Good news! According to the New York Times, there has been a net increase in forested land in many of the worlds largest countries.
Specifically, over the past 15 years 22 of the 50 countries with the most forests have increased the amount of forested land. Turkey, India, and China have joined with Japan, the US, and Europe when it comes to forest conservation.
Of course, there are concerns... countries like Brazil and Indonesia are still cutting forests at an alarming rate, so the overall global trend is still negative.
Plus the data is not 100% reliable. Some of it was provided by government agencies, who might not be the most impartial of judges... Other data was from areal photographs, which might overestimate the number of trees in a lush canopy.
I'm optimistic... not simply because of policy changes in India and China, but also because we have new tools to help monitor the situation. Such as Google Earth.
By using Google Earth and hand-held GPS systems, researchers are arming Amazon natives with powerful tools to monitor their land. With careful observation of satellite images, the natives can discover miners or loggers who are operating illegally on their land. This will hopefully help turn the tide...
Naturally, Google doesn't have all the historical data that researchers would need to discover trends, but it certainly contains a wealth of useful information... and their areal data can be verified with spot-checks on the ground to calibrate their estimates.
The Amazonian natives are only the latest group to use Google Earth for research purposes. Archeologists have been using it for months to discover ancient cities, buried right in their backyard. I'd wager that 2007 will be filled with new finds that may force us to rewrite some of the history books.
What's next for Google Earth? X-Ray cameras in space? Maybe then I could Google where I left my keys...