media conferences dominating their travels.   We wish them all the best.

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What if we could find a way to make the forests more valuable than chopping them down for timber and palm oil?

What if there was a  way that protecting the forests became the most financially beneficial option for local people – so much so that they would no longer be open to bribes and corruption from the palm oil companies?

What if protecting the forests could provide a new energy source that could significantly contribute to solving the global energy crisis, while radically improving the standard of living of the people whose forests are being destroyed and stolen?

It seems Dr. Willie Smits may have found a solution to this problem, which could literally change the deforestation game forever. (read a detailed, independent report from Ecofys here).

One of the reasons deforestation is so prolific in Indonesia, is because palm oil companies have faced very little resistance from local people in taking their land.  Much of this is because the palm oil companies cheat, lie, deceive and even steal land from the traditional landowners. But it’s also because in the short term, the pittance they are paid for their families’ land is too tempting for some people to turn down.

So, for a few thousand dollars, and a fist full of soon to be broken promises, the lands these local people have held for centuries are signed over to palm oil companies to destroy.

In the short term, such deals can allow the local people to buy fuel for their bikes (there is a massive shortage of fuel in Kalimantan), mobile phones or credit, or other simple luxuries. In the long term, it is the end of their communities, their livelihoods, and their futures.

If we as a planet are to reduce deforestation, we need to find an alternative for the local people. A way to ensure the value of keeping the forest in tact outweighs any short term financial tricks the palm oil companies can offer.

Sugar Palm is a very exciting option that may be our best chance ever.

To be clear –  Sugar Palm is the exact opposite of the highly destructive Oil Palm. These trees do not grow in a monoculture – they require the diverse forest to thrive.  Because they require the entire forest to be sustained, this sustains all kinds of life, keeping the natural balance of the forest in tact.  In palm oil plantations, on the other hand, only the palm oil trees grow.  The natural diversity is destroyed – the animals that aren’t butchered and killed are left to starve in a barren biological  desert.

Sugar palms releases large quantities of juice (up to 50 litres per day).  This juice can be efficiently converted into bio-ethanol, palm sugar (low GI), animal feed, electricity, medicines,  bio-plastics, and at least 50 additional products created to date using scientific methods developed by Dr.Willie Smits.

According to Willie, the amount of energy produced by a sugar palm beats that of all other crops (e.g. it provides over three times more energy than sugar cane).  In fact, as far as solar power goes, the sugar palm is a highly effective photovoltaic converter.

Local people have been collecting the sugar and using it for medicine, cooking, fire barriers, fiber (rope) construction for years.   So what’s new?

The first ever 'factory in a box village hub'

The first ever Village Hub - 'factory in a box' model by Dr. Willie Smits

In this photo, you can see two factories known as “Village Hubs”.   The larger one in the background is the original, the much smaller one in the front is a revolutionary new semi-portable factory.  Both factories include technology to  allow local people to convert their sugar palm into energy, giving them credits that can be used for electricity, clean drinking water, internet access, education service, animal feed, biofuel and more.  It is literally a currency exchange centre, allowing sugar to be converted into products and services on the spot.

Last week, Willie completed the first ever ‘factory in a box’ version of the Village Hub.  The concept is this factory can be transported to anywhere in the world in two large shipping containers.  It is then unpacked and assembled and within a few weeks, the entire village can enjoy a substantially elevated standard of living – but ONLY for as long as they have rich, bio diverse forests to sustain the sugar palms.

This is fantastic news for orangutans, gibbons, sun-bears and all the other animals that live in the forest. If this takes off quickly, and the demand from the local people drives the establishment of more of these hubs, it is one of the best chances we have to save the forests and the species that live in them.   I witnessed Willie present this to over 300 local people in Sintang earlier this year, and if their response was anything to go by, demand will be more than overwhelming.

As always, this is about education and free choice.  If this works as well on scale as the first production model (this is beyond prototype), and the local people choose this above the alternative (no comparison),  this is going to make a significant, positive difference to the planet forever.

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Somehow we have to save what's left..those working against us do not want us to succeed.

Just how powerful and ruthless are the logging / oil palm companies?  Why is it so urgent we pull together as a planet to raise funds for this project?  The answer is simple.. the logging companies are ruthless without bounds, and unless we act quickly, they will destroy the last patches of critically valuable virgin forest.

The DeforestACTION team, through Dr.Willie Smits,  have a very limited opportunity to secure a rich patch of forest land, approximately 5,000 hectares in West Kalimantan (Indonesia) which contains valuable rainforest and is home to over 100 orangutans.  The logging companies understandably feel threatened. They are fighting back!

Today we learned this area has been deliberately targetted by one of the biggest logging companies in Indonesia, seeking to destroy the remaining forest there, harness the timber, and plant oil palms.

This is a direct attack on our movement, and we must respond.  This company, PT Kalimantan Subu (part of the Sinar Mas group) has lobbied the government, claiming environmental benefits for the repurposing of the land, to reallocate the land from us in the next few months.

