Archive for the ‘activism’ Category

blame it on the internets

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

CITES argues the the Internet has led to huge destruction in habitat and loss of rare species. Namely, the Internet has allowed for a revolution in the way that wildlife is (illegally) traded, to the detriment of species.

Trade on the Web poses “one of the biggest challenges facing CITES,” said Paul Todd, a campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“The Internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species,” he said. “There will come a time when country to country trade of large shipments between big buyers and big sellers in different countries is a thing of the past.”

Of course, this ignores the huge benefits that a global medium has in communicating environmental problems and allowing for social mobilization. We might not even know about the problems facing the Kaiser’s spotted newt were it not for the Internet. A small community in the developing may not be able to work together with other impacted communities or gain support from international non-governmental organizations were it not for the Internet. Still it points to the two-edged sword of the new media and the fact that media are not simply transparent communication tools.

can geospatial technologies benefit the poor?

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

From student, AK, Intro GIS, taken from GIS, GPS, and Remote Sensing by Uwe Deichmann and Stanley Wood

The role of information and communication technologies in assisting rural development is drawing increasing attention. It promises to help isolated and disenfranchised communities transform themselves into development participants who are better informed and integrated.

GIS provides tools for visualizing, integrating, and analyzing spatial data and a unique capacity to merge information from many sources. By using a common spatial framework, GIS enables users to analyze how physical, social, and economic factors interact. Constraints to widespread use of GIS have been its high cost and complexity and the difficulty of obtaining geographically referenced (geo-referenced) data. However, as the technology has become cheaper and less complex, it has become more accessible to non-specialists.

GPS and remote-sensing techniques have reduced the problem of obtaining geo-referenced information. For instance, most field surveys now use GPS to capture the location of sample points, such as plots or households, enabling easy visualization of survey results and integration with other geographic data. GPS receivers range from the handheld models that are inexpensive, easy to use, and provide coordinate accuracy of about 10 meters to differential receivers that yield accuracy in centimeters. Great advances also have been made in remote sensing and aerial photography. Image processing techniques generate digital maps from aerial photos or satellite data that combine the accuracy of a topographic map with the richer contextual information of a photograph.

Until recently, geospatial technologies have benefited the rural poor mostly indirectly, by generating improved information for research, policy analysis, planning, and monitoring. Precision farming techniques are used in high-intensity commercial agriculture, where detailed location information determines, for example, the level of fertilizer applied to each portion of a field. However, the capital, maintenance, and training requirements are well beyond the means of most farmers in developing countries, particularly smallholders whose small field sizes make these technologies uneconomic.

One of the most direct applications of GIS in developing countries is participatory mapping, where, for example, specialists interact with farming communities to create spatial inventories of natural resources, property status, land-use rights, and perceived problems. Such inventories feed into a consultative process aimed at building consensus on more equitable and sustainable resource-management arrangements. Community mapping can also help foster the process of transferring greater decision-making power and fiscal responsibility to local levels of government. GIS is increasingly being used widely in parcel mapping. Without proper land registration, it can be argued that formal land markets are less efficient and the incentives to invest in land conservation might be limited.

Questions can arise about the political economy and sustainability of GIS approaches applied at the community level, and research on those issues has given rise to a literature on Public Participation GIS (PPGIS). Research primarily addresses concerns about GIS as an invasive technology that benefits a few elites and institutions while marginalizing the very people it’s supposed to help. While this work has often focused on developed-country experiences, its concerns are even more pertinent to poor communities in developing countries. PPGIS issues include:

  • Changes in local politics and power relationships resulting from the use of GIS in geospatial decision-making.
  • The effects of differential access to GIS hardware, software, data, and expertise
  • The educational, social, political, and economic reasons for lack of access and exemplary ways in which communities have overcome these barriers
  • The ways in which socially differentiated communities and their local knowledge might best be represented within GIS
  • GIS as local surveillance
  • Identifying public data policies that positively or negatively influence small-scale local businesses.

Geographic information technologies will continue to provide considerable indirect benefits through better-informed policymaking, research, planning, and development support by both government and non-government agents. But we need to continually reexamine the direct benefits.

