Archive for November, 2008

Cost/Benefit analysis, into a future of lower value

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Today, I attended both seminar given in the 3rd biannual OURANOS scientific symposium on climate changes on local climatology. These talks were focused on hydrological problems on solutions but the projects were highly condensed due to lack of time.

Nevertheless, I would like to address another subject then the main subject of those talks. During the second presentation, one of the speaker seemed to be convinced by the efficiency of cost/benefit analysis for solving environment problem. The person seemed to be a well know member of OURANOS, often dealing with municipalities and government. This method has some strong negative aspects, especially when few is known about the environmental problems. In this case, sandbank erosion in Sept-Iles region was in the line of fire. The actions have mostly been undertaken there without the scientific datas, which is great (as if the were precautionnarious), but now that some of these datas are available, they want to execute cost/benefit.

First of all, let’s all agree the cost/benefit analysis is based on a common value, which in this case is money. It enables us to compare cost and returning value of an investment. In a world where money is already use, no problem. Where it becomes difficult, is where we attempt to put a value on a natural system without completely understanding it. Furthermore, things likes species and beauty are hardly moneyable. Converting these value into money deprives the land of it’s original value, as it becomes another number on a listing.

Cost/benefit analysis also has a problem with time for two reasons. For one it is hard to predict what will happen in the future. Nothing protects an area from being blown away by a hurricane. Then it’s bad for the investor. Furthermore, it has problem defining for how long the land will benefit the owners and we hardly ever see a long term cost benefit analysis in environment preservation. Wouldn’t it be logical to apply those lasting benefit to a time period? After all, we do it when we plan on building a dam or a supermarket.

But even then, money has these weird proprieties which makes it hard for investments in the present. The principle of discounting cannot be negleted when applying a cost/benefit analysis. That is caused by the fact that we would rather like to have one dollar today then one + x in a certain amount of time. In the case of environment, it could be centuries or millenas, what man in his right mind would give a dollar to get 10 in an hundred years. Thus a dollar today is worth more then a dollar tomorrow. Therefore, we discount the future value of land to make up for that difference. In economy, this probably makes sense, but in ecology, this is a curse. The land can’t be discounted. Ecological damages functions neglect the fact the land is rare and that reversion the process may be impossible.

Therefore, applying cost/benefit analysis when presenting a protection program the gives me the chill. I do think that it’s important that the problem be acknowledge by the authorities so that they can invest. But cost/benefit has nothing to do with environment, it’s all about maximising benefits. Im not saying that cost efficient methods are exclude from environmental action, simply that we should think before preoritising only those that are economically friendly.

Geo-location for Aeronautical Navigation

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The use of geolocation, in one form or another, is integral to every part of aviation. Furthermore, the need for accuracy and reliability far outstrips that required for navigation on land, or even maritime navigation (whereas a ship will float without fuel, and airplane will remain airborne for a relatively short time). Positional accuracy is also of great importance if any sort of aerial remote sensing is to be done; after all, data is only as accurate as its geospatial reference.

The first, and still a fundamental means of geo-location is termed VFR (Visual Flight Rules) navigation. In essence, this involves flying within sight of the ground at all times. The pilot then uses a VFR navigation chart (also known as a VNC, or a sectional chart), which shows ground elevation, roads, rivers, lakes, power lines, and other such features, to determine where the aircraft is based on what can be seen on the ground in the immediate area. Although it might seem wildly inaccurate, this system has a number of advantages: a paper chart will never malfunction, and it’s often possible to determine your position within several hundred metres. The disadvantages are severe, though: in cases where you need greater positional accuracy, there is no way to obtain it, and it requires that you be able to see the ground at all times. It would also prove quite useless if you wished, for example, to truth the location of any feature displayed on the chart. Clearly, something better is needed.

The NDB (Non-Directional Beacon) is a step in the right direction. It consists of little more than an AM radio station broadcasting a morse-code identifier. The receiver in the aircraft cockpit, termed an ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) uses this signal to determine where the broadcast location (the beacon) is located and shows the heading to the station. This is an extremely common form of instrument navigation, especially in Canada, because of its low cost and long range (like an AM radio station, an NDB signal does not require line-of-sight to the transmitter), but it is still not ideal because of a number of dangerous flaws. Perhaps the most dangerous is that the ADF does not change if the beacon’s signal is lost, requiring the pilot to listen to the morse-code identifier at all times to ensure that the station is still broadcasting. Another danger of NDB navigation is the possibility of drift: assuming there is a crosswind, following the ADF blindly will lead to a curved path, which could cause any number of problems, not limited to controlled-flight-into terrain or the possibility of a mid-air collision.

Based on the signals from two NDBs, it is possible to uniquely determine one’s position within the level of error in an NDB signal (which can be fairly large, depending on atmosphere conditions, and topography). By drawing a line inbound to the two NDBs on the given headings, one can determine that they are located where the lines cross one another. Thus, navigation by NDB assures reasonably high positional accuracy, whatever its other disadvantages may be. It should be noted that any positional or directional determination is done entirely based on the ADF receiver, and does not rely on the data transmitted by the beacon, but rather the transmission itself.

The VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Radio Range) system was designed to compensate for many of the flaws of the NDB. Unlike the NDB, which only transmits a single signal, the VOR beacon transmits two signals: a non-directional reference signal, and a directional signal the rotates at a constant rate of 30 times per second, with the two signals being transmitted at the same time precisely at magnetic north. The VOR receiver in the aircraft uses the phase difference between the two signals to determine the heading to the station. This allows more accurate navigation, because not only does it allow the pilot to determine the heading to the transmitter, it also allows the pilot to determine their deviation from a desired course to the station, making wind drift much more noticeable and easier to correct. The important distinction between the NDB and the VOR is that the signal from an NDB does not contain any inherent positional data, whereas the VOR signal does.

The price paid for this extra capability is high: VOR stations are much more expensive to build and maintain, and are therefore much less common. Additionally, since they operate on VHF frequencies, the receiver and transmitter must be in line-of-sight. It is a nice tool for navigation, but it doesn’t allow much more certainty than the NDB in terms of absolute position. At best, it would allow one to reach a desired absolute position easier than an NDB.