With your help, we can save this area permanently.  First, we must commission an environmental impact assessment study (which will help us save even more land) to create a transparent and detailed evaluation of the damage caused when forests in this specific region are destroyed for timber or monoculture farming.  No more lies.  We must stop this crime from occurring by presenting and documenting facts, and using this project to create transparency and awareness globally. 

The full environmental impact assessment study costs around $100,000.  Whatever is left over if we hit this milestone will be used for additional conservation projects.  This is our critical first milestone. It’s a huge document, and requires significant work.   Once we have it, it will be very difficult for logging companies to acquire land to destroy with false statistics and fabricated data. And, this is a prerequisite for the land regeneration permits we require to regrow the forests in Singtang.

We need your help urgently, to secure this critically at risk area of land and rezone it as conservation.  .

The orangutans, and indeed the whole planet need your help right NOW! Tell your friends. Run events. Raise money.  Every cent goes to the cause – nothing is wasted.  Help us save these beautiful and essential forests for the young people of today, and tomorrow.  Help !! Visit  www.deforestACTION.com to donate.

UPDATE – Unfortunately, this area has been lost to the logging company we were racing against.  They have more money, influence and resources.  We will be filming this area as they destroy it, to show the world what they are capable of.

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Imagine if young people from across the planet could log into their PCs and start a face to face chat with a real orangutan, where technology acted as a translator, allowing these young people to understand exactly what the orangutans were trying to say.

What might students learn from these amazing ‘people of the jungle’, particularly as they gain an appreciation of their intelligence and personality by engaging with animals  for the first time ever via meaningful dialogue or complex games?   What kind of respect might students develop for other species when they are beaten by them in memory games or other challenges that orangutans excel at?   Could young people build meaningful relationships, even friendships with orangutans, while sharing information about how they view the world?  

The answer is YES, and this is exactly what the DeforestACTION team are putting together, based on another of the inspired ideas of Dr.Willie Smits.


Young people can interact, talk and play with orangutans online

The first step has been to install some state of the art multi-touch Windows 7 machines (housed in high impact resistant frames and cases) for the orangutans to use.   This is nothing new.  The Georgia Zoo in Atlanta has been experimenting with touch screen games, interactions and menu selection for orangutans for years.

Students using Touchscreen

Students will be able to use their Windows 7 machines to interact and build relationships with orangutans

On the other side, students from across the planet will be able to log into a Windows 7 app, either on their PC or Smart Phone, and sign up to meet or play against an orangutan.  In simple memory games (e.g. flipping pairs of cards over to match up like cards), orangutans have a far better memory than most humans, so in playing these primary school type games, students (and adults) will typically lose.


To truly make connections, we need to be able to read the facial expressions of the people (or animals) we are engaging with.  Humans are born with an incredible ability to decode many thousands of facial expressions in other humans.  A significant portion of the brain is dedicated to exactly this function.  In fact, most communication experts believe over 90% of our communication occurs through body language and facial expression decoding. 

What humans can’t do at all well is interpret facial expressions of other animals, including orangutans. 


One of the most exciting developments in this project, is the adaption of some of the work being done by Professor Paul Ekman, who has been researching the link between emotions and facial expressions.

Software built on Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS) can taxonomize every human facial expression and convert them to animated format – this is used in movies like Avatar and other animated movies to ensure the characters we see on screen reflect the personalities behind the animations – think Mike Myers in Shrek.

Using new software to be released on the DeforestACTION site later this year,  it will be possible for avatars to translate the emotions  of orangutans into human terms in real time using avatars.  This will use Enkman’s FACS technology  mapped against orangutans (who also exhibit thousands of facial expressions).

Avatar translation

Students can understand the facial expressions and emotions of orangutans via avatars as they befriend them online.

So, students will know if an orangutan is smiling, laughing, frowning, bored, interested, angry etc.  They will know if an orangutan is happy to see them again – “hey, he recognized me”.  They will know if the orangutan is proud when he wins in a memory or pattern recognition game (especially when they see him/her rewarded with food for winning).


As people increase their appreciation for and wonder of the animals who share this planet, resistance to destroying the habitats that sustain them will grow.  A global awareness of the importance and value of the animals in our world is essential in creating the support and activism required to halt the destruction of the forests.  The DeforestsAction team believe this technology will provide an important contribution to that awareness.

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Young people marching

Millions of kids from across the planet decide to take action into their own hands.

Just how much do young people care about the rainforests?  Here’s a clue.

Virgo productions gave Varsity College one week to ask their students who would come out and rally behind the DeforestAction cause.  Of the nearly 3,000 students in the school, 700 turned up on the day, in their own time, to be part of the march.  These days, you’d be pushing your luck getting that many to turn up for ice cream.

Varsity College on the Gold Coast is one of the most impressive schools in Australia.  The leadership team at the school had been strong supporters of DeforestAction and heavily invovled from the second mentorship phase.

“The kids were extremely excited about being involved and Josh has already made a promotional movie to show all students at Varsity College.” – Jeff Davis, Executive Principal, Varsity College

But it’s the kids who really sell this story. The team from Virgo interviewed many of the students to find out why they care so much about this cause.  The answers were so profoundly strong, you’ll probably catch a few of them in the movie (or at least the DVD extras).

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