Take for example, the “2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment“. This is an initiative of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to develop a shared vision and a consensus for action on how to meet future world food needs while reducing poverty and protecting the environment. Through the 2020 Vision initiative, IFPRI is bringing together divergent schools of thought on these issues, generating research, and identifying recommendations. In an initiative such as this, GIS can be used extensively to identify and model any aspect that is spatially distributed, for example, mapping gender assets, tracking movement of food from rural to urban areas, conducting site selections of optimal farming locations by crop, modeling equitable water allocation, and possibly applying precision agriculture.

IFPRI promotes a vision for food access for the greatest good, that assists the poor while not irreparably hurting the environment. But who might get left out in a consensual “greatest good” vision? Women’s subsistence farming but not men’s cash crop farming? Women in these developing countries often have their own local knowledge about food production that differs from men. What if the communities themselves want to map and analyze: do they have the access to the satellite images and computers? Communities may have their own alternate or small scale means of producing food that varies from getting out food to the largest number of peoples. Technologies have been developed like Google Earth and have been used by indigenous people to monitor illegal activities on their land, for example logging. What happens after the experts leave? It’s these things that we need to reflect on when we promote GIS for rural development.

Peter A. K. Kyem, James Saku. 2009. Web-Based GIS and the Future of Participatory GIS Applications Within Local and Indigenous Communities. GISP Department of Geography Central Connecticut State University New Britain, USA. EJISDC Vol. 38.

Daniel Weiner, Trevor M. Harris. 2003. Community-Integrated GIS for Land Reform in South Africa. URISA Journal, Vol. 15.

Renee Sieber. 2006. Public Participation GIS: A Literature Review and Framework. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Volume 96, Number 3 , pp. 491-507.

the revolution will not be televised, it will be Twittered

Monday, June 15th, 2009

From an IT standpoint, one of the remarkable things about the protests in Iran, is the amount of information that is being transmitted via new social media, like Twitter, Faceboo, Youtube and Flickr. And it’s being mashed up in a way to transmit a cohesive and compelling picture of the events in realtime. Considering the urgency with which the Iranian government is shutting access to these same sites demonstrates that Web 2.0 represents an important new way to communicate about and with government:

Stripping away the hyperbole of that statement and we are left with the very real and grounded fact that the way citizens across the world
organize, react, and participate has forever been altered by the cornucopia of 21st century mediums, each of which presents a new platform for how citizens interact with and even select their government.

The blogger continues:

But the internet provides something more. Where print, radio and TV have permitted political and community leaders to "get their messages" out to the masses, they are largely one-dimensional methods of communication. With the internet, however, we are seeing for the first time how multi-dimensional technology allows not just for the amplification of a "message" by those at the top, but it also allows for the creation of sub-messages, anti-messages, and other reactions by the masses.

Can the same be done with global environmental change? Environmental change certainly works on a much slower timetable than political crises. It’s nowhere near as immediate and may not generate the same kind of branched sensibilities of the word. And are science-related topics amenable to this frenetic branching of chatter? Science aims to be authoritative; whereas, politics aims to be assertive. Anti-messages, particularly around climate change, already flourish in Web 1.0. With conservatives’ adoption of media like Twitter, the counter-chatter could swamp the authority. During the course of thi grant, we’ll aim to find some of the answers.

Rabi Cohen and activism

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I am one of those whom attended the discussion group, this monday. The talk was synthetised by others so i would like to discuss on another aspect.

These past few week, there has been a lot of discussion whether how activism should be defined and whom should fullfill this task. The question ; «Is an academic an activist» did not have a concrete answer. One of use suggested that the activism is more of a social implication activity rather then am obligation to inform. I believe that we have a perfect exemple of that theory applied in this group of discussion. The Rabi is a learned men, no doubt in my mind, but he is far from being an academic. Nevertheless, this men is the co-founder of an environmental institution and a passionnate fond raiser. The Rabi, du to his religious duties has a convincing voice when he defends his ideal. I doubt that any of his fellow scientist in the institute could have explained has simply why this institute is so great in views of futur politic and environmental action in the present. The gift of communication his giving to few and in my opinion of the, the Rabi definitly had it. Does that mean that somewhere along the line somebody is not fullfilling his duty but letting the Rabi speak in his place. I don’t think so. Even though it might not be the Rabi project, he knows the implication, impacts and needs and his able to move the crowd and convince then of the importance that institute.