Although you would still require two conventional VORs to determine your position absolutely, some VORs are equipped with a DME (Distance-Measuring Equipment) transmitter that allows a suitable receiver to determine their distance from the beacon. Knowing the distance from a VOR, and the direction to or from the VOR allows one to quickly and accurately determine their position, or locate a desired position, with only one beacon.

Of much more interest to data collectors, and of equal interest to pilots, are Area Navigation (RNAV) systems, which are designed to accurately determine the position of the aircraft at any given time. These are something of a recent innovation, and tend to be much more expensive and/or error-prone than traditional forms of aerial navigation.

The precursor to GPS, called LORAN-C, was the first major attempt at using a such a system for aerial navigation. Like GPS, LORAN-C used signal differences between a number of stations to determine position. Unlike GPS, these transmitters are land-based, meaning that many more stations are required to maintain availability over a given area. Although LORAN-C was not without its problems, it worked reasonably well at its task. It is not, however, accurate enough to allow for precision instrument approaches, with accuracy between 0.1 and 0.25 nm.

The next system is one that everyone knows and loves: GPS. Although one may simply bring a handheld GPS aboard an aircraft to determine their position, a GPS approved for aircraft navigation, although more expensive, is the preferable option, as, by law, it must use some sort of augmentation to achieve the necessary precision to perform a Category 1 Precision Approach (in layman’s terms, being able to guide a plane well enough that a landing is possible with a 200-foot cloud ceiling). This means that, for the vast majority of aerial surveying work, such a GPS will provide an incredibly accurate georeference.

Although this solution provides excellent utility for aerial surveying, it’s still the subject of some debates when in comes to aeronautical navigation. First of all, like any electronic system, it is subject to failure. Additionally, the US military can arbitrarily disrupt service and/or provide erroneous data if they feel it necessary, which is not a particularly comforting thought when you’re flying through a mountain valley using only the position reference from your GPS. For this reason, it’s preferable to plan flights based on conventional navigational aids, using the GPS to augment whatever data you receive through the conventional instruments. There have also been accusations that GPSs make novice pilots lazy, to the point of not having paper charts or reference materials (which is a contravention of the applicable laws), but this can hardly be blamed on a flaw of the instrument itself.

Last, but certainly not least, is INS, or Inertial Navigation System. As they are the most expensive option, they are typically not found on anything smaller than commercial jets. The premise is simple: initialize the system in a known location, and keep track of movement via a system of gyroscopes. As long as the gyroscopes are powered, the Inertial Navigation System is able to provide the location of the aircraft. This system has the advantage of being completely self-contained, and thus not susceptible to disruption of service like GPS; however, it’s also much less likely to be installed on any given aircraft.

So, next time you look at data collected from an airplane, just think about the time and effort spent getting to the location, and figuring out exactly where it is: geo-informational science is at work before the sensors are even turned on!


Canada. Transport Canada. Aeronautical Information Manual. TP 14371E, 2006.
From the Ground Up. Millenium Edition. Ottawa: Aviation Publishers, 2000

An environmentally friendly world, made possible with GIS

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

From another student in Intro GIS

Move over Al Gore. Applications of GIS are saving the planet from imminent environmental disaster too! Recently, in efforts to reduce the estimated 375 000 commuters on the road daily, the Washington D.C. based Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) has improved its system for matching potential car poolers, with help from GIS technology. According to officials, 80 percent of commuters drive to work alone three or more times a week, but only 17 percent use some form of ride sharing (which includes public transit, car pools, walking and bicycling.) The economic and environmental benefits of taking only one commuter per day are enormous: 43 less pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and savings of $26 in overall transportation costs.

A new web site funded by the CTDA, enables commuters to connect with other travelers who are on the same roads each day and interested in ride-sharing while simultaneously saving the environment and reducing traffic congestion. The service is very consumer friendly, allowing details about driving, smoking and gender preferences to be customized. Spatial data comes into play with the free matching system, the central function of the web site. The system allows you to pinpoint information for a physically proximal match before making contact, using data bases with primary keys such as first name or e-mails to guarantee confidentiality. Its geographic system, similar to “Google Maps,” instantaneously identifies and displays a map with potential car-pool matches proximal neighbourhoods or along desired routes.

The implications of this web site are enormous. The average commuter, for some reason or another, tends to have reservations and anxieties toward car pooling, especially with strangers. The effortlessness of finding someone from your neighbourhood who is going the same direction as you means that there is no longer an excuse! Everybody should be able to take at least this one small step toward a more environmentally friendly and economically efficient future of sustainable commuter habits. With the ever rising price of gas and the floundering economy, I guarantee the success of this project, and it’s inevitable duplication in other cities. Good on ya, spatial data!]

[sieber — an eHarmony for carpoolers?]

Fuzzy, four-legged GIS/GPS? Not so fast…

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

from a student in Intro to GIS

Is GPS the next generation’s guide dog? Florida Reading & Vision Technology thinks so. Their latest gadget is BrailleNote GPS, a plug-in for their classic BrailleNote product platform. BrailleNote GPS supposedly enables the visually impaired to “know where you are, where you’re going, and the best way to get there.” Wait—I thought that’s what common sense was for?

Not so fast. For the visually impaired, navigating even simple city streets can present a tremendous challenge. Imagine traversing Montreal with no sense of sight. Suddenly street names vanish, sidewalk curbs become invisible cliffs, and the stray trashcan left outside becomes a dangerous roadblock.

Traditionally these problems have been solved the old-fashioned way: with canes and guide dogs. But while these solutions can help scan the sidewalk for most physical dangers, neither aid in the navigation of street names, directions, or other intellectual data. This is where the BrailleNote GPS steps in.

The BrailleNote GPS enables the user to create routes to destinations and understand the street layout. It keeps track of speed, direction and altitude, and can do things like announce upcoming street intersections and other pertinent data about select points of interest. All of this is done through a cell-phone sized GPS receiver plugged into Florida Reading & Vision Technology’s flagship product, the BrailleNote. When combined with streets maps and other geographic data, the BrailleNote GPS can relay information from satellite signals to calculate precise location information and all this other, specialized information.

