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Open climate data will focus humanity on solutions to global warming

May 15, 2014

Open data should be like the air we breathe: a public resource controlled by no one and consumed by everyone, throughout the smarter planet.

So it pretty much goes without saying that data about the air we breathe, plus the water we drink, the climatic conditions we experience and all other elements of the biosphere upon which we all depend, should be open to everyone. No one really denies that basic principle. In fact, government agencies, commercial organizations, educational institutions and non-profits are teaming on such open data initiatives, as discussed in this recent article.

What caught my eye about this article is its discussion of whether open climate data can catalyze global consensus on planetary warming and the wrenching measures that every society will need to do to both reverse, where possible, and adjust to it. That reminded me of a post I wrote recently on how crowdsourcing of environmental, infrastructure and other data within urban communities might contribute to quality-of-life initiatives.

What I said in that post was that all crowdsourced quality of life data should become an open data set. It would flow continuously, directly from individuals and groups on community social nets, and also from smartphones, sensors and other Internet of Things measurement devices. As such, it could provide a continuous, candid, unedited, unbiased, multi-metric livability survey. It would allow each community to objectively compare itself against others and against itself overtime. Supplemented with reference data from other sources, crowdsourced data would be a foundation for policy makers and community groups to assess the progress of their livability initiatives.

At a global level, open sourcing of all climate data could provide an equivalent. Where planetary warming is concerned, it would give humanity a continuously updated baseline environmental intelligence metric that could be used to track deterioration or improvements in key areas (air, water, pollution, soil) over time. Ideally, this intelligence should continuously update global reference graphs showing linkages among all aspects of the environment within a geospatial and temporal framework, per my discussion in this post.

If made available as a reference for all humanity to access, this open data and these open graphs could guard against the cultural landscape amnesia that prevents people from seeing how conditions have changed over timescales (generations), longer than most people can keep in working memory.

It would be naive to think that having this globally shared resource would drive consensus everywhere on all issues related to environmental change. But it would help these discussions leapfrog the "Is there any data?" stage and get right down to a more productive focus: assessing problems and solutions.