What does it take to empower citizens vv climate change?

Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency asks How do we empower citizens in the face of climate change?.

People power is at the heart of the effort to beat climate change, says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency. In this week’s Green Room, she says that the task is so great, and the timescale so tight, that we can no longer wait for governments and businesses to act.

To address this urgent need the European Environment Agency (EEA) is working with the European Union, developing new systems to engage citizens as suppliers and users of environmental data.

I think this is a fantastic initiative but this is going to be more challenging than EEA thinks. Especially if they wish to tie this to citizen empowerment–significant ability for citizens to influence the direction of science and policy. The data requires a great deal of formal coordination. You don’t want to dump any scientific observation into one general site. The reporting needs to be structured and tailored to specific scientific problems. As we’ve seen in species sites (e.g., e-flora) you may need genus and species names. Water quality reporting may require flow rate, sedimentation and temperature readings.

All science is not equal: citizen engagement with atmospheric science is not going to be as easy as biological reporting. No disrespect to biology. Indeed, I think it’s a credit to biology that there’s greater citizen understanding of that set of scientific practices. A lot of training is needed to correctly report the science. Brian Klinkenberg reports that different strategies are needed for errors in location reporting versus errors in content (attribute) reporting. Providing the correct taxonomy alone is challenging. Brian reports that citizens get the number of spots–the species id–on a ladybug wrong 70% of the time. Even providing observations on water/beach conditions is hard. We can use all the tech we want. Uploading photos to a website alone; this does not equal empowerment.

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