“The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” – Antonio Gramsci
There are some who say we must “return to the old ways” to save the planet. And yet, without modern technology, we would not be aware of the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, nor would we be able track the effects of human behaviors on the Earth’s water-air-life systems (sometimes called biogeophysics). How do we hold space for the old ways and the new? What technologies can help us better care for the planet and each other?
Below are some useful tools for monitoring the health of our shared biosphere. These tools help us understand Earth’s systems, and work best when we pair them with more grounded forms of ecological care.
Earth:: a global map
This is an open-source realtime map of wind, waves, and particulate matter updated every few hours and that brings together data from the best satellites and supercomputers.
If you click the “particulate” filter, you can see a map of the particulates going into the air. This can be a very useful tool for monitoring emissions-heavy activities. For example, on most days, you can see a little red dot for the emissions-heavy tar sands extraction happening in Alberta, Canada. This dot ebbs and flows depending on the rate of extraction occurring that day. Worth keeping in mind: the particulate map also tracks sandstorms and dust blowing up into the air, so do your research before assuming that a given red patch is related to CO2 emissions. Still, it’s a very useful tool, and worth checking once a week, if not every day, to get into the practice of pinpointing where the greatest sources of emissions in your region can be found.
NASA’s Earth Observatory
Since the late 1970s, the civilian space organization NASA has been working to make the data it gathers about Earth a public resource. Sure, NASA is part of a larger messed up empire, but from within NASA we’ve seen efforts to monitor emissions, ozone holes, and atmospheric health, as well as ecosystem health and deforestation on land.
The NASA Earth Observatory is a handy resource for those who want to get more comfortable with EO (Earth Observation) data. If you click the “Global Maps” tab, you can see time-lapse maps of the planet using 16 different types of measurements, including rainfall patterns, polar ice melt, vegetation growth patterns, and even maps that show how much radiation is able to leave the planet and escape into space, allowing the planet to cool. Each of these maps includes links to the data sets that were used to generate them, which often include various satellite arrays. This website is a solid resource for those who wish to dive deeper into Earth monitoring data sets. A nice 16-day meditation can be structured around spending a day with each map, and getting to know the data sets it is linked to.
WITCH and MAGICC
witchmodel.org | magicc.org
This is hands down the best open-source predictive climate model out there! Created by the European Institute on Economics and the Environment, WITCH is one of only six computer models of Earth approved for use by IPCC, as it draws upon the work of thousands of scientists to model the way Earth’s systems will respond to many types of human activity. MAGICC is an easy-to-use open-source tool that allows you to run emissions scenarios on the WITCH, creating an accessible option for anyone, even those who don’t know how to code.
Using MAGICC, you can run the emissions simulations yourself to see how different emissions scenarios will lock us into different levels of global heating. The nice thing about running the numbers yourself is you can break down the calculations to see which types of behavior could be changed to avert the worst outcomes. It can be sobering to face the reality that we are currently on track to lock in a catastrophic 10.8°F increase in average global temperature by 2100.
Creating a data model to run through an Earth model is a lot like knitting; it’s calming. This can be a good practice to do in groups. It’s a great way to build discussion and hands-on engagement with these predictive climate models that our so-called leaders keep ignoring as we strategize the deep levels of systemic change that are needed to protect the biosphere.
Unless we keep our eyes on the data, certain ecological wounds may escape our knowledge and get bigger. Can we use Earth Observation (EO) data as a tool, the way a doctor or healer might use a stethoscope?
These tools are useless, however, if people don’t understand what they represent. We must do the work to help folks make the connections, to understand what the data points and temperature numbers truly represent and how ecological well-being impacts all of our daily lives.
If we improve public literacy of these tools and data sets, it will become easier to build coalitions to end the types of ecological harm these tools and data allow us to pinpoint.
A project to make climate data easier to understand
While current IPCC climate data has its uses, there are a number of issues and oversights with the data, including forms of racism embedded within the data parameters and models. This can create tension and burnout, shutting down efforts to create better climate data communication tools. This is a pretty big problem. Love and care needs to go into making climate data communication tools otherwise people won’t be able to understand them.
Case in point: A 2020 study found that at the IPCC gathering that year, some data sets were represented so poorly — with weird-looking graphs that no one could make sense of — that a majority of the decision-makers made opposite conclusions about what the data actually said. This is bad news.
Climate data needs to be comprehensible, especially for these dang policymakers who are making decisions that affect the future of all life on this planet. The public needs to understand climate data too — perhaps even more so than the policymakers. This is because policymakers will only do things if the public rewards them for it. So, if there isn’t broad public understanding of climate data, we’re going to keep being stuck with these milquetoast climate policy decisions.
Hayley from Slingshot Collective who is part of the Critical Code Studies Working Group has teamed up with LM Bogad, author of Performing Truth and co-founder of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) to work towards the creation of a new set of climate data tools. These tools offer data justice interventions, while also making climate data easier to understand and more engaging. They presented their ideas at a gathering of climate data scientists over the summer, and are now working with atmospheric scientists to develop climate data tools that are both accurate and accessible.
This project could use some support: crowdfund.ucdavis.edu/project/32933