This brings me to the motive of the speaker. Indeed, he was passionnante about environment and solving politic problem in that area of the world. But i think that his motives where elsewhere then to inform us of the problem and potential solution. The institute is a NGO and therefore needs outside funding to perform its tasks. Futhermore more, the institute’s wish is to grow in number, which means they will need more students. Since they mix palestinian with jordanian, jews (both from ME and North America) and north american, they need to recruit here as well. I think those were his personal two obje ctives.

Finally, i would like to bring emphasis on the discussion concerning the funding. The institute seems to get 10% of it’s funding from a Jew organism which as been labelled racist by a men in the discussion circle. The Rabi made two clear point on the subject, other then we need the money which obviously they do. He started by saying that the institute questionned the proposed money du to the groups intention. They finally accepted the money and they now have one member on the executive commity. This enable them to critic the work of the organisation, giving them a voice in issues they believe are unfaired judge. The Rabi used the terms fighting from the inside instead of fighting from the outside. The second argument was more related to the region of the world being in a bad state. Friends and enemies are not chosen, they are given. What you do with those relationships is up to you afterwards. But the facts still remains, the decision of accepting the money is conflictuing with ethics and thats why they feel compelled to act within this jewish group. Knowing that, it is clear to my mind the politics, ethics and activism are linked together. Sciences also have their own ethic which is probably the link beetween all those aspect. In respect to that, i believe that being an activist or have a personnal ethic as nothing to do with the person function (academic or Rabi) but as more to do with personnal choice. It is up to you to decide whether or not you feel the your personnal contribution could make things progress.

Do I really care about Activism?

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

I was challenged during the last seminar class about the implications of a scientist society.  I am strongly opposed to being an activist because as you know, my personal definition of an activist is any person with strong beliefs that can be expressed in an intolerant manner.  This person or group of persons do not consider other opinions and are ready to do anything possible to make things change according their belief system.

Consider the definition from dictionaries:

English Oxford Dictionary of Politics proposed that an activist is

“any person who takes an active past, usually as a volunteer, in a political party or interest group. […] Either they enjoy political activity for its own sake, or they have off-median views which give them an incentive to pull the party or interest group towards the position they favour, rather than the position it would take to maximize its vote or influence. Hence some have argued for a ‘law of curvilinear disparity’ which holds that activists hold more extreme views than either the mass electorate or the party leadership. There is some empirical support for this ‘law’ but it has rarely been tested carefully.” 

I did not find a definition from a regular English dictionary.  However, here is the definition of Activism in the English Oxford Dictionary:  

Activism: the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.”

In these definitions, there is nothing about radical point of views or intolerance.  However, I just noticed an interesting part of the “problem”.  I checked for a French definition and here is what I found. 

The office québécoise de la langue française states that Activist is:

Membre zélé d’un parti ou d’une faction de tendance extrémiste ou extrême qui s’infiltre partout, profite de toutes les occasions et ne répugne devant aucune méthode, même violente, pour assurer le triomphe de ses visées idéologiques ou politiques. 

A translation (a trial) would be: Dedicated member of a party of extremist tendency, who benefits from all the opportunities and by any means necessary, even violent, to ensure the triumph of the party’s ideological or political aspirations.

I am really surprised how these two “dictionaries” define Activist differently.  The English one is more about being active in making things change and the French definition is more about a radical view of how to make things change.  It might explain why in class, we were not in agreement on the definition of activist.  Is it the fact that we have different culture and history and therefore different definitions?  No, I don’t think so… I was the only one who believed that activist focuses more on extremism…  Anyway, it is quite useless to define Activist as long as we know that there is a wide range (different level) of “being active” (doing nothing to extremism).   The level varies among individuals according to the personal willingness to change the world.  Some might want a minimal social implication and others are passionate about it… However, I suggest that we should be aware that the more you get involved, the more you share the information with others and therefore your voice is more likely to be heard.

Even if I do not consider myself an activist, it does not necessarily suggest that I do not get involved.  I personally like to be involved in different public debates.  I have written letters (essays) in Le Devoir, Fédération Professionnel des Journalistes Québécoises website and I have my personal blog.  I hope to been able to publish in other Montreal newspapers soon.  They were not all published but I tried.  Does it make me an activist?  As mentioned, I do not really care about the word Activist itself… I care more about what I am really doing on this planet and do not pay attention to how people define me.  One thing is absolutely sure; I will never be “activist” as suggested by the Office québécoise de la langue française.  Can I do more?  For sure…  I would love to share my ideas and knowledge with kids.  I like challenging myself in order to assess my communication skills but also to see how the perception of environmental issues varies across the generational divide.   Why I am not giving seminars to little kids?  I hate to say that but time is unfortunately a limiting factor. 

