Harnessing digital media to combat climate change

posted by Patrick on 1st Nov 2010

We took part in Rewired State's Hack Day hosted by the Guardian this weekend. As climate data geeks we wanted to join forces with others who are using data, programming wizardry and the wide array of digital media to make a difference.

The list of the weekend's creations is available here. Our project, the Carbon Geiger Counter, is a mobile phone application that combines GPS information about your current location with our data set of Europe's biggest emitters of CO2, alerting you of any in your vicinity.

Carbon geiger screenshot

Why this project?

Well, we wanted something that would help educate people about the biggest sources of emissions and inform them of the fact that these large polluters are now subject to legal caps. Many projects in the energy and climate field tend to focus on the emissions individuals can directly control. This is great and there were some exciting new projects developed this weekend that will help encourage us all to save carbon.

Our only concern is that there is a limit to how much of the problem you as an individual actually can control - a basic level of energy consumption is always going to be necessary and it makes life easier and more fun. If we were to focus exclusively on personal action then there is also a danger that we let policy makers and companies off the hook. When it is precisely this group of people who can take actions to make the biggest difference.

A metaphorical stroke of a pen in London and Brussels can effectively cause or prevent millions of tonnes of emissions entering the atmosphere. This is thanks to existing laws which cap half of our co2 emissions - from power stations and factories. But too few people are aware that this legal tool to reduce emissions even exists. And sadly since the lobbying from industry has been fierce the result is caps that are too loose.

We have been producing maps of all the polluters subject to caps for a couple of years now and we felt it was time to put this information into people's pockets. Future development plans include adding a campaigning action to the app so people unhappy about the current situation can tell their elected leaders. We're also thinking of adding the option to enable people to buy up and destroy the legal permits that allow these mega-polluters to carry on.

The Hack Day was a great experience and we'd like to thank Sam Smith and the rest of the Rewired State team for organising it. We'll be watching with interest how the various projects proceed and hope to have a working version of the Carbon Geiger Counter available soon. In the meantime any developers interested in getting involved can check out the Google Code project page and please do get in touch.

Carbon pollution isn't yet seen in the same light as radiation pollution but who knows one day it may be - and exposing who's responsible will be an important tool for civil society to demand action to counter this threat.

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