You might say this all sounds pretty great, and I would almost agree with you. I like the fact that the BrailleNote GPS solves several key problems, especially that of navigating unfamiliar city streets, announcing street intersections, and creating specialized routes. Yet these are the macro problems the visually impaired face. They are the problems that can be solved rather quickly—for example, by asking other people for street names or directions to a hotel—and all without the $8,000 price tag that comes with all the software.

I think it’s the micro problems that are the worst the visually impaired face. BrailleNote GPS does nothing to help with these. What about the bumps and barriers in the sidewalk that are too small to be caught by the GPS’s approximate two meter accuracy? These random sidewalk obstructions—like other people, debris, trees, fences—pose the worst problems. These are the things that really trip people up. I don’t see us getting by in the future without the old-fashioned way of navigating these barriers (canes and guide dogs) because, quite frankly, GPS will never be accurate enough. Current commercial GPS satellites do not offer a centimeter’s accuracy and consumer devices at this point are incapable of handling that degree of accuracy. And if I’m wrong and this ever changes, you can bet it’s not going to come with a cheap price tag. I think guide dogs and canes are still the most reliable system, maybe supplemented by a handheld in-car navigation GPS (which is much cheaper) to navigate unfamiliar cities. I don’t think the BrailleNote GPS is worth it.

But then again, I’m not blind.

Cuban hurricane risk management; could Western countries learn a thing or two from socialist Cuba?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

On the topic of adaptive management for climate change, I came across an article about Cuba’s hurricane evacuation policy. This article highlights Cuban hurricane management procedures and frameworks, and compares them with those of the United States. I have sent the brief article to you via our McGill emails. The main point is that Cuba has adapted to the high threat of hurricanes and hurricane related disasters (flooding, heavy rains, high winds) in the Caribbean. The number of deaths/ hurricane in Cuba compared to the rest of the Caribbean countries and the United States in significantly lower (there is a chart in the article illustrating this fact with figures). These results are contributed to three major factors: 1. public awareness of hazard risk, 2. public policy commitment, and 3. applied scientific knowledge. Public awareness refers to the citizens’ knowledge of hurricane risk and how to act when a hurricane approaches. Moreover, it reflects the citizens’ personal response to hurricane warnings (i.e. heeding the warning rather than staying at home). Public policy is a unique quality to Cuba due to its long standing socialist government. Cuba;s political structure is relatively stable compared to democratic governments, in the sense that one party is long lived and there are few internal struggles. It is this institutional stability that allows for the implementation and evolution of long-term, practical plans, be they for hurricane risk management, education or health care (all of Cuba is far ahead of the United States). Lastly, applied scientific knowledge, refers to Cuba’s history of meteorological scientific research; during the 19th century the Spanish government and the Catholic Church developed in Havana the first meteorological service in the Caribbean region, around the same time as the Cold War, Cuba became self-sufficient in predicting hurricanes, with a network of hundreds of weather stations.
I will not go into detail about the chain that gets information about hurricane warnings to the Cuban citizens beyond mentioning that when there is a hurricane risk, the warming system is run by the National Defense Council and all media are fully subordinate to this council to broadcast the warnings an instruction to the public (there are no private networks).
I understand that Cuba operates under a system of social, economic and ideological frameworks unique from Western countries, and that these differences pose challenges for implementation of similar hurricane management plans. But, what is stopping Western countries from creating hurricane and other natural disaster adaptation plans that are efficient within their own frameworks? An interesting raised in this article was that Cuba developed such a strong plan out of necessity; Cuba has to be highly concerned about protecting its people due to severe economic constrains imposed by the US embargo. I found this interesting when compared to the damages and lives lost in Hurricane Katrina, where it seemed that human life, at least certain human life, was disposable in the United States (I am sure we are all aware of the demographics of New Orleans and wont dive into this as it is a whole other topic).
This example of hurricane management is the closest thing I have come across for actual policy implications for adapting to environmental disasters, which are set to increase in frequency and severity the world round. I wonder then, could ‘democratic’ developed countries learn a thing or two about environmental and social protection from socialist Cuba?

GIS and Coral Reef Management and Conservation on the American Samoa

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

From another student in Intro GIS.

The independent state of Samoa, located in the South Pacific Ocean, possesses an incredible rich coral reef system. However, the reef is in poor shape because of environmental catastrophes and anthrogenic effects. The reef was damaged not only by the two large hurricanes (Ofa and Val) in the early 1990s, but also by a subsequent infestation of starfish and by coral bleaching. Human impacts–there’s a large footprint in terms of mining, construction, agriculture and sewerage–are also harming the coral reef.

Research to improve the health of the ecosystem are crucial. One big problem of Samoa is its remote location that makes data collection difficult. Researchers at the Oregon State University are currently working on the creation of benthic maps, web-based information System and education modules on GIS for the population of Samoa.

In a presentation, Dr. Dawn Wright, from the Oregon State, explains the use of geospatial technologies on Samoa and their usefulness for reef coral conservation and management. The first important technology is a multibeam investigation to figure out the bathymetry of the coral reef communities. The second technology is GIS, which would permit, as said before, the mapping of resources to improve management and decision-making.

Many reasons promote further research in mapping technologies on Samoa. Researchers like Dr. Wright want not only to identify the geological characteristics of the ocean floor, but also to identify the organisms that live in the Samoan coral reefs environment. Also, an algae bloom was identified in 1996, implying a nutrient boost in the coral reef environment that needs to be identified and monitored. Moreover, it is important to identify which sites are of high importance to prioritize their conservation.

Paving the way for further discussions, Dr. Wright explains that GIS is important because it permits the study of the structure, the change and the function of the coral reefs. This allows for real-time management because of the ability to follow the physical modifications on a regular basis. She also explains that other scientists in other regions were able to analyze coral reef ecology using GIS.

The US Center for Coastal Management and Assessment is tasked with advancing research on coastal and marine ecosystems. (The CCMA is part of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)). Its biogeography branch is tasked with gathering information about living marine habitats, including reefs. The CCMA Biogeography Branch decided in 2004 to map the coral reef and other benthic habitats’ distributions in American Samoa. The project includes a CD-ROM with maps, satellite imagery and GIS technologies. The most recent completed work is impressively precise and detailed. It includes 34 benthic zones with 51 square miles of ocean floor maps.

