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Open Source and Climate Change


There is something missing when talking about climate change and open source?

There are some ways to look at climate change and its unknown aspects. Quite a few Western governments are gambling on developing a dogma of a “top on down view” of the issue. Two current doctrines being put forward are by western nations are Information for Decision-Making and Participation (from chapter 40 of UN Agenda 21) and the UN’s Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. All the time, quietly backing this up is an arsenal of command and control tools for the world’s civilian electronic communications by the NSA and friends, and the planned use of military efforts overseas to deal with problems. That’s one viewpoint put forward.

It’s like a Hollywood make-believe movie: make-believe and planning for the unknown are miles apart, sometimes not even on the same map. One of the very few ways to meet the challenges of climate change and its unknown aspects is to use democracy. Not a “top on down view” of the issue, like a totalitarian state would have, or a country that is democratic in name only. But a democratic view in that people of local communities around the world—developing, less-developed and developed—can understand what is at stake in their own environment and local weather climates.

This is where grass-roots democracy meets up with open source technology. We need to rethink how to face climate change head on, both with the use of a political system and a way we use technology. The era of one set of nations with satellites, planes and ships gathering information to suggest to other nations what to do is over; this is the last vestiges of colonialism. Even with the best of intentions, this does not work well. We need to equip people around the world with new types of easily deployed and operated open source turn-key systems that can be used for understanding of local climate and environmental changes taking place: local groups of academics, scientists, citizen scientists, journalists, environmental hackers, communities from the DIY and Maker movements. This will let local buy-in and a grass-roots effort develop around the world to help make the needed hard decisions and changes.

This is where we need to step out of our self-defined silos of likes, dislikes and friends and start moving across boundaries, barriers and disciplines to set up common goals. In this, the truest form of democracy, we will bring people together for a common purpose, to face the challenges that climate change promises head on. For those in technology it means moving past the isolation of profession and technical skill to support that common purpose with technology; in this case, open source. This issue of isolation is at many levels. In the last few months I have tried to show a few federal agencies how an open source company could be used to deal with climate change. In one RFI, letter, proposal and email after another, these federal programs have said it is unworkable.

Attempts for an open dialog with members of a technical committee mandated to develop the infrastructures and data management systems for the controlling international funding agencies on climate change work has fallen on death ears. Even an American local open source incubator and open source technology-oriented foundation in the UK could not be persuaded out of their strict mindset. To them, the idea of a for-profit company selling open source technologies and services to people in developing and less-developed countries off of a website, let alone for use in climate change and environmental allied work, was too much science fiction. For many official organizations, this is too radical a departure from the two current doctrines being put forward. Like a Hollywood movie, their steadfast commitment to a standard way of dealing with the unknown is remarkable.

I find my voice joining past article writers before me—Mark Charmer, Jason Bake, Jason Hibbets and Roger Burkhardt—in calling for the use of open source in climate change. But, unlike them I realize that this is an uphill fight; at this stage it is a guerrilla war at best. The current entrenched view of what to do about climate change was developed by political leaders and technocrats for other political leaders and technocrats. Why do I list democracy along with open source as the answer? Democracy, like open source, guarantees open access to all, where the best and most workable ideas come from all levels. The best examples of this are closest to home and can be found in how open source user and developer communities work. Climate change is like the unknown: we ether change in advance of the challenges or the challenges will change us and not for the best.

Robin E. Haberman
Acting Project Manager for the GMIBS Project, inc.
A developer of open source tools for climate change.

Reference sources:
2015: The year the UN resets the count
Posted 07 Jan 2015 by Mark Charmer

Back to school with GRASS GIS
Posted 18 Sep 2014 by Jason Baker (Red Hat)

How the open source culture could impact climate change
Posted 07 Sep 2010 by Jason Hibbets (Red Hat)

Why Open Source and Open Standards are Essential to Combat Disastrous Global Climate Change
Posted 02 Feb 2010 by Roger Burkhardt

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