Saturday, February 21, 2009

Can information and communication technology help us save the planet?

We believe that it can as highlighted by an article published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Here is the basic problem: the planet is changing. Very rapidly. Scientists call it the Anthropocene - the most recent period in the Earth's history when activities of the humans have a significant global impact on the Earth's climate and ecosystems.

The challenge is that existing monitoring systems are not at all in tune with the speed of social, economical and ecological changes. The implication: rapid and often irreversible loss of ecosystem services vital for human well-being and security for example, clear water, food from marine resources and agricultural landscapes, and mitigation of natural hazards. 

Meanwhile, the development of informal communications and information sources across the internet offers a novel source of monitoring data to track, identify and perhaps even foresee vital changes in ecosystem services. For example the potential for webcrawlers to detect disease outbreaks based on news reports on the web has already been demonstrated. We explore the potential for similar technologies to revolutionize ecological monitoring.

We need your ideas, comments and experience. Where in the world do you see this application as possible? For what ecosystems? What ICT tools are out there that could be applied to make better use and sense of "data mining"? Would you like to collaborate? Contribute to this emerging debate by adding your expertise, tips, links and innovative ideas here

The best contributions will be presented - as a start - at a session of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, Oxford, 25-27 March 2009.

Read the article, and contribute to an emerging discussion about how ICT can help us prepare for the challenges of a turbulent future.


  1. Here is one example provided by one of our colleagues in Oxford. It deals with early warning systems for destructive and surprising outbreaks of forest fires:

  2. When it comes to software I think it could be a good idea to have a look at the Sensemaker Suite ( by Cognitive Edge.
    Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge, has some really interesting ideas about complex, adaptive systems and he has gone from theory to practice when it comes to what he calls "horizon scanning", combining qualitative and quantitative approaches in an interesting way.


  4. While I welcome this avenue of inquiry, I am a little disappointed that you have not more effectively carried out this research already. We at Ecological Internet -- -- have been crawling the web to construct the world's first and only true green web search engines since 1999. The research was the topic of my phd. I encourage you to visit these sites which do precisely what you have proposed, and have done so with support from the MacArthur Foundation and Google Grants for over a decade. Try out the search engines. We would welcome collaboration with your fledgling effort.

    Warm regards,
    Dr. Glen Barry

    Ecological Internet's projects include:

    EcoEarth.Info -- http://www.EcoEarth.Info/
    Climate Ark -- --
    Water Conserve --
    Rainforest Portal --
    Ocean Conserve --
    My.EcoEarth.Info --
    New Earth Rising (new e-zine) --