Moving, Changing Ads: GPS and Buses

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

h/t student in Intro to GIS

Soon, Chicago’s buses will sport 50-inch digital display screens, enticing passerby with geo-specific advertisements that change from street to street. On September 22nd, the Chicago Transit Authority unveiled its 10-year plan in partnership with the advertising sales company Titan Outdoor to implement 1,500 of these “moving billboards” on 100 city buses and in all CTA rail stations. For now, a lone bus on the No. 124 Navy Pier route is testing the system for about another 1.5 weeks (the test began on October 18th, so it will total six weeks in duration). CTA is using this test to get a better idea of the display screens’ durability and power consumption.

The system uses cellular signals to transmit ads directly to the screens, while GPS technology allows advertisers to target their ads towards specific geographic points along a bus route, based on passerby demographics and store locations. For example, as a bus passes by a university, it might flash advertisements for laptops, cell phones, pizza, cheap beer, or whatever else we students are supposed to like. As the bus moves towards a shopping boulevard, ads for handbags and perfumes might prevail. To give you a sense of how detailed the ads could be:

For instance, an ad on the side of the bus for a shoe-store chain could say, “Three blocks ahead: Buy one pair of shoes, get the second pair half off.”

The CTA predicts the initiative will earn them about 100 million dollars in revenue over course of the ten year plan. This is good news for the public transit users of Chicago, because it means that a rise in fares is unnecessary and unlikely in the near future. For those on foot, the experience is a bit less pleasant: I don’t think anyone enjoys feeling categorized, targeted, tracked, and then distracted by carefully chosen advertisements that flash and change as they pass. Oh, the wonders of GPS!

It’s not all about marketing, though. The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications would have access to the screens, and could use them to broadcast Amber alerts, street closings, and emergencies such as fires or floods. In addition to ads, the screens in the CTA rail stations would display when the next train will arrive. So, although the ads are obnoxious, if the test-run proves successful these screens will become an important and efficient source of revenue for the CTA. They will benefit the general public by providing an interface for broadcasting emergencies and practical information across the city.

Maintaining watershed health using GIS, GPS, and Remote Sensing

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

h/t student in Intro to GIS

Two districts in Manitoba are beginning to use GIS, remote sensing and GPS technology to monitor the water availability in their communities. These districts, the West Souris River Conservation District and the Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District are mainly rural farming communities. They plan to use GIS to improve their current watershed management practices. GIS technology also allows them to predict future patterns, which is essential for resource management.

One of the technicians working in the area, Dean Brooker, cites contamination as an issue that can be analyzed using GIS. If the source of the contamination is mapped out, the source can be found and the contamination can be contained.

Watershed health problems also include issues relating to ecosystem health. Brooker is mapping out leafy spurge infestations (i.e., weeds that overtake communities and threaten native species). Without GIS, these would be identified in the field, but with remote sensing can be done remotely. This is much less time consuming and more cost efficient. The area of weed infestation also can be determined.

The two districts have also started conservation programs with Ducks Unlimited to protect wetlands in these areas. GIS programs are used to quickly determine if farmers’ land is indeed wetlands, and whether they are eligible to participate in the conservation program.

The communities are also offering training to employees in GIS programs. They initially expected a low turnout of those interested in the training programs but have had overwhelming interest. Clearly, these employees see the potential use of GIS in maintaining watershed health. Funding for the project was provided by GeoConnections, which promoted this application on their website.

Indicators of regime shifts – potential uses in medicine

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I attended Steve Carpenter’s lecture on Indicators of regime shifts, and was intrigued by the possibility of using those same indicators in medicine. The lecture went to show that there are some indicators which can be used to predict a shift from one stable state (regime) to another. Prof. Carpenter commented on how a change in regimes can be predicted by observing how the indicator measurements change. For example, in the case of shallow waters regime shifts from the clear water state to the turbid state, there is an increase in variance just before the change, and at the critical point the variance would “explode” (calculated mathematically it would approach infinity). Spectra analysis would show the same by shifting to red noise.

The conclusion was that using these indicators for predicting regime shifts, we might stop the process of shifting to an unwanted regime before the point of no return. One of the questions after the lecture was: Can we use these indicators the other way around, predicting the change from an unwanted stable state to a new stable state that we would want? And that’s what got me thinking on some potential uses in medicine.

For example, could we be able to predict if a patient might respond to defibrilation or not? The undesired state in this case would be asystolia  (flat line, when there are no heart contractions) and the other state would obviously be rhythmic cardiac contractions. I think it would be great to be able to tell if the patient is responding or not, because in such cases defibrilation is used more than once (sometimes 3 or more times), while cardiac massage is performed and drugs are injected in an effort to jump-start the heart. If at least in some cases we will be able to see no increase in variance, this might bring the time of attempted ressuscitation down.
Another example I could think of is comatose patients. If we might be able to predict (using increase in variance), that the patient is close to coming out of the coma, it will definitely influence the decisions being taken (such as disconnecting the life-support equipment or allow more time to recovery).

Prof. Carpenter’s answer to this was: “The medical literature that I have read does not say much about potential applications. However I would think that the scientists doing all this sophisticated signal processing are thinking about how the patterns might be used to help people in cardiac arrest
or people at risk of a seizure.”

So things are moving in this direction too, after all. Well, than, this only goes to prove how the different fields come together in terms of using research in a field as a starting point for reasearch in a completely different field.

