The idea is to use a type of social network to protect rainforests.
1. go to a forest rich tropical country and make a deal with the local people who live in or near the forest, and who are the legal 'owners' of it. This can be the communities themselves, or a government.
2. come the the agreement
that they will receive money from people all over the world for the protection of this forest. Add that this money will be invested in projects that will help them 'leapfrog' into an area in which they no longer need to destroy their forest in order to survive.
3. after we have made this deal, we can begin to build our social network website.
4. we have a very high resolution satellite picture of the forest region. We tag it, and encircle every individual tree.
5. now we bring the trees up for auction. People from all over the world can pay to become the 'guardian' of a tree.
6. after they have paid, they see their data appear on the interactive satellite picture. After a while, their tree will be surrounded by other 'guarded' trees. If you click on these, you get the details of the person who paid.
This is the kernel of the fun social network. You don't know who will become your 'neighbor tree'. But once you know, you can say hello.
Obviously, there will be banners you can put on your blog, pointing to your tree. And similar such thingies.
6. Now come some extra functionalities. You can team up with your 'neighbors' in the forest to order a biodiversity survey. This will cost you a tad of money, but the results might be interesting: a team of researchers will visit your group's forest plot and investigate it.
Most likely, several new species will be discovered. You can pay to have the species named after you. This brings in extra cash for the conservation effort.
They will also take pics of individual trees, which you can buy. A real pic of your very own tree.
7. So what are you buying and how much will it cost?
You are obviously protecting valuable ecosystem services (like rain, clean water, clean air, carbon storage, biodiversity, etc...).
But you are also denying the local people to benefit from their forest. Without protection, they might have taken out logs of valuable hardwood (say $2000 worth per hectare), after which they might have turned the forest into farmland to grow lucrative crops (say $3000 worth per hectare).
So we would have to compensate these communities with at least that amount of money - say $5000 per hectare.
Let's assume that, for this scheme to be successful, we need the following too:
7.1. actual forest guards who check whether nobody cuts down trees; these people have to be trained, fed, housed and equipped.
7.2. access to high resolution satellite pictures to double check.
7.3. livelihood projects that ensure that local populations can have a life not reliant on the forest (these projects can range from ecotourism to sustainable agroforestry, etc...).
7.4. access to health care, education, mobility, and other modern services for the local population.
Let's say this requires a one-time investment of $10,000 per hectare.
The $3000 per hectare for opportunity costs (not cultivating crops), is a yearly recurring cost. The $2000 per hectare for the highly valuable tropical hardwood trees needs to be compensated for only once.
So $10,000 once.
$3,000 recurring every year.
Let's spread the one-time costs over 30 years: $12,000/30 = $400 per year.
In short: we need to get $3,400 per hectare per year.
So how much do we need to charge per tree? There are about 100 big trees per hectare in a typical broad canopy tropical rainforest - easy number to work with.
So we would need to charge at least $34 per tree per year.
We can make money from biodiversity surveys, the 'name a species' service and the beautiful pics of the individual trees.
If a tree is located in a biodiversity hotspot, or houses a particular new species (e.g. an orchid), it will become highly valuable. Users can put their tree up for auction, if they no longer want to guard it. Valuable trees might bring in some extra cash.
Would you go to a website where you can have a tiny bit of fun 'networking' with other tree guardians, and spend $34 per year on your tree to protect it? That is the question...