01/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Merriam-Webster's Word of 20...12: "Avoided Deforestation"

As we close the last months of 2008, Merriam-Webster decided that this year's word was "bailout." Not a shock, considering how far-reaching the effects of the recession have become or how extensively the media bantered about the planned government rescue strategy. Reaching for my crystal ball, let me be the first to tell you -- today -- what 2012's word is going to be: "Avoided Deforestation."

To further prove my uncanny extra-sensory abilities, I can also tell you exactly the three things you're thinking to yourself right now.

1. First you're thinking: "Uh, who the heck is this guy?" - and, considering my above claim to see the future, that's a really great question.

My name is Matthew Owen and I am the proud director of Cool Earth, a U.K.-based non-profit organization founded last year to turn back climate change by securing endangered Amazon rainforest. Working with partners throughout the Amazon, Cool Earth invests in local communities that can protect at-risk rainforests around the clock. Through the donations, Cool Earth employs the rainforest's surrounding communities, providing local people with the means necessary to gain revenue from the forests without destroying them. Essentially, we seek to ensure the rainforest's sustainable protection by making sure it is worth more standing than cut down.

Oh, and I'll also be writing this blog about green issues, the environment, conservation, the rainforest and climate change each week.

2. Now, you're saying to yourself: "What in the world is 'Avoided Deforestation'?" - this question, too, is valid - but a little harder to answer.


Did you know that though the U.S. alone releases over an estimated five billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more of this dangerous greenhouse gas is emitted each year by tropical deforestation than all of the fifty states? I didn't think so. Al Gore may be right when he says we need to clean up our act, but apparently we're not the worst environmental offender.

This deforestation issue is a sticky one: today's tropical nations are using rainforest trees the same way Europe was using natural resources in the tenth century and the U.S. was in the eighteenth. The clearance of pristine, broadleaf forest kick-started the once fledging economies of yesterday's U.K. and U.S.A., providing the necessary capital needs of fuel, lumber and land. Essentially, deforestation was the original stimulus package... and, for Brazil and Indonesia today, it's just as stimulating.

Considering our history of doing the same, how can the U.K. and U.S. tell Brazilians and Indonesians to curb their cutting? That sort of request would be a bit hypocritical, patronizing, naive or perhaps predatory - even though stopping rainforest destruction is now incredibly necessary for the environment. Preventing the clearance of rainforests has already been identified as the easiest, cheapest and most measurable way of combating climate change over the coming decade. So we are at an impasse: nations use deforestation to grow, deforestation needs to end for the earth to thrive, we all need the earth, and no one can come up with an appropriate price for curbing emissions through conservation.

Daunting, I know.

This impasse is exactly what will lead to the birth of the phrase "Avoided Deforestation" -- a non-contentious, unproblematic term for how to negotiate the future's directly competing industrial and environmental interests.

I'd put serious money on Brazil and Indonesia appearing in the travel plans of newly-minted Secretary of State Hilary Clinton before Labor Day and, at some point before 2012, a visit to Guyana. Why? The very smart President Jagdeo of Guyana's population-light, forest-heavy country has already made the first move in offering rainforest conservation as a carbon asset to the highest bidder. At the moment, nobody is quite sure what the price should be. Make sure to check in come the end of Obama's first term.

3. Finally, that last comment you were thinking to yourself: "Hey! 'Avoided Deforestion' is two words!" - and, well, you're absolutely right. I guess Merriam-Webster will have to make it a hyphen.

See you next week.