GIS puts Mineral Titles Online in BC Mining Industry

Monday, November 17th, 2008

In 2005 British Columbia implemented an online system for staking mineral claims, Mineral Titles Online (MTO), which has transformed the province’s mining industry. To stake a claim in the past, miners had to physically go to their desired parcel of land and place posts into the ground outlining the location of their claim. They then had to travel to their local mining recorder’s office to register the claim and pay the appropriate fees. This ground staking system dated back to the gold rush days of the late 19th century when mining meant hardy souls with pick axes à la Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush. These days, however, large multinational mining companies use highly sophisticated technologies to search out new mineral deposits and often they find their claims without ever touching foot to the ground. While ground staking is still used in most Canadian provinces, BC adopted their new online system to be more in touch with the state of today’s technology.
Much of this is thanks to GIS technology and remote sensing (check out ESRI for more info on how GIS is used in the mining industry). MTO uses GIS technology to present miners with an online mapping system from which they can stake their claims from the comforts of their own home with just a few clicks of the mouse. To use the system, a miner–a Free Miner Certificate is required–logs onto the BC government website and opens up MTO. He/she can start by searching for a specific area or claim, or by opening up the online map viewer. This user-friendly map has many familiar built in features such as the scroll, zoom, and mark-up tools. A miner can search the layers of the map by using the ‘Select by Attribute’ function to find the claim or area they are looking for. The map grid itself is based on the NTS series of maps and is broken down into units and then cells, with each cell measuring between 16 and 21 hectares depending on its geographic location.

To register a claim, a miner selects the cell/s on the online map they want and confirms the selection with an electronic payment. This information is automatically and immediately entered in the BC government’s MinFile database as a ‘claimed area’. If you were to go back to the online map, it would now show that cell as being taken with a shaded polygon. No one else could claim that land.

The implementation of MTO has been met with mixed reaction. Most mining companies have welcomed the system. It makes the process of claim staking much easier, more efficient, and reduces costs because miners no longer have to go to the land to stake a claim. However, there is much concern about the negative impacts of the system from environmental groups that fear that MTO will lead to a proliferation of staking, especially ‘nuisance’ staking. Indeed, the number of claims in BC rapidly accelerated when the system came online in January 2005. Even Premier Robert Campbell had his land staked during the online rush. First Nations are especially frustrated because the system does not require a miner to consult with other land users before staking a claim. For a good introduction to their position see this article by the Dogwood Initiative. MTO, through the use of GIS, has undoubtedly changed mining in the province, though it is still up for debate whether this GIS innovation is truly beneficial to society or not.

Animal Cemeteries and Genocide: Cutting Edge Applications of Remote Sensing

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

From a student in Intro GIS.

Most people have had some experience with the products of remote sensing, whether it’s looking at satellite images of landscapes or using Google Earth to pinpoint locations. Few realize the potential magnitude of RS applications. McGill geography professor Margaret Kalacska works at the cutting edge of RS, examining the possibility of using the technology to identify clandestine burials. She has conducted fieldwork in sites as far ranging as Costa Rica, but has recently begun expanding her work to a site within the province of Quebec. This research has led her to an animal cemetery at safari park situated near Hemmingford, about an hour south of Montreal, that a McGill university archaeology course is currently excavating.

What do dead elephants and zebras have to do with finding mass graves? Plenty. Very little research has been done using this particular application of RS. While geographers have used LandSat satellite imagery to examine gypsum concentrations in Iraq as a proxy for sand disturbance (and possibly the existence of graves), the region was far too dangerous for them to go in and test their hypotheses. A limited amount of work has also been undertaken in the former Yugoslavia, due to the presence of clandestine burial there. The countries where the need is greatest are frequently those in which it is most dangerous to conduct actual fieldwork. RS reduces danger to the researchers and streamlines the process of data collection – instead of highly subjective informant interviews and site selection, the use of satellite imagery enables researchers to make extremely objective assessments: either a signal is there or it is not.

Learning what kind of “signal” a grave gives off, however, is precisely what the research at Parc Safari is all about. Kalacska has undertaken similar research in Costa Rica by examining cattle burials, and used RS (specifically field spectrometry and aircraft photography) to differentiate between empty graves and graves full of carcasses due to changes in soil chemistry that resulted from decomposition. However, the burials there were at most 16 months old. The burials at Parc Safari go back at least 40 years, which will enable Kalacksa to determine whether a grave “signal” holds constant over a lengthier period, or decays with time. This information will be invaluable in developing technologies that use RS to uncover clandestine graves. It provides just one demonstration of convergences between GIS/RS and archaeology.

John Snow revisited

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

From another student in the Intro to GIS course.

Isn’t it strange how everything seems to go full circle? Arguably John Snow’s work using maps to figure out the source of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London was the birth of using spatial analysis/maps for anything but figuring out where you are going. Actually, for much of history, maps weren’t even used for navigation by Europeans, the focus only shifting from the sky to the earth in the 1500’s (there is an interesting podcast on this, as well as some pretty obscure, but nonetheless highly interesting alternative uses for the mapping process). But despite this late start to mapping, humans have come incredibly far incredibly rapidly: from John Snow collecting cholera data by going door to door, and mapping by hand, to using Google Earth to predict where an existing outbreak might spread next, and now to predicting outbreaks before they even begin.

Rita Colwell and colleagues at the University of Maryland are working on using geospatial data from satellites to predict cholera outbreaks, even before they occur. This is based on preexisting satellite data on the temperature, height, and chlorophyll concentrations of seawater. The hope that soon satellites will also collect salinity and oxygen saturation, among other variables, which may help improve the model. It is known that as waters warm, phytoplankton flourish, and this is associated with increased outbreaks of cholera. But just how great of a correlation, and how predictions could be bettered, is where GIS comes into play. Colwell correlated the satellite data to cholera case statistics, with the hope of developing a model strong enough to predict up to six weeks of the future.

But as advanced as we may have become, in collecting and projecting data, we still face many of the same problems as John Snow did all those years ago. Back in the days of John Snow, there was no agency collecting outbreak locations, let alone the Internet on which to post them. But despite the fact that we are lucky enough to have such services available to us via the Internet, even if not physically going door to door, researchers have to write letters and emails in order to track down people. And of course there is the always the problem of data integrity: how much can we trust the data from a government disease agency? At least John Snow was collecting the data himself, and thus could trust it as much as he could trust humans to answer faithfully. So it is quite odd how both one of the earliest and one of the latest applications of GIS involves mapping cholera outbreaks, one looking backwards, one looking forwards, and yet we face many of the same problems.

It’s the circle of GIS life.

Differences Aside: Coming Together for a Common Good

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

It has been said, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”; it is a quote that I understand to be an Arabian proverb (  I would argue our “enemy” is environmental degradation.