This is my concept of been active; get involved in diffusing the “common knowledge” and play your social role if you want to be heard and make a real difference.

However, as opposed to my personal contributions, I also like to read blogs and literature from others with different backgrounds.  It, sometimes, keeps me grounded because I feel occasionally that “my head is in the clouds.  There are always people that challenge and force you to reflect on your true beliefs.  Even if it is very tough, it forces you to come up with stronger arguments.  For me, it is not important if your opponent drags you down with their arguments, I care more about how you bounce back.  Even if it seems impossible, I will always believe that things can change… even if it takes time.

For example, one thing that really impressed me during the last class is the fact that Mr Madhav Govind Badami has shifted from a pretty secured financial situation in India to a real insecure environment.  He did what I called “jumping head first and without a safety net” because when you make decisions driven by your feelings, you do not necessarily consider the consequences of your actions.  He did not turn down opportunities that were offered to him.  These “jumps” are often the best decisions that you have ever made.  He has even called this jump as “madness” but it reflects that everyone can switch and change at any moment of their life.

Anyway, the point that I wanted to go here is simply the fact that I do not really care about the usage of the word “Activist” as long as it does not mean extremist!  Then, get involved and change the world!

It takes all kinds

Monday, October 20th, 2008

This is a follow-up to the posts on Christie Lovat’s seminar on the economics of ecologically managed golf courses.

Previous posts have described the seminar content well, so I won’t repeat those posts here, but I will pick up on two themes which I find interesting. First, while the speaker encouraged greater ecological awareness among golf course managers, the seminar maintained a realistic perspective on the need to understand the economics of golf courses. The seminar dealt not just with  environmental issues (the resources used to maintain golf courses, the biodiversity that can be protected by supportive golf course environments, the implications of using land for courses, the impact of climate on course choices, etc.) but also with the economics of the golfing industry and with related aspects of our society. We learned about how customers can be encouraged to come to the golf course, how golf courses could realistically brand themselves as partially contributing to environmental stewardship, how efficiencies are gained from managing resources ecologically, and how new courses can be built more economically and ecologically at the same time. We also learned a bit about our society when she spoke of people’s preferences for aesthetically pleasing courses, how much we value outdoor recreation, and our desire to maintain personal fitness. To me, this multifaceted approach exemplified the spirit of sustainable development. The seminar raised many questions, like how many courses are too many, the potential impacts of regulation or standards setting in restricting course design and maintenance, whether there is evidence that ecologically branded golf courses attract more clients, etc. For a third year botanical science student Ms. Lovat did a fine job and maintained a good perspective on her subject.

The second theme, actually an elaboration of the first, was raised by free_of_charge: do we need to consider the economic value of nature before protecting our environment? The answer is no, as long as you don’t have any economic needs/wants. If you want to convince the people that do (i.e. most people on the planet) then you need to at least understand the connection between meeting those needs/wants and the environment. Modern society has allowed us to be very dissociated from the ecosystems that service our economic needs/wants, therefore to convince most people of the importance of protecting those environments you have to demonstrate how ecosystems are connected to the coffee they buy every morning, or the paper they read, or the golf game they play.

Where environment, society and economy collide

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The Beatty Memorial lecture provide the university and community with highly interesting and important issue seminar each year. This year, it was given by James Gustave Speth, professor of Yales university. A firm alarmist activist that ask for the younger one to get active as well. His lecture was presented to a multi-genarational crowd, faculty members of McGill university, students, and citizens as well. The composition of the crowd probably affected his speach as humor was used to carry out his message.

As Shorty already pointed out, there is a problem in our current economical system. It is draining both of our social and environemental strengh. Dr Speth believe that growth is the main problem of our capitalist system. The growing economy is a monster consuming the ressources, leaving no chance for regeneration. Solution were proposed but to get them working, three things are needed. There is a need for a crisis, more violent than any human kind as faced in the recent years. I personnaly believe that climatic changes could be that needed crisis. After the crisis, we need a public mobilisation. People with the knowledge must transfer that knowledge. The last step needed is an enlightened governement, receptive to the problem and ready to act.

