Winds of change: can crowdsourcing help solve environmental problems?December 8th, 2011 by Ville Miettinen
This time last year, we wrote a blog about some crowdsourcing projects designed to improve our understanding of environmental issues, including climate change. Basically, while there were some good projects, we felt that the crowd had a lot more to offer. One year later, has much changed?
These location-based apps basically allow people to report on their local weather conditions (a service which is incredibly useful for those people out there who really want to know what the weather outside is like, but can’t be bothered looking out the window). Needless to say, although complaining about the weather is fun, it’s hard to imagine a more pointless use of crowd-power.
Time for a cool change?
Thankfully, the Guardian has come up with something similar, but potentially a lot more useful. It has asked people to report anything unusual about the environment in their area. From spring Coral Bells flowering in Dorset in the UK, to mosquitoes outstaying their welcome (is a mosquito ever welcome?) in Berlin, the results were compiled to create an interactive map of meteorological weirdness.
Of course the Guardian’s research has its shortcomings too. Claims can’t be verified, meaning hoaxsters (or those people who can’t be bothered looking out the window) could potentially skew the data. But if we assume that no one wants to sabotage the experiment with false sightings of wild primroses (which seems unlikely), the information collected should create a useful record for climate scientists. It won’t save the world, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Our (always biased) view is that much like the sun’s rays and the force of the wind, the power of the crowd is likely to be increasingly important in efforts to preserve our environment. But, just like alternative sources of energy, harnessing it so that it delivers reliable, useful results, can be difficult. We need some more ambitious ideas.
If you know of any crowdsourcing projects succeeding (or failing) to help the environment, please join the discussion below.