November 10, 2008, there was the talk given by Rabbi Michael Cohen explaining the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies program.  Here, students come together for the common goal of researching on the environment.  There are tensions in the Middle East, but these students are able to discuss the environment and cooperate together.  The program is a chance for the different nationalities to come together and dispel myths of each other.  Rabbi Cohen suggests the program can function because the students are able to meet fellow citizens, get past labels, build trust and cooperate as a community.  This is made easier by the fact that the students are not in deep city and that the environmental issues transcend any boundaries.

You could pose several questions on the subject of cooperation.  First of all, when working towards a common goal will you always get people who agree with you 100%?  I paraphrase that it was mentioned in the talk that to come about change, you won’t always meet up with people in complete accord.  In my opinion It wouldn’t be a discussion.  And dealing with people who have the same ideas makes the decision process easier, but I’d argue that this lessens the amount of solutions you come by, and increases the possibility you’ll run into an insurmountable brick wall.  What’s absolutely necessary is the ability to still listen to who you do not agree with.

This poses another question.  How do you talk about an issue when facing conflicting insights?  You don’t want to abruptly come across as “I’m right, you’re wrong, and that’s all there is to it.”  Without giving up what you believe, you try to see these questions from the worldview of the person posing it.  Then you attempt to explain how you view the question from your worldview.  Either way you cannot be blinded in your own bubble.  You listen by seeing.

Is it possible to solve the global issue of environmental degradation on your own?  No.  Environmental degradation may have one impact on a certain area of the world and a different impact elsewhere.  Deforestation would increase runoff on hill tops and increase salinization in the valleys down below.  You need the consideration of all who are involved to reach a complete solution.

I’d finally like to comment on whether there are instances when people should not be included in a cooperative effort.  During the question period of the seminar, the issue was raised on receiving funding from an organization, certain members of the talk perceived as racist.  If you disagree with the views of one of your supporters would they be capable of making a decision requiring you to discontinue acceptance of any future funding?  Would this instability still be considered progressive?  Are there any conflicts of interest in cooperation?  Could you still “listen”?

From this blog I hope I have not succeeded in preaching to the choir.  I also hope I have not put words in anyone’s mouth.  What I do hope to achieve is the discussion of the issues of cooperation, especially on an issue as global as the environment.  To add one more cliché to this commentary, two heads are better than one, and working together to help the earth would be better than working alone.

Using GIS to Model International Water Disputes

Friday, November 14th, 2008

From another student in Intro to GIS

GIS offers powerful tools for compiling, visualizing and analyzing potential indicators of international water resource conflict, because it has the capability to incorporate biological, physical and socioeconomic data. (Yoffe & al, 2004: 5)

Since its invention and particularly in the two last decades, GIS usages have increasingly turned toward social applications, examples being the use of GIS for census and market analysis. One very interesting social application has been the recent use of GIS to model current and possible future conflicts around transboundary waters. The scale of the issue is such that concrete empirical data over international water conflicts have been totally absent until very lately; the area of conflicts is usually perceived as pertaining to political/human sciences more than to applicable sciences. Fortunately, Yoffe & al. (2004) were able to combine both topics intelligently. Integrating temporality by looking at past conflicts over time, they joined physical data (climatology/precipitations and local versus international basins delineation by overlaying them to nations) to sociological ones (institutional capacity, internal disputes, international treaties ratified). These data were gathered in the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD) and its Transboundary Freshwater Spatial Database. From there, the scholars were able to analyze and model probable conflicts around international watersheds.

However, some challenges remain for such modeling to be truly representative. The first challenge is very common to new GIS topics; it is the lack of hydropolitical and watershed data. As Yoffe & al. mentions, the only available hydropolitical data – provided by the Data Development International Research (DDIR) and other databases – only concern past conflicts, not past cooperative situations. Moreover, available data on conflicts are not specific to water but rather refer to general military issues (Yoffe & al., 2004: 3). Therefore, many data used to build the TFDD and draw conclusions regarding water conflicts are not primary; instead, they are derived from primary and even from secondary data. Indeed, while they were compiled with care, this kind of data leads to a lot of uncertainty regarding analysis. This uncertainty could be problematic in the eventuality that such modeling is used in institutional decision-making and interventions to prevent conflicts.

A second problem lies in the technical limitations of the TFDD website, which does not allow interactive consultation of the data. For instance, it is impossible to overlay spatial data to the tabular ones and to the hydropolitical data on the website. Therefore, for the TFDD to be used at its full potential, it would be pertinent to develop a user-friendly interactive tool that would let users to enter some spatial and attribute data, and would allow them to interpret and use data.

Still, the biggest problem probably lies in the little interest around the issue of international waters. However, this will be corrected most likely within the next 25 years as water scarcity is expected to increase and so are conflicts around the resource.

In sum, from this article, it appears obvious that GIS has large potential to help finding locally adapted solutions to global problems of water scarcity. Other possible areas of GIS research relating to water scarcity could be the modeling of virtual water (water traded through food importations) or of soil water (water available to plant through soils). Virtual and soil waters are also recent concerns and, again, data are almost nonexistent. For instance, in addition to knowing soils type in different regions, determining soil water at a global scale would more importantly require knowing soils volume, and modeling erosion and soils displacements over time, among other things. Obviously, these issues are complex. However, if challenges can be overcome, a geospatial analysis and modeling of virtual or soil waters could help determining which areas are the most sustainable ones for agricultural purposes from a water scarcity perspective. Once again, it would probably allow avoiding some conflicts over water.

For more information on GIS and international water conflicts:
Yoffe, S., G. Fiske, M. Giordano, M. Giordano, K. Larson, K. Stahl, and A. T. Wolf (2004), Geography of International Water Conflict and Cooperation: Data Sets and Applications, Water Resources Research, 40.

Wolf, A. T., S. B. Yoffe and M. Giordano. (2003) International waters: identifying basins at risk. Water Policy 5: 29–60.

For more information on virtual water and soil water:
Allan, J.A. (2007). Beyond the Watershed: Avoiding the Dangers of Hydro-Centricity and Informing Water Policy. In Hillel Shuval & Hassan Dweik (Eds.), Water Resources in the Middle East:Israel-Palestinian Water Issues – From Conflict to Cooperation. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer, pp. 33-39.

