As members choose the winning hotspots, the project’s leaders would direct the funds to local, on-the-ground environmental organizations, capable of actually cementing the land purchase
Aiming to save ecological hotspots in critical danger around the world, an Israeli-led group of conservationists are recruiting members of the global public to help fundraise the launch of a democratic, crowd-sourced website to purchase at-risk lands.

“I’ve been dreaming about this project for like 10 years now, even more,” Prof. Uri Shanas, an expert in conservation biology at the University of Haifa and Oranim College, told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.

Shanas, who is currently completing a sabbatical at Portland State University in Oregon, has joined hands with seven other environmental scholars from various countries in attempt to raise $25,000 on Indiegogo to establish the “This is My Earth” platform. As of Monday evening, the campaign had raised $3,600, with 52 of 60 days remaining.

Already existing online as a prototype sponsored by Oranim College, the “This is My Earth” website, would enable members to vote periodically on where money will be invested to save threatened lands. Membership fees would remain low, at a minimum of one euro per person, Shanas explained.

“The idea is a democratic organization – there’s nothing like that,” he said. “Every member has a right and every member has equal rights. It doesn’t matter if you donate $1,000 or 3 euros. You have the same right to say where you want the money to be invested.”
As members choose the winning hotspots, the project’s leaders would direct the funds to local, on-the-ground environmental organizations, that are capable of actually completing the land purchase, Shanas continued.

“We will work with already existing organizations and people who have already shown good governance and success in purchasing lands,” he said.

Intending to officially launch “This is My Earth” this summer, Shanas explained that the funds now being raised are required for building a fully functional website to host the system, as well as recruiting members of a professional committee.

Leading the project alongside Shanas are Wanjira Mathai of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya; Dr. Konstantinos Makris of the Cyprus International Institute for Environmental and Public Health and Harvard University; David Baldock of the London and Brussels-based Institute for European Environmental Policy; Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University; senior software and technology consultant Eyal Shani; Dr. Clive G. Jones of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York; and Prof. Nick M. Haddad of North Carolina State University.

Once the website is fully launched, Shanas said the first vote probably will occur within a couple months.

“Because it’s a democratic way of running the organization, we also need enough groups on the ground to know about us,” he added.

The professional committee will determine a series of guidelines as to how the local organizations must treat the land in question once they have followed through with a purchase, with these guidelines adapted to specific environments based on the amount of biodiversity found in the specific place and the caliber of protection necessary, Shanas explained.

The project leaders are also looking into introducing a new concept for the website – a method in which donors could sponsor the one-euro membership price for others who might not be able to afford the fee. Such a mechanism would enable youngsters and conservationists to join in the effort from low-income countries, many of which house some of the world’s greatest ecological hotspots, according to the campaign.
“This is something that we are really excited about,” Shanas said.