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Community digital environmental ecosystem  global big data | Upload Society

Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Global Big Data

by: Sharai Hoekema
digital environmental ecosystem  global big data | Upload

Big Data is a term reserved for technological advances in IT-related industries. This claim is often heard when discussing the topic of massive heaps of data collected from all kinds of devices and sensors. Big Data is allegedly high in running algorithms and recognizing patterns, perhaps even predicting to some extent - but that is most beneficial to the consumer- and financial industries. Right?

Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Big Data Global

Well, no. Completely wrong. Big Data is a player that should never be underestimated in any context. Regardless of whether you understand the benefits of collecting data that allows you to act on it quickly - the reality is that there are a whole lot of them. This also applies to the environment. Much can be said for incorporating Big Data in some kind of digital ecosystem, meant to advocate promising initiatives and to analyze and predicting trends.

Data collection

Knowledge is vital, and this is precisely what such a digital ecosystem would provide. Having environmental insights and patterns at your fingertips will make it that much easier to act upon it - and hold others accountable if they are not.

Recommended: Smart Agriculture Will Be Data (AI) Driven Agriculture

Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Global Environment Data

Unfortunately, as lovely as it sounds, we are still quite a way off from actually achieving something like this. This is often related to the very nature of our field: much of what we do and how we act is based on assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and mostly incomplete data sets. If this is the basis for much of our financial investments and physical efforts, it is not hard to see why we are often hesitant to push through.

assumptions, anecdotal evidence
Making assumptions

Yet it is essential to be aware of how much there already could be for us to use. We could quite quickly get access to a wealth of data on the global environment. Using the technologies, techniques, and tools available for dealing with this data, we could quite quickly ‘assimilate’ what we are looking for. Using those valuable insights and patterns, we can find ourselves equipped with a powerful means of creating a sustainable future and changing the way that we interact with our planet.

Digital Environmental Ecosystem: History

Using data, we can make informed decisions. This goes for everything that we do in our lives. When we are buying a new TV, we will browse the internet for user reviews and product videos. Through our phones, we can check the weather forecast in the morning to decide what to wear. For the environment, you will find that data has much of the same analyzing and forecasting power. 

The one problem? We are increasingly finding that a significant portion of the information that would be required for making such an informed decision is not readily available. For now, we are mostly piecing together snippets and tidbits of information collected using vastly different methods and periods - making them inherently flawed for actual use. As such, we have no steady basis that we can base our decisions on, effectively erasing the ‘informed’ from an informed decision.

Recent reports from the UN are alarming. They showed that out of the 93 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a staggering 64 cannot yet be measured using reliable and meaningful indicators showing its progress. This is the result of a chronic lack of data, crippling our ability to get a sound report card of how we are doing thus far. It should not be hard to see why this is worrying. 

Monitoring the environment
Monitoring the 'environment.'

This is why it is so important to start looking at ways of incorporating Big Data and related technologies in all that we do. The possibilities for monitoring the environment are endless, ranging from the use of satellites and drones to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain, and a plethora of (mobile) apps. Through all of these technologies, we can measure and protect our environment much more efficiently than ever before.

Another hard truth is that none of the efforts taken thus far to reduce our strain on the world around us has worked. Especially now that the click is ticking - scientists have estimated that we only have about ten years left to alter our ways radically -, it seems like an obvious solution that will if invested in properly, pay off near-instantly. 

Granted, ten years is not a lot of time, especially considering that a bunch of different systems will have to be aligned to be able to take definitive action. Our social, political, and economic systems must work together with the technology to be able to change our ways drastically. This might seem daunting, but it is something that has to be done. 

We mainly created this mess, and we will leave it to our children and grandchildren if we do nothing. There is no alternative: we’ve got to get our act together, preferably today rather than tomorrow. Creating a digital ecosystem for the environment will help us in getting things done. Connecting environmental governance with public-private partnerships through big data, groundbreaking technologies, and analytics will allow us to foster expert communities - and ultimately receive much better ecological insights.

Global Digital Ecosystem For The Environment

A few months ago, a group of companies, academics, UN member states, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society actors came together to discuss how to move forward with Big Data, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence. Their main task was to envision some kind of global digital ecosystem for the environment. What would it look like, what partnerships would it benefit from? What are the benefits and potential pitfalls? Who is accountable, and how to ensure that everyone cooperates to keep it as transparent as possible?