For more information about the use of GIS for water resources:
David R. Maidment (2002). ArcHydro: GIS for Water Resources, available as a Google Book.

Performance Art: Subversion, Activism and GPS

Friday, November 14th, 2008

From a student in our Intro to GIS course:

In 2007 three artists living in the country of Slovenia officially changed their name to Janez Janša. Janez Janša is the name of the country’s Prime Minister, a right wing politician who is hostile towards any opposition. On January 28th 2008, the group performed Signature Event Context’s as part of transmediale 08, a Berlin festival that focuses on the digital arts. The performance took place at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. During the event, each of the artists was equipped with a GPS device, and walked through the memorial while repeating the mantra “Jaz sem Janez Janša, Jaz sem Janez Janša, Jaz sem Janez Janša…” (My name is Janez Janša”).

The performance is available online. Since it would be hard to decipher the movements live, video on the webpage offers a planimetric view of the event. First, it locates the site with a “polygon of action” that is supplemented with longitude and latitude locations. With the aid of video cameras, GPS receivers, and Google Earth we can trace the artists’ paths through the memorial. Each artists’ path is highlighted in green. The final result is a signature, the trace of the creators, the name “Janez Janša”.

The title of the event comes from Jacques Derrida’s essay “Signature Event Context.” The group posts this quote on their website to explain their performance:

By definition, a written signature implies the actual or empirical nonpresence of the signer. But, it will be said, it also marks and retains his having-been present in a past now, which will remain a future now, and therefore in a now, in general, in the transcendental form of nowness (maintenance). This general maintenance is somehow inscribed, stapled to the present punctuality, always evident and always singular, in the form of the signature. This is the enigmatic originality of every paraph. For the attachment to the source to occur, the absolute singularity of an event of the signature and of a form of the signature must be retained: the pure reproducibility of a pure event.(Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context” in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass, pp. 307-330)

The group claims that the memorial event puts together three concepts (signature, event and context), which “re-contextualizes the site of signature.”

In relation to their name change and the site of the performance, the meaning of the event is complex. Memorials are supposed to engage each individual in the act of remembering. What happens when three artists collectively sign their name at such a significant place? How and where is the original Janez Janša implied? What meaning are Internet viewers supposed to draw? Our own interpretation of the work is mediated by technology. Antonio Caronia notes that in this case, technology has the semiotic function, because the realization of the concept of identity (the signature) is closely related to the virtual world. In effect, the performance of the three Janez Janšas “places in doubt the basis of everyone’s social and individual identity and wants to deeply investigate on the social conventions that constitute and decode it, aiming at unearthing those processes which lie on the border between mind and society.”

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.

Bridging science and religion

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

On November 10th, I attempted Rabbi Michael Cohen’s lecture on the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. It was the first time this semester that we assist to a seminar that was not presented by a doctor or a researcher, which really made quite a change. The tone used during this conference was quite different from we had seen before. Rabbi Cohen didn’t use graphics or data to present us a certain situation, on the contrary, I felt like he was telling us a story.

But one of the more unusual aspect of this lecture was the fact that he it was given by a rabbi. All the lecturers that I have seen so far did show up wearing a scientist hat; I was not able to tell what their religious or political beliefs were. At the beginning of the presentation, Rabbi Cohen affirmed that he had just published a novel about bridging religion and environment, which I thought was a very interesting issue.

I found this great article about the controversial relation between science and religion on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article begins by defining science and religion. The author reports the definition given by Jacques Monod (a French biologist that worked at the Pasteur Institute): ” The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective…. In other words, the systematic denial that ‘true’ knowledge can be got by interpreting nature in terms of final causes …”. Further explanation given in the article includes that science is “the absence of moral judgement, or value judgement”. Thus, science seems to be diametrically opposite with the nature of religion, which is basically all about beliefs. In what we can call pure science, beliefs are not accepted; to be considered credible, a new theory has to be based on data and supported by the scientific community. Is it possible, than, to consort religious beliefs and pure science?

War and Peace (sorry Tolstoy, I have borrowed your title)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

The evening of 10 November 2008 a group of us attended Dialouge Group Montreal’s with guest speaker Rabi Michael Cohen. Rabi Cohen is co-founder and recruitment director of The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Kibbutz Ketura, Israel. Rather than discuss The Arava Institute I would like to focus on war, racism and peace as being interconnected with environment. Deterioration of environmental processes and services influence conflict between vying nations, just as states of war and/or peace influence environmental preservation or drive environmental destruction.

Environmental resources and deterioration have historically and will continue to be a source of conflict. After WWI, maps of Europe were re-drawn to compensate and punish ally or axis countries. Ocean ports for trade, agricultural land, culturally significant land and coal mines each had tremendous influence over establishing the new boundaries. In turn, the value and relative shortage of these environmental resources and services became a source conflict (driving economic depression, fear and/or revenge in various countries), and contributed to the beginning of WWII. Currently, wars and ‘peace keeping missions’ are fought over oil, a finite natural resource, but also over a plethora of other natural resource, ecosystem services and culturally/religiously significant land. The current water crisis is projected to worsen and quickly rise to the leading instigator of war around the world. As Rabi Cohen mentioned and I strongly agree; environment, (for example think of salt and fresh water systems and water cycling) knows no boundaries, does not discriminate and does not change course according to human ethics, law, politics or arbitrary borders.

War has devastating impacts on the war field; the natural environment. These impacts are not contained to the conflict zone but alter ecosystem functions on a wider scale and often trigger a cascading assault on environment in various locations. During WWI, for example, vast old growth forest were logged to construct mask and hulls of ships, and the shortage of food in France and England led to the conversion of North American prairie to wheat fields, eventually tipping the prairie ecosystem to collapse, otherwise known as the Dust Bowl. Looking back, we have been able to calculate the approximate damage of the WWI and WWII on the natural environment, but what will be the cost of current and future conflicts as warfare and weapons continue to evolve?

A prevalent and interrelated issue that was raised throughout The Arava Institute seminar was that of racism. Israel, Palestine, and Jordan all share a common land, contribute to the same environmental problems (significantly pollution of the Jordan River) and must work collectively to reverse these problems and preserve their shared remaining natural environment. However, racial and religious prejudice and stereotypes are conceptually rooted in religion-based worldviews that extend into far history, not in a modern environmental worldview.