Going against capitalism is going to be an hard journey. But Dr Speth presented the situation as follow. There are two roads human kind can follow. The first and easy one will bring us to an early end. The other one, far more difficult to travel, will eventually bring us to a new state were economy, environment and sociaty will be valued to their just level. The crossroad is now and we need to make our turn.

I think this situation is far from being unknowed to us. However, some people out there still believe that this as nothing to do with them. As I got out of the seminar, a passed a man of an advanced age. He turned at me and pointing at the conference room he told me «stupid idiota». My spanish is not perfect but i is good enough for me to understand that the man did not respect nor did he accept the ideas carried by Dr Speth. We had a discussion in class about being activist or not. I’m starting to believe that we carry a responsability, to defend those ideas if we want things to change.

Building Activism, Stripping Corporate Power, Recognising the Rights of Nature

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

On September 15, Thomas Linzey gave a seminar on how communities are working to preserve their environment without being trumped by the government, or corporate rules and rights.  Communal and municipal actions and regulations can be overruled by the following; preemption from the federal and state government; Dillon’s rule, generally stating that the community or municipality is like a child which the state allows certain actions, and; corporate rights which lawfully personify company structures.  Problems would arise when a community would attempt to prevent structures such as a waste incinerator from being built in the area; the community was interfering with the corporate rights of the incinerator company from managing their business, and they were being preempted by the government’s issue of a permit to build.  Thus the pollution that such a structure might cause would impede the environment and the community.  The Community Environment Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) was created to give free legal services to communities with not enough lawyers to fight these trials.  In addition, one of their goals is to aid communities in making constitutional laws that would give nature the right to flourish.

The seminar may have been biased, under representing the balance between the needs of the community and corporations.  It was delivered enthusiastically and was not difficult to listen to.

I enjoyed the concept of the seminar, however I failed to grasp the effectiveness of the program to strip corporate power.  If communities create a constitution of environmental policy that the government is in disagreement with, what’s to stop the government from preempting the environmental legislation for what they consider more economically favorable?  The seminar gave me the impression that these civil changes are more effectively obtained through active protests, rioting and sometimes civil war.  The seminar gave examples of the protests of the suffragettes in the women’s rights movement or the civil war to abolish slavery.  Note this is not to say that CELDF advocates or opposes these tactics; their position was not mentioned, only the examples were given.  However, given the increasing popularity of environmental discussions, it may be in the interest of the government to consider their own policies to protect the government.  Still it appears they will have the final say.

While the concept of giving nature rights is brought up in the article Ecology in Ecuador, the question of whether assigning rights is the correct mode of action is brought up in The Return of Goodness by Skidelsky.  What I’ve obtained from Skidelsky’s article is that morality is not completely covered by a set of rights and rules.  If our actions interfere with the standards protecting others, this is immoral.  But if all we do is follow rules and regulations without having our own definition of virtue, do we lose our own innate ability to determine morality?  Skidelsky uses the example of the man watching porn:  He has the right to do so, and others may frown on his outlook, but he is not immoral (Skidelsky, 2008).  Take (for lack of a better one) the example of a river.  We have the right to use rivers for water (in general terms to use the river), but if we deplete the river are we immoral?  We are exercising our right to water (justified and positive) but we our using up our resource (a negative).  Our innate definition of morality would determine the balance.  It is society’s innate morality that makes our just laws.

sustainable management by local people

Monday, December 17th, 2007

(written by Intro to GIS student, C. N.)

As a GIS student who racks his brain over the quarks and particularities of the current softwares used to display spatial data, I would never have envisioned anyone short of a professional creating official maps. Furthermore, I would never have thought possible to map such intangible elements as cultural heritage, and to use such maps to create sustainable management plans for entire regions. Despite my skepticism, this is exactly what has been done for Fiji’s Ovalau Island.

