Carbon as a basis for data extraction cost

How do you create an information economy?  What is the relationship between the carbon emitted to gather data, or experience other places–tourism–and the potential for a community to create an information economy?  How do you begin to understand and account for the expenditure of carbon in our current paradigm? Now if I understand information in the broadest sense, there are many manifestations. One of the most prominent is scientific data.  A tremendous amount of resources are used to collect this data. The activity of the data collector, their will and desire for some given data drives the quest.  So I thought a place to begin might be to consider another side of “environmental economics”–the carbon emitted to extract data. 

I’m not trying to pick on the scientific community or the activity of collecting scientific data–but rather to use it as an example to understand and initiate a paradigm shift in taxation. Lets take the Galapagos islands of Ecuador as an example. Often referred to as the home of the idea of evolution, this tiny place is the focus of tremendous amounts of data extraction. Of course the scientists are not alone in their extraction activity, tourists are equally vigorous in their attention. These days, even when a scientist visits they are participating in so-called sustainable tourism. But the cost to the ecosystems which are the subject of all this attention is not really accounted for in terms of carbon.

There are many new carbon calculators popping up on web sites.  And you can purchase off sets for your travel.  But what would be the total carbon emitted for an individuals visit to the Galapagos? The taxi ride to the airport, the flight, the electrical bill at the hotel, the food consumed along the way, how about the the tour boat to scoot around the island? As far as I know all septic in the Galapagos are straight piped into the sea, so there is an additional consideration, not really carbon I suppose.  And then you return and retrace this journey of exhaust, laden with pictures or measurements.

The ecosystem impacted has its human dimension and an infrastructure emerges to service this activity–the tourism industry.  Many economies are based on this. Now if I consider the carbon cost to the ecosystems of the Galapagos there is a huge imbalance.  Not only is the survival of the biome itself being threatened but the people who service this activity are getting crumbs compared to the value of the data and the carbon it cost to collect or experience it. The scientist clearly adds value to the data because of its use and their intention– the analysis.  The tourist’s experience also adds value and extends the ‘data’ of the journey.  Yet in terms of the sustainability of the biome and the income of the people who inhabit it, the true cost is not accounted for.

Now I want to take a little leap.   In the richness of the world there are many places–all places?– where many of us would love to share the content. Our motivations could differ depending on the intent–the tourist, the scientist, the politician, the reporter, the cultural connoisseur, the educator and student all have reasons to want content from other places.  There are many possibilities for ‘data entrepreneurs’ to create information, or reveal and develop content that would be of interest as well– With the advent of ICT and wireless remote communication devices any place you could imagine is accessible. What I’m suggesting is that each local community ‘mine’ their data and retain a creative commons type of ownership of it, charging for access to it. The basis for the price would be the carbon not expended to gather or extract it.  Then if someone was bound and determined, or had a compelling reason to go to the places to experience or gather specific information, they would be taxed for the carbon it did cost to access this data.

To keep my mineral metaphor going, there are many by products from this. The one that strikes me is the transfer of human capacity building. If the scientist was interested in observing the temperature fluctuations of the ocean and its relation to sea turtle mating and habitat, for example, they would train the local community how to gather and maintain this data observatory.  If the sights and sounds of a vibrant city and its music and art scene was the subject of an observatory, the artists and community could learn ways to display, record, develop and share this ‘data.’ Constantly changing and emerging, a knowledge base would be created, archived and accessible for comparison and perspective. In the process of any of this observatory creation, or ‘deep mining instrumentation’ advanced ICT skills would be transfered. The diversity and uniqueness of each biomes resources and history would be documented and made available.

Well, I know this is somewhat a half baked idea.  I’ve been trying to think about this in terms of a social business model where the ‘profits’ of data extraction return to the inhabitants who dwell within an area as well as who create or mine their uniqueness rather than be victimized by information imperialism.  I’m not sure if I got the idea across–what do you think? 


Changing a paradigm

How do you change a paradigm? When our entire economy and population is based on fossil fuels, considering a move to a renewable life style and energy sources are daunting. The alternatives are out there, and evolving every moment.  But none of these are presenting themselves in a timely fashion and at the scale we need to really change things. Speaking of scale I found this awesome site: The displays have some wonderful qualitative displays of quantitative information–

This one of the Last 5 Glacial terminations:

is interesting because what it shows is that temperature preceded rises in CO2 historically.  Yet todays rise in temperature is following rises in CO2.  What this suggests to me is that we haven’t seen the temperature rises that we can expect with this amount of rise in CO2.  Well, I’m not a scientist.  And what i want to try and point out is the urgency of addressing the rise in CO2, as many of us are discovering and discussing.  But how? So this brings me back to the issue of a shift in the dominant paradigm–a power shift if you will. How do you initiate it?  What does it look like? I’m discovering that it happens one step at a time through our experience.  In other words it is a consciousness issue that we all participate in.  I like the Global warming art site because it ties in the role of art.  And I think every sector of the educational universe needs to be involved at an intimate level in order to change our awareness.  It falls upon the youth in an unprecedented way. Our youth have the opportunity to change the dominant paradigm by raising consciousness in every aspect of their studies and activity. Every discipline can contribute–has to contribute in order to reduce our CO2 emissions. The youth represent one third of the population of the planet.  With social networking technologies and aggregation of opinions and resources a tremendous impact can be made by a relatively few visionary leaders passing along their passion and vision into the everyday reality of people.

     One of the things that interests me about this process is what is called ‘ecoequity’.  I’m trying to understand this in the context of decentralization of power–energy.  So in other words, renewables are micro in many applications: solar cells on your roof, a micro wind turbine on your school. This by passes traditional, centralized, massive corporate monopolies on the availability of power.  The symbolism is obvious. Interesting in that this dispersed power grid is analogous to Web 2.0 networking.  So I see parallels in what is occurring in cyber consciousness or the world mind–and what is occurring on the earth with our power structures–both civic and mechanical.  

      So one last thought for now, perhaps an invitation of sorts. Cyber networking permits a lower carbon footprint than travel and face to face meetings.  If you imagine the price of gas at $100 a gallon how will we be able to continue to meet and transact business, or effect change? Social networking offers an alternative like this wonderful site.  But even more powerful is the power of virtual worlds and emerging technologies like Second Life:

By leveraging virtual worlds we can continue to aggregate our tremendous resources of ideas and action in ways not even imagined–all with a remarkably low carbon footprint. So think about it.  Thanks for reading this.