Those and many other questions were answered in the first discussion paper of this working group, that was issued in March 2019. The writers were enthusiastic and passionate about the prospect of a fully digital ecosystem. However, they recognized that, if it is to become a global standard by 2020, it requires a great deal of action, leadership, and trust. 

Below, I will highlight several particularly exciting elements that, according to this paper, should be considered before working on the digital ecosystem harnessing Big Data of the environment.

Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Artificial intelligence

First of all, we must get a better grip on the problems we are dealing with. This can only be done by measuring them accurately. Through Big Data and related technologies, we can be better informed and set ourselves up to be able to accurately track and assess environmental trends and innovations. In the past, the limited availability of such data left a big gaping hole in the development and modeling of ecological policy options - something that can now be remedied.

Recommended: Smart Communities: Eco-Living Through Technology

After making an inventory of what data is already readily available, we will quickly find out what information is missing - and how we can go about generating this. Big Data and algorithms, created and run using modern technologies, will most likely help us doing so - especially if data is clearly, uniformly, and articulately collected by companies and governments alike. 

This kind of data can include information generated by open data cubes, providing spatial data on climate change parameters, which will help us to determine areas for growth and improvement on initiatives. This will make it easier to guarantee funding and investments for all kinds of innovations.

Additionally, more data and insights regarding supply chains and raw resource usage will allow investors to recognize opportunities and dangers ahead of time, getting them more involved in sustainability practices and highlighting polluting and damaging activities. Blockchain, for instance, is slated to be a significant help in this, as it allows for the creation of a transparent, traceable database showing all the steps or resources used. 

Recommended: Your Smartphone Is Polluting And Generating Massive Waste

Artificial intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning algorithms

Finally, through the use of artificial intelligence, big data, and all kinds of machine learning algorithms, consumers can be encouraged to think more about the environmental footprints of products they are considering. By tracing the supply chain and consumption patterns, it will be possible to find a way of changing consumer behavior and using gamification, reward programs, and apps, encourage consumers to up their sustainability efforts.

Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: People And Companies

Another powerful element of a digital ecosystem is the actual people and companies that are making use of it. Social media, in particular, hugely influences the way that we interact with the world around us. It shapes our attitudes, perceptions, and invariably determines our actions. The recent commotion surrounding election influencing through social media should be enough to highlight how impactful this could potentially be.



                                                Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: Big Data Worldwide
                                        The Money Machine: What Google and Facebook Do With Your Data

However, while many people are looking at the dangers of this, it can be flipped around and used to our benefit as well - such as the mobilizing of people, encouraging them to not only let their voices be heard in a meaningful manner but also actively recruiting them to collect data on our ecosystem, global warming, biodiversity, and other sustainability matters. Crowdsourcing and citizen science have never been more relevant than today.

Even the simple act of making people and companies aware of the issues and pointing out the impact it will have on their own lives will make a difference. Understanding the implications of the problems the world is facing today will help them to take action locally. Perhaps a minor change, but if those are added up, it can become a massive movement. 

Key board fake news

Getting people aware of the problem, preceding any ‘fake news’ probability, but focussing on the matter at hand in an objective, scientific manner will get them on board and set in motion a sequence of micro-actions that can turn into something great. Markets can be influenced, just like consumer behavior and actions - but only if they have access to the digital ecosystem that points the way forward. Making environmental data global public goodwill makes it easily accessible, open, and available for analysis.

Digital Ecosystem: Satellites, Drones, And Mobile Applications. What Are The Risks?

Some of how we can generate the environmental data mentioned include satellites, drones, sensors, and mobile apps that continuously measure a specific object, area of the phenomenon. Therefore, those who are in control of those kinds of technologies will find themselves a willing target for governments and international organizations hoping to get better insights.

The tech companies that are now holding those cards will find themselves faced with an interesting dilemma. Historically, they have been developing and privately acting upon their valuable data, using it to outwit the competition and make more significant profits. Their motivation is, therefore, primarily based on the creation of profitable business models. The ultimate idea, as proven by companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft, is to find a way of locking in customers - making sure that they only benefit if they exclusively use their (affiliated) products and services.

