Devastating Floods in Germany, Could Tech Help?
Technological innovation for climate change mitigation
Sustainable Development Tech News
Looking for this week’s news summary? This week there’s a bunch of news on AI, some tech company earnings, and mobile companies working in Brazil for social impact.
You only have to reflect on the extreme weather events of just the least five years to feel a growing sense of dread for the years ahead. California is baking dry, and given that the state is known as the Garden of America, this could have some pretty dire consequences for food security across the country and beyond. In one Wall Street Journal article, drought stricken almond farmers talk of how “We’re grinding up trees as we speak”, and the New York Times covers how the climate has impacted Wine Country.
But the drought in California has other impacts too, including the State’s ability to hit renewable energy targets, and even simply to provide enough energy. As The Verge covered, California depends heavily on Hydro power for their energy needs, and you can’t get much energy from empty reservoirs.
In the US North West, hundreds of people have died from the heat. In the UK press this week, there’s bleak stories of how heat is a silent killer and how the NHS waiting rooms are stacking up with heat related issues. A couple of weeks ago there were news stories from Pakistan talking about people “broiling in the streets”, frantically seeking cooling in rivers and waters that were warmer than body temperature.
Then come the floods (and to be honest, much more, but let’s look at floods for now).
Can Technology Solve Climate Change?
Technology Innovations Can Help Climate Change Mitigation
I’m often asked “can technology can solve climate change”, to which I answer a definitive “no”.
Rather, I believe that technology can be a powerful tool, but it can’t do this alone. Governments, organisations, and people can use technology as just one of many tools to help to mitigate the climate crisis as well as addressing some of the other global challenges our societies face.
There are many technology innovations I have already discussed that can be leveraged to both directly combat climate change factors, as well as mitigate the consequences that we are all witnessing more frequently.
I’ve previously touched on IOT and robot solutions, vertical farming or nano technologies that help crop maintain crop production in even the most water barren places. I’ve talked about, and interviewed companies helping prevent wildfires with wireless networks and IoT sensors, as well as looked at the impact of electrification, carbon capture technologies and more, but what I want to showcase today is an innovative use of Open Data to provide near-realtime flood alerts.
An example of SDG 17, Partnerships and Open Innovation
Open Data Flood Warning Alerts
The Shoothill GaugeMap is an award winning solution that leverage’s the UK’s Open Data programme to provide near-realtime alerts on river levels and flood alerts.
Using data from a network of hundreds of water level sensors deployed by the UK’s Environment Agency, Gauge Map can classify which rivers are likely to flood.
Each station also has its own Twitter account, so you can even follow your local river to get notified when it is likely to be a flood risk. Using additional technologies like IFTTT or Zapier, you could create instant alerts for yourself, community or town.
This is an example of a river segment near me, and at the time of writing the flood risk is very high!
On 20/07/21 at 22:00 the river level was 1.02mASD and above its typical range. pic.twitter.com/M7Gj1X1PY9
— Mapledurham Lock (@riverlevel_1002) July 20, 2021
Open Innovation, Open Data, SDGs
This is an example of a powerful technology innovation for climate change mitigation that has come about from opening up data sources to the public. When the Environment Agency decided to deploy the river level sensors, I would doubt that they would have imagined a use case that used Twitter and IFTTT to create community wide alerts. And this is one of the benefits of open data programmes, open innovation.
The global goals outlined in the UN SDGs are, as I often say, audacious and ambitious. In Simon Sinek speak, these are Infinite Game goals, meaning they are so big that there’s no real start or stop to them.
We have to recognize what type of game we’re playing and then play with the right mindset of the game we are in.[..] Infinite game people believe in something bigger than themselves.
— Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game
I believe SDG 17, Partnerships For The Goals, is one of the most important of all the goals (yes, I know, picking one goal above the others is like choosing between inhaling or exhaling – they are inextricably linked and vital to each other). However, the global goals set out in the SDGs are so “big and hairy” (as someone described them to me this week) that no one person, country, movement or organisation will achieve them in isolation.
Therefore, encouraging community entrepreneurialism through publication of open, free or fairly-commercialised data will be crucial in helping drive technology innovation for climate change mitigation…well, at least in my opinion. What do you think?