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Many of you who follow me on Twitter may have figured out that I, and my product team in Microsoft, have been investing in environmental sustainability solutions. One specific custom solution, called Eye on Earth, was developed by Microsoft and the European Environment Agency and was released for the first time over three years ago. Eye on Earth is a hub for experts, governments, and the public to exchange information about their environment, transforming millions of citizens into active participants in their local environments. www.eyeonearth.eu
My team was asked to turn this custom Azure solution into a repeatable pattern and service that governments and NGOs around the world could use to engage in discussions with their citizens. That’s where my story begins. With the help of Rob Bernard and the Environmental Sustainability team at Microsoft, I began my journey into the world of environmental agencies, NGOs, ecology groups, environmental scientists, commercial solution providers, global initiatives, and environmental advocates. With the eye of an engineer (I have very little tolerance for chaos, even if it’s for the better good) I became both frightened and hopeful, and I developed my own perspective for building a sustainable environment for our shared planet. I admit I’m naïve. I’m not a specialist. But, I’ll still take the brave step of sharing my thoughts with you.
The Earth is a closed system. Effectively managing the Earth’s ecosystem and precious, limited resources can be thought of as a business intelligence problem. Business intelligence problems are best solved with centralized engineering processes that benefit from unlimited access to authoritative data, unlimited storage and computational capacity, and the best available analytics tools and technology. In today’s economic environment, sophisticated industries use BI to respond to changing conditions in days, hours, and even minutes.
And yet, modern civilization is built on the strength of diverse, decentralized, complex social and economic institutions. Independent governments and NGOs throughout the world often create conflicting policies for managing the Earth’s assets based on country conditions, whether political, social, natural, or economic. These policies direct industry, government, and citizen action. Unlike industry, the results of those policies on the Earth’s ecosystem are measured in years, decades, and even millennium –far longer than reign of most modern governments.
Recognizing the decentralized nature of this BI problem, there are straight forward, concrete actions that government and industry can take to ensure that the most creative, innovative solutions emerge:
Governments are already creating incentives that encourage scientists, students and citizens worldwide to create the best solutions and take action based on those solutions. Simple solutions include interactive bicycle maps, automated home conservation systems, crop watering plans, and wastewater recycling systems. The overwhelming support and response to Eye on Earth is yet another positive indicator that NGOs and governments are willing to engage in difficult environmental dialogs with citizens.
We are close to being able to equip our citizens, governments, and scientists with the data and systems we need to make informed decisions about environmental policy. We have the technology. Our scientists have the brainpower. But the solution needs us, too. We must have the will and patience to advocate for government initiatives that require all environmental data is published and publically accessible in days or months of its collection. It must include data collected by governments, by government-funded research, and it must include environmental use and impact data from industries. We must demand access to the information we need to help us create local solutions with global impact. It’s our responsibility to sustain this most precious resource to which we all owe our lives.
Thanks for your attention,
(Note, these thoughts are my own and do not represent the position or polices of Microsoft Corporation.)