Sunday, December 29, 2013

Phenology, the Cloud, and the Power of the Internet

At the close of the year, I write a series of posts on overlooked environmental stories.  In previous years, I wrote about the acceptance of the "new normal" in climate change, the growth of GMO food in the US diet, the expansion of benchmarking in sustainability management, the growth in the science of Mars, the acceptance of climate change by big energy, the high carbon cost of the internetwhite nose syndrome, the lack of clear US energy policy, the normalization of sustainability in everyday lives, the decline of the nuclear energy industrythe end of sprawl, and population growth.

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It is interesting to go back to those posts and gauge their relevance in today's conversations on the environment and sustainability.  If you have any suggestions as to what I should feature in this year's series on overlooked environmental issues, send a note or leave a comment.

So far this year, I've written about the science of early humans, the stark reality of climate change, the acceptance of junk science by the American public, and the return of nature.  You can catch the posts hereherehere, here.

Today, to add to my end of year discussion, I am highlighting the power of the Internet to improve science and bring people together.

Some luddites have expressed many times in recent years that the Internet is dead.  Just check out this depressing essay on the topic here.  I would argue the exact opposite.  The Internet is expanding and providing great opportunities for expression and exchange of ideas.  Many of these exchanges are accelerating scientific discovery to the betterment of mankind and greater understanding of our planet.

Just take a look a the National Phenology Network.  Phenology is the study of the timing of key events in plants and animals like flowering and hibernation.  The network was set up to capture information from citizen scientists from around the country to capture data and upload it onto a national database.   The number of participants in the network is astounding and provides tremendous information on subtle year to year changes that may demonstrate patterns on how climate change is impacting (or not impacting) broad phenologic changes.

This is not the only type of network that brings together citizen scientists into a virtual world.  Just take a look at this list here on the number of projects available for local engagement.  Clearly, the Internet is not dead in trying to engage the public on producing strong research projects.

Plus, the public has access to tremendous scientific and environmental information.  They can read journals, look at data, and interact with scientists.  Plus, just look at all the you tube videos that teach us so much about the world.  This is one of my favorites.  Even the silly animal videos that everyone is sharing on Facebook gives us a look at the emotional life of animals in ways that could never be examined in the past.  Each of us has probably seen more different types of cat and dog behavior as a result of Facebook than most cat and dog behaviorists of the pre-Internet age.  We understand that animals have pretty complex emotional lives as can be seen here and here.

Plus, everyone over 45 in academics knows that information sharing and technological approaches to building a bibliographic reference list has changed tremendously.  I can find emerging research on a particular topic any time of day through the Internet and set alerts so that I am informed automatically if there are any new emerging publications.  There are also specialized information portals like the Karst Information Portal that bring together a wide variety of research sources within one easily searchable location.

A relatively recent innovation, cloud technology, allows us to have access to information pretty much anywhere we go in the world.  This makes the Internet much more open.  Sure, we have issues like the whole Wikileaks thing and some believe that the Internet is culturally risky or somehow doing damage.  But a more open and accessible Internet is expanding with time.

Some also believe that the Internet is a soulless place.  However, just take a look at this video and I think you'll see that the power of the Internet is just being felt.  It has the ability to connect us in ways that we can only imagine.

1 comment:

Karen Veni said...

Oh brave new world.