Ovalau is one of Fiji’s largest islands with a population of 9000 and an area spanning ~10 by 13 kilometers. It is characterized by a rich cultural history dispersed throughout the villages that inhabit the island’s rugged landscape. Due to these conditions, any available spatial and resource data prior to Ovalau’s new mapping initiative, was of poor quality (relative to state’s needs) and only available orally through conversations and stories. In January 2005, an initiative using Participatory 3D modeling (P3DM) was implemented. The goal of the P3DM exercise – a derivative of Participatory GIS – was to create physical 3D relief models based upon local knowledge, and to use these models to propose a resource management plan. This methodology would ensure that the voice of local people was heard. After all, the proposed resource management plan would be based on their 3D model.

This is exactly what was accomplished in 2005. Base maps were constructed based on the consultations of 27 separate villages. Following this, students, teachers, elders and individuals trained in natural resource management, cartography, GIS, and community work got together for the construction of the 3D model. Throughout this construction, youth workers did much of the manual labor while elders spoke of the various resources and tales of the land. Based on the created map, the Vanua ko Ovalau Resource Management Plan was proposed and accepted.

Ovalau’s uses of P3DM show tangible real life implications for GIS, not just for the GIS professional, but also for entire communities. We are approaching the point in the semester in Intro to GIS, where GIS terminology and jargon seems to be taking over our brains, and we are wondering how long it will be before we will ever really understand the intricacies of GIS. Despite this, it is important to remember that GIS is not exclusive to those with thousand dollar programs and perfectly constructed data. Ovalau is a prime example of adaptations of GIS to participation. It demonstrates that the world of GIS is not restricted to a computer lab but can be used in entire communities, and that it is not limited to classifying well ordered numerical data but can handle cultural assets and heritage.

Ovalau’s success has also merited a World Summit Award.

Congo pygmies go high-tech to protect forest home

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Participatory GIS in action.

Using GPS handsets to pinpoint sacred sites and hunting areas, the nomadic forest dwellers are literally putting themselves on the map to protect their livelihoods and habitat against the chainsaws and bulldozers of commercial loggers.

XO comes of age

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

NYTimes reviews the $100 ($200, $400) XO laptop.

What’s really amazing is the way that a laptop, designed for poor kids in the third world, is propelling innovation in the first world. Consider the use of mesh networks and the new battery, which I can only hope will soon appear in laptops I can buy.

The limits of environmental activism

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

A nice multimedia display on the challenges facing environmental activists in China.

intruder alert: surveillance sensors to prevent poaching

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

From The Economist, sensors that detect poachers:

Nouabale-Ndoki’s [Congo] hard-pressed rangers are, however, about to get some high-tech help in the form of TrailGuard, a system of small and easily hidden electronic detection and communication devices. They will soon begin burying radio-transmitting metal detectors alongside elephant trails leading into the park. Authorised hikers through the park will be given transponders that tell the detectors who they are, as with the “identification friend-or-foe” systems on military aircraft. But when poachers carrying rifles or machetes traipse by a detector, it will send a radio signal to a treetop antenna. Seconds later the rangers will receive the intruder’s co-ordinates on their satellite phones. They will then be able to respond precisely, rather than slogging around on fruitless and demoralising patrols on the off-chance of catching a poacher up to no good.

A nonprofit, affiliated with the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry in Syracuse, Wildland Security, has created these sensors to aid countries and areas that have the will to save wildlife but not necessarily the person power.

Hmm, surveillance technology in the service of conservation?

abcnews goes green

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Tonight’s reporting from World News Tonight

* Concern Soars About Global Warming as World’s Top Environmental Threat
* How to Address Global Warming: A Range of Tips
* EPA Carbon Footprint Guidelines
* San Francisco Goes Green
* Shrinking Your Carbon Footprint
* Fixing the Planet for Profit
* Limit Your Impact on the Environment
* Check Your Household’s Carbon Footprint
* Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

carbon offsets for server farms

Monday, April 30th, 2007

We tend to focus on carbon neutrality for previous centuries’ industries (cars, coal). But we can forget the gluttonous material and energy needs of our e-industries. I’m thinking specifically of the acres of computer servers needed to support e-commerce functions and search engines. These server farms deserve our climate change attention just as much as our concern about SUVs. A couple of examples show that organizations are beginning to address these concerns.

Yahoo, for example, is aiming to go carbon neutral this year.

Carbon Neutral consults with firms to determine their carbon footprint, assess possibilities for reduction, and then estimate offsets. Some high profile organizations have used the company–IUCN is one–although I don’t know the Carbon Neutral’s provenance in terms of the carbon-friendly projects it funds.

