Imagine the great data sets measuring the life support systems of the planet communicating freely with each other, accessible to the public, supplemented and enriched by crowd-sourced material and constantly generating the kind of analyses that problem solvers around the world could use to find solutions to our most intractable public goods dilemmas.
A big open data system on the environment is achievable. Such a system could provide a service to governments around the world while making them more accountable to citizens. It could provide reliable performance indicators for corporate responsibility. It could aid the effort to re-assess the meaning of competitiveness in a world of resource scarcity and potential conflict. This is particularly clear in the case of the energy-water-food security nexus. It could provide credible and reliable data upon which to base campaigns, validate claims, settle disputes, market products and test theories in both the social and physical sciences. Many creative ideas, including where art meets science, will circulate around the system; we will better visualize where and how we live.
There is a craving for better international institutions to manage these vital public goods, however before that craving is satisfied, better information and superior knowledge is required. Assembling the best intellectual and functional resources to build an open data system to enhance our capacity to measure true sustainability will be a powerfully positive contribution to the global effort to address climate change, habitat and species loss, fresh water availability, fish stock collapse and the like.
The effort may itself become a public goods enterprise; a private enterprise, blending the resources and expertise of business, government, academia and civil society, specifically dedicated to deliver public good. If successful, it will increase the odds that society will find attractive outcomes to systemic risk posed by environmental harms. We all know more than we think we do. If we can pool this information, encourage radical cooperation and accelerate the learning process, the effect will be extraordinary. It’s an exciting prospect and work has begun.
Image: Researchers use experimental technology to improve their understanding of data on cloud formations. CLOUDS-CLIMATE/ REUTERS/Jerry Lampen/Files