Obviously by now you know I’m a big advocate for barcodes. But even I draw the line at some of the spectacular things some say barcodes are able to do. Stopping thieves from stealing trees in remote forests around the world is, in my view, asking the barcode to do more than it can. And yet, some presumably smart people and a ton of investors who have studied the matter are backing an effort by a British company to barcode forests across Africa, southeast Asia and South America… a million trees and counting so far. The news story about this is here.
Don’t get me wrong… I think the mission is a noble one. And, in an ideal world, thieves might be stopped, or at least slowed, by the presence of an official-looking barcode on the trunk of a valuable tree. And, to be fair, I’ve never spent any time in these would-be barcode-protected forests. But it seems to me if my life depended on it, I could find a way to remove a tree (and its tag) while no one is looking. Someone looking would stop me, but a barcode? Not so much.
Now a stonewall isn’t a forest, but stealing rocks and stealing whole trees approximate one another on the scale of difficulty. Yet, in New England, stone walls are stolen all the time… at night, when people are away, when no one is looking. Would barcoding the stones stop this? No. Barcodes are a terrific innovation but, to go out on a limb here, there is a limit to their reach.