How Open Science Technology Informs Equitable Climate Action
Holistic climate change policy and environmental justice efforts have to be based on science, which is why it's important that everyone have access to it. Like how "open source" computer code is available for everyone's use, open science is all about making sure everyone has the opportunity to offer input, and then making sure everyone has access to the output, making data accessible to all, and inclusive of all.
Open science is paving the way for a community's deep knowledge of local issues to be incorporated with traditional scientific data collection, and for that "ivory tower" data to, in turn, be made accessible to the community. These spaces offer immeasurable insight into the priorities, partnerships, and struggles that will ultimately shape future local, state, and federal climate work.
By investing in and promoting opportunities for open science alignment within the scientific process, climate action and policy can shrink the gap between what communities and policymakers need, and what science is available.
What does that look like? One example is Project OWL, which provides basic Organization, Whereabouts and Logistics systems to coordinate disaster response. Given that climate-related disasters have increased 83% in the past 20 years, major floods have more than doubled, the number of severe storms has risen 40%, and there have been major increases in droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves, OWL can be used in disaster areas to quickly reestablish connectivity and improve communication between first responders and civilians in need. This example of an open source system can support efforts around the world to provide communications where infrastructure is destroyed or nonexistent.
Another disaster-born example of the value of free data is Kathmandu Living Labs. After earthquakes devastated areas of Nepal in 2015, a network of 8,000 local and international OpenStreetMap community members worked together to create a detailed map of affected areas, which first responders used for planning and mobilizing their resources at a scale that would not have been possible without local mapping and open data sets. Now, Kathmandu Living Labs continues to support projects using open mapping to damage assessment, relief distribution tracking, and reconstruction monitoring.
It's not just about the code though! Open hardware (the actual physical devices) can also be a mechanism to both increase public participation in science and to directly connect the value of science to our daily lives. However, this means a shift in how science has traditionally been prioritized -- top down through government and research institutions. By making science and data collection more accessible, that power dynamic of top-down gets flipped, as citizens and community groups can collect and analyze their own data.
Public Lab is an open source community-science driven network that creates open hardware for exploration, from aerial mapping rigs to community microscope kits, to help people think differently about science as a tool in their organizing work. One project that many organizations have supported is local air pollution monitoring, in which residents use various tools to sample pollution, building this open data into reports, analysis, and policy proposals. MapMill is the Public Lab tool for sorting imagery produced with balloon mapping, which has been updated for further disaster relief monitoring. The time it would take for everyone to build their own version of the same model can now be used to expand the existing models. More recently, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Healthy Gulf launched an Ida Lookout, open-data project to help identify flooded oil and gas facilities and oil spills using community-driven inputs. This will be used to hold corporations accountable and inform strategy in organizing moving forward.
The third pillar of open science is making it fully democratized, and involving everyone who's interested to get involved: citizen science. It provides a way to engage all parts of society in gaining a deeper understanding of human environments, build an informed population that can advocate successfully for environmental protection, and more effectively protect human health and the environment. Widely recognized across federal agencies
✎ EditSign, citizen science broadens environmental protection by working across boundaries that can separate policy makers, scientists and members of the public,
At the Audubon Society, community science programs rely on volunteers to track shifting bird populations due to climate change, with tens of thousands of birders sharing data. The decentralized data collection system helps support science-driven policy recommendations, providing an ongoing assessment of bird populations that supports ongoing conservation projects and policy.
Open data and open source technology has immense promise for building solutions in the face of ongoing climate threats. Whether in emergency management, supporting local environmental organizing efforts, or supporting conservation efforts, democratizing access to data can shape our understandings of science and society. By investing in and promoting opportunities for open science within our society, climate action and policy can be driven and advanced by resilient, grassroots initiatives.