Two Steps Forward succinctly lays out both the problems and advances of energy consumption by data centers.

I, for one, would like to determine how much offset I require for my home computers, although I realize that purchasing offsets doesn’t obviate my need for reducing overall energy consumption and computer use.

going deep green

Friday, March 30th, 2007

A New York family vows to spend a year without toilet paper. It’s part of their experiment to exert no impact on the land — “eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and … using no carbon-fueled transportation.”

The family is blogging their progress on reducing their impact to zero. Wait a minute, using computers as a part of no impact? Neither the computer use nor the artistic/entertainment products of this year-long experiment goes unnoticed in their blog’s comment section:

“Getting people to read a blog on their 50-watt L.C.D. monitors and buy a bound volume of [their book] postconsumer paper and show the filmed doc [a friend is filming a documentary of the year] in a heated/air-conditioned movie theater, etc., sounds like nonimpact man is leading to a lot of impact.”

Still, this family’s experiment is a lesson for my students. Reducing your impact requires major lifestyle changes and is VERY time-consuming. Think on that if you live up 10 flights of stairs or have no refrigerator.

empowerment through maps

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

My pal Dave Tulloch delves into the potential of empowerment and greater participation through online mapping.

He also points to the February 2006 cover article in the journal Nature, Mapping for the Masses.

Online mapping is the current killer app. What Dave and Nature leave out, probably because of space limitations, is the concurrent need for physical participation. We’ll have many new virtual tools to allow us to create individual empowerment (of course, it may be the appearance of empowerment). But it also can isolate us from members of our own geographic communities. That’s no substitute for the power of the group when it derives from people getting together in the same physical place to work out their differences and come to shared solutions.

another GIS for social change

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

This time from the UK:

Helveta Ltd, a UK company, has developed an innovative software application called CIEarth, which is designed to enable accurate forest inventory and community resource mapping. The software is loaded onto a ruggedised handheld computer, data points are recorded via the touch-sensitive computer screen and the position of each data point is mapped according to its GPS location.

visualizing mountain destruction through google earth

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Appalachian Voices uses Google Earth to highlight the destruction of its mountain tops.

The first time I flew over southern West Virginia and saw mountaintop removal coal mining from the air, I knew that if everyone could see what I had seen—mountain after mountain blown up and then dumped into streams in the neighboring valleys—they would think twice about where their electricity came from the next time they flipped a light switch.

That’s why we at Appalachian Voices, and our partner groups, created the National Memorial for the Mountains, using Google Earth to tell the stories of more than 470 mountains that have been lost, as the centerpiece of our website We never imagined that those stories would now be available to over 200 million people as part of the latest release of featured content in Google Earth.

saving the amazon with google earth

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Mongabay, a conservation and environmental news aggregator, reports on the efforts of the Amazon Conservation Team to assist Amazon natives in using Google Earth and global positioning systems (GPS) to protect the rainforest.

This is my favourite part.

“Indians log on to Google Earth and study images, inch by inch, looking to see where new gold mines are popping up or where invasions are occurring. With the newly updated, high-resolution images of the region, they can see river discoloration which could be the product of sedimentation and pollution from a nearby mine. They are able to use these images to find the smallest gold mine.”

Once the Indians pinpoint suspect areas using Google Earth, they note the coordinates, then go on foot patrol to investigate further or mark the spot for future airplane flyovers, where five to six Indians go up with government officials to scout for illegal incursions. Van Roosmalen says that without the aid of satellite imagery, flyovers can be of limited effectiveness due to the extent of the forest.

Of course, the satellite images can aid in further destruction of the rainforest and marginalization of indigenous peoples, even as the images and technologies aid preservation. There are many caveats — see

Robert Rundstrom 1991 Mapping, Postmodernism, Indigenous People and the Changing Direction of North American Cartography. Cartographica 28(2): 1-12.

Robert Rundstrom 1995 GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity. Cartography and Geographic Information Systems 22(1): 45-57.

Nonetheless, there’s ample evidence that advanced spatial technologies are increasingly becoming an appropriate technology to counter the mining companies, preserve habitat and a community’s way of life, advocate for land claims, allow native people to make maps using their own symbols, and enable and values to be transmitted from generation to generation. GIS, GPS and RS (remote sensing) are becoming the “killer app” for the rest of the world too.