Or if climate change happens in a vacuum, does anybody care?
Climate data is a critical weapon in the fight for sensible carbon-reduction policies—and the clean energy industry is at risk of being de-weaponized under the new administration.
Think back to An Inconvenient Truth a decade ago: Al Gore’s wakeup call to the planet gained attention less because of his passion, and more because the hockey stick C02 chart shook many people out of their indifference. Data not only made it clear there was an issue, but also gave birth to groups such as 350.org, named for the parts per million of CO2 that we should keep below—a goal that has since been recast as the level we should aspire to return to.
The media and clean energy interests have already weighed in on the potential fate of the EPA under climate denier Myron Ebell or the wilderness under drill-baby-driller Sarah Palin. Now, we need to discuss the risk faced by climate data sources.
Fundamental climate data is at risk under the new administration. The fossil fuel-funded politicians have had the government agencies collecting the data in their sights for years, and the new leadership has essentially declared an open season on transparency. Data collected by NASA and NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in particular make up the stethoscope through which we monitor the planet’s pulse. Without facts on greenhouse gases, temperature changes, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, it’s hard to make the case for urgent action. And in a period when many of those upward trends are turning exponential, silencing the truth-tellers is even more dangerous.
Without facts on greenhouse gases, temperature changes, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, it’s hard to make the case for urgent action.And it’s not only government organizations that are at risk. Non-profits such as Climate Central not only depend on streams of data from the various government agencies already discussed, but also are funded in part by grants from a wide range of government organizations ranging from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and NASA. Organizations such as Climate Central, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), and many others, play a vital role in aggregating the various data sources and analyzing them to draw out broader trends.
Climate data is a public good, an asset that we all benefit from as it gives the insights needed to make sensible carbon policy. We could argue it’s time for a private sector companies to take on climate’s big data challenge—if they don’t, will we be left fighting blind in the decades to come—and there are many companies that have a vested interest in doing so. But those same companies won’t have a vested interest in sharing that data. In the hands of insurance companies, it’s the key to pricing risk. In the hands of agriculture companies, it’s the key to food supply. In the hands of military contractors, it’s the key to regional stability. Unless a neutral, and deeply trusted, company exists, any data produced privately will be as suspect as the tobacco-funded cancer studies of the 1950s.
Last night, I attended a talk on innovation in our post-election world by Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, a state that would be the world’s sixth largest economy were we a separate country. He spoke of the need for California to step in and step up in places where the next president is taking the nation in a different direction. California can be party to its own climate agreements with other nations even if Trump’s administration backs out of the Paris Accord.
I challenge Gavin Newsom, challenge California, and challenge the big data companies born in Silicon Valley to step in and step up. Rally together. Form an independent, data-driven, globally accessible information source that can’t be defunded at the whim of a politician on the Big Oil payroll. Lets protect climate data insights. Our future depends on it.
Copyright Deborah Knuckey, 2016
I'm passionate about sustainable architecture + energy + food and how advances in their technology can help save the planet.