Considering the detrimental environmental impacts of war and racism above and beyond human impacts, peace becomes crucial for a sustainable world. The influence of peace on the restoring and preserving and environment in the Middle East has huge potential. One example jumps to mind; Canada and the United States, living ad working in peace, have been able to jointly manage The Great Lakes ecosystem; working to reduce pollution, restore and preserve the lakes and their watersheds. Although The Great Lakes bi-national project has not been completely successful (The Great Lakes are still heavily polluted, support less diversity and perform fewer ecosystem services compared to their natural state) it has certainly benefited the lakes. It seems logical that a multinational approach to managing, restoring and protecting the Jordan River would increase the quality of water and than decrease tensions over water resources….but how can this begin without peace in the area? Peace is crucial for environmental restoration and preservation, but how and at what stage is it best incorporated into environmental management? Is peace required as a precursor to effective collaborative environmental preservation? Will peace arise while working across borders to preserve environment? Or is preserving the environment, thus reducing natural resource (especially water) scarcity, required first in order to achieve peace?

Science and politics; an unavoidable marriage ?

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

We have been talking a lot about whether or not scientists should be activists (even though our definitions of activism seemed to differ), but we didn’t talk about the role politics have to play in science, and the role science has to play … in politics.

It seems to me that those two spheres can hardly be separated. After all, the major part of funding that scientists receive comes directly from the government. The government itself make statements all the time by deciding to fund some specific researches over others. Thus, if we agree on the idea that science cannot happen without the financial input of politics, are we willing to consider that scientists should implicate themselves in public politic debates to ensure the viability of their funding ?

In September 2008, the journal Nature published an editorial where the total absence of science in the electoral campaign was deplored. In the article, the journal reports that “many Canadian scientists are seeing, and complaining about, an undue emphasis on commercially focused research over long-term basic research” (Nature, 2008). Isn’t it a good example of an appropriate moment for scientists to become activists ? Don’t you think scientists have to react when the quality of their research is jeopardised by bias in the way funds are attributed ? Obviously, some scientists thought it was a real problem cause they signed the petition i vote for science ( where a public statement about their views on environment, health, science and technology was required from politicians.

I personally assume that if scientist depend on the government’s funding, they have an obligation, both as citizens and as professionals, to implicate themselves in political debates.

On the other hand, I am wondering if politics need science. In march 2008, the Office of National Science Advisor, that was previously created during the last liberal mandate, has been abolished by the Conservative government. The role of the office was basically to advise the Prime minister on different issues concerning science and technology, and to counsel the government on how it can “better support and benefit from science conducted inside government” (Industry Canada, 2008). In my personal opinion, the Conservative party sent a message that it does not need science when it got rid of this office. I am asking you this question, colleagues, as researchers, are we willing to accept that science is push aside from politics ? Do you think that scientists should be more implicated on public debates ? Or do you think that science and politics should be completely separated ?

I won’t comment but … ;)

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Never say Never, this is soooo classic… I put often myself in trouble when I am saying that. haha!  I sent an email to you guys last week mentioning that I would not comment on the seminar/debate that I went too (The Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium Series-Origin of Ethics given last Thursday, November 6th 2008).  I know… It will not count as an essay or comment for 650 because I was alone of our class. Anyway, this is not where I want to go.

This morning, I had suddenly inspiration and thought that it would be relatively important to share the stuff that I had in mind with you!  The inspiration came from the Today (Saturday November 8th 2008) Montreal Gazette’s front page where you can read an article on the ECO-SYSTEM ECOLOGY + ECONOMY.  Our professor at McGill, Dr. Peter G. Brown, is cited in many places in this article and he suggested that we should take advantage of the current financial crisis to change our current economic system to a more efficient one, the “environmental economics”.  Simply because our planet is finite and not infinite as most economists think.

The link that I would like to make here with the debate (Origin of Ethic) is the fact that one debater proposed a solution about a problem raised by Peter Brown in the Montreal Gazette’s article.  Dr. Brown explained that the failure of Dion’s Green Shift has been caused by the Free Rider problem “where people don’t want to pay for something that benefits everybody.   

The solution proposed by the debater was simple.  Professor Mafred Milinski (Executive Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön, Germany) observed a similar phenomenon (Free Rider).  He suggested that this behaviour partially explained the Tragedy of the Common phenomenon (Hardin 1968) where free access to a public resource leads to overexploitation and therefore collapses.  Dr. Milinski’ words were “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”.  The solution came from one of his experiments (Milinski et al. 2006).  Dr. Milinski did an experiment about preserving the global climate as a public good.  His “game” was to compare who would cooperate and who will not (saving the public good).  He found that humans are prepared to give (e.g. money) to people as long as they have positive reputations of helping.  This is similar to the indirect reciprocity phenomenon which state that “Give and you shall receive” (Nowak and Sigmund 2005).  He also observed that people who gave money were people who were well informed in climate research.  He also mentioned that reliable expert information has an effect too.  This effect is even more important when the information is public (recognisable by everyone).  Investments or donations on the climate change problem can increase when people can see them, can recognise them.  Do not be an anonym person when you make donations!  Finally, he concluded by mentioning this: 

“Humans are prepared to behave altruistically when they know that it can be recognized and when they gained in other situation by this value that they can transfer from one situation to the next which is reputation.  As soon as the reputation comes in, in a moment, people switch from selfish behaviour to altruistic behaviour. ”

Interesting, don’t you think?



If you want to read the Montreal Gazette’s article (free = you need VPN connection), go… McGill Website/ clic Library and Collection tab/ clic Newspapers/ clic Pressdisplay/ Select Montreal Gazette and go to the article by knowing that it is published Saturday Nov 8th 2008.


Literature Cited


Hardin, G. 1968. Tragedy of Commons. Science 162:1243-&.

Milinski, M., D. Semmann, H. J. Krambeck, and J. Marotzke. 2006. Stabilizing the Earth’s climate is not a losing game: Supporting evidence from public goods experiments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103:3994-3998.

Nowak, M. A. and K. Sigmund. 2005. Evolution of indirect reciprocity. Nature 437:1291-1298.