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How Panama's Indigenous Use Drones To Save The Rainforest

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Panamanian holding a drone — Photo: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Members of Panama's 12 indigenous nations are embracing a cutting-edge technology — drones — in an effort to protect their ancestral lands.

Roughly 7.4 million hectares of rainforest cover more than half of Panamanian territory, but it is rapidly disappearing, some estimate by as much as 20,000 hectares per year.

To halt the destruction, the Panamanian Environment Ministry, working in collaboration with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has begun supplying indigenous groups with drones that can be flown below the canopy mist and enable closer monitoring and clearer pictures of where trees have been harmed, Bogota-based daily El Espectador reports.

Project participants are taught to assemble drone parts, plan flights, operate the contraptions by remote control, and read, download and compare the pictures with satellite versions.

Anthropologist Luz Graciela Joly, in an interview with the website Scidev.net, explains that modern technology use does not go against the ancestral teachings of the indigenous participants. "There are no static cultures here," she says. "All of them change in time and most indigenous cultures adopt and incorporate technologies, like cell phones, when it suits them."

Native community leaders reportedly welcomed the proposal. FAO official Lucio Santos says the UN now plans to extend the program to other areas, starting in October with the Peruvian Amazon.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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