As a result, much of the data and proprietary know-how available regarding digital infrastructures and cutting-edge data-generating technologies are held close to the chest. They alone have access to the majority of this data, shifting decision-making power to a handful instead of the many. Often, valuable information is sold to another lucky few instead of shared with a larger group. An issue that has inevitably come up in this regard is that of privacy. 

graph who owns your data

After all, who owns the data? The party that collected it? The party that paid handsomely to receive it? Or the party who finds himself the subject of the data? If the plan is to release an armada of satellites, drones, and sensors on our planet, the issue of data governance is bound to come up. How to respect the privacy of people and private companies, while still getting meaningful intel? As cliched as it may sound, information is power - and people are understandably afraid of anything or anyone that yields excellent power.

As no single party can or will be able to be ‘in charge’ of this data, it will likely be a scattered field of tech companies, parts manufacturers, digital gurus, infrastructure experts, scientists, governments, private persons, and environmental groups. This is great - what we need is the combined effort of all those stakeholders to move forward and create this global digital ecosystem where environmental data is available at a moment’s notice. Yet this makes the issue of who is in control more pressing.

man monitors
A 'watchdog' will have to be appointed

In an ideal world, data in this digital ecosystem would be a public good. Yet, in practice, there will be some pitfalls regarding individual privacy, intellectual property, data security, data quality assurance, transparency, and purposely fake or malicious data entries. A watchdog will have to be appointed, while countries around the world will have to agree on specific guidelines and restrictions. These two preventive measures will be critical in validating and running this massive undertaking.

Digital Ecosystem: Harness The Power Of Data, How Do We Get There?

The basic idea is simple. If we can harness the power of Big Data, AI, and mobile apps responsibly and sensitively, we will find ourselves in a position where we can see what is happening and therefore hold governments and institutions accountable. We will finally be able to track our progress on a large number of environmental indicators that have previously gone untracked. Simultaneously, we can analyze the trends and insights to make even more meaningful changes in the ‘way we do,’ the ‘way we are,’ and the ‘way we should be.’

Now that most of the technologies are widely available, this is the time to take action. We must move ahead of the game and look at the ten-year-deadline given to us as a challenge instead of a threat. Through the power of data, we can influence consumers on a microlevel, changing their behavior, awareness, and actions when it comes to global warming and other pressing environmental issues. We can challenge long-held beliefs and, through millions of micro-actions and micro-changes, bring about significant change. 

Recommended: Climate Change Natural Man-Made: Causes And Facts

Companies and governments can be held accountable for what they are (not) doing. At the same time, alternatives and solutions can be analyzed and optimized to ensure we keep on making the right choices, every time we find ourselves at another crossroads. We can do so by making data sets as open as possible and involving companies, encouraging them to share their expertise, infrastructure, and technologies on data science, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. 

Environmental data as a public good should be the norm, not the exception—data that should be streamlined for transparency, accuracy, quality, and comparability. Governments play an instrumental role in setting forth guidelines and deciding on standards and norms; while also keeping in mind the issues outlined in this article, including individual privacy, data protection, and intellectual property. A global, independent watchdog organization could be in charge of continually verifying and purifying the generated data sets and checking the performed analyses.

ecosystem, words, magnifier
A digital ecosystem that thrives

The result? A digital ecosystem that thrives is openly accessible and contributed to by many. That allows for quick, accurate analyses and insights. That sets about a revolution: which companies and communities are doing well and leading the way to a better future, and which are seemingly undermining any progress, irreversibly harming our planet and undermining our actions in doing so? 

This can turn the tide for global warming and other environmental issues. Accountability is a powerful tool. Let’s use it to our benefit.

Before you go!

Recommended: Digital Economy: Is Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet?

Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below.
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Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Global Big Data

Big Data is a term reserved for technological advances in IT-related industries. This claim is often heard when discussing the topic of massive heaps of data collected from all kinds of devices and sensors. Big Data is allegedly high in running algorithms and recognizing patterns, perhaps even predicting to some extent - but that is most beneficial to the consumer- and financial industries. Right? Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Big Data Global Well, no. Completely wrong. Big Data is a player that should never be underestimated in any context. Regardless of whether you understand the benefits of collecting data that allows you to act on it quickly - the reality is that there are a whole lot of them. This also applies to the environment. Much can be said for incorporating Big Data in some kind of digital ecosystem, meant to advocate promising initiatives and to analyze and predicting trends. Knowledge is vital, and this is precisely what such a digital ecosystem would provide. Having environmental insights and patterns at your fingertips will make it that much easier to act upon it - and hold others accountable if they are not. Recommended:  Smart Agriculture Will Be Data (AI) Driven Agriculture Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Global Environment Data Unfortunately, as lovely as it sounds, we are still quite a way off from actually achieving something like this. This is often related to the very nature of our field: much of what we do and how we act is based on assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and mostly incomplete data sets. If this is the basis for much of our financial investments and physical efforts, it is not hard to see why we are often hesitant to push through. Making assumptions Yet it is essential to be aware of how much there already could be for us to use. We could quite quickly get access to a wealth of data on the global environment. Using the technologies, techniques, and tools available for dealing with this data, we could quite quickly ‘assimilate’ what we are looking for. Using those valuable insights and patterns, we can find ourselves equipped with a powerful means of creating a sustainable future and changing the way that we interact with our planet. Digital Environmental Ecosystem: History Using data, we can make informed decisions. This goes for everything that we do in our lives. When we are buying a new TV, we will browse the internet for user reviews and product videos. Through our phones, we can check the weather forecast in the morning to decide what to wear. For the environment, you will find that data has much of the same analyzing and forecasting power.   The one problem? We are increasingly finding that a significant portion of the information that would be required for making such an informed decision is not readily available. For now, we are mostly piecing together snippets and tidbits of information collected using vastly different methods and periods - making them inherently flawed for actual use. As such, we have no steady basis that we can base our decisions on, effectively erasing the ‘informed’ from an informed decision. Recent reports from the UN are alarming. They showed that out of the 93 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a staggering 64 cannot yet be measured using reliable and meaningful indicators showing its progress. This is the result of a chronic lack of data, crippling our ability to get a sound report card of how we are doing thus far. It should not be hard to see why this is worrying.   Monitoring the 'environment.' This is why it is so important to start looking at ways of incorporating Big Data and related technologies in all that we do. The possibilities for monitoring the environment are endless, ranging from the use of satellites and drones to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain, and a plethora of (mobile) apps. Through all of these technologies, we can measure and protect our environment much more efficiently than ever before. Another hard truth is that none of the efforts taken thus far to reduce our strain on the world around us has worked. Especially now that the click is ticking - scientists have estimated that we only have about ten years left to alter our ways radically -, it seems like an obvious solution that will if invested in properly, pay off near-instantly.   Granted, ten years is not a lot of time, especially considering that a bunch of different systems will have to be aligned to be able to take definitive action. Our social, political, and economic systems must work together with the technology to be able to change our ways drastically. This might seem daunting, but it is something that has to be done.   We mainly created this mess, and we will leave it to our children and grandchildren if we do nothing. There is no alternative: we’ve got to get our act together, preferably today rather than tomorrow. Creating a digital ecosystem for the environment will help us in getting things done. Connecting environmental governance with public-private partnerships through big data, groundbreaking technologies, and analytics will allow us to foster expert communities - and ultimately receive much better ecological insights. Global Digital Ecosystem For The Environment A few months ago, a group of companies, academics, UN member states, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society actors came together to discuss how to move forward with Big Data, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence. Their main task was to envision some kind of global digital ecosystem for the environment. What would it look like, what partnerships would it benefit from? What are the benefits and potential pitfalls? Who is accountable, and how to ensure that everyone cooperates to keep it as transparent as possible? Those and many other questions were answered in the first discussion paper of this working group, that was issued in March 2019. The writers were enthusiastic and passionate about the prospect of a fully digital ecosystem. However, they recognized that, if it is to become a global standard by 2020, it requires a great deal of action, leadership, and trust.   Below, I will highlight several particularly exciting elements that, according to this paper, should be considered before working on the digital ecosystem harnessing Big Data of the environment. Digital Environmental Ecosystem: Artificial intelligence First of all, we must get a better grip on the problems we are dealing with. This can only be done by measuring them accurately. Through Big Data and related technologies, we can be better informed and set ourselves up to be able to accurately track and assess environmental trends and innovations. In the past, the limited availability of such data left a big gaping hole in the development and modeling of ecological policy options - something that can now be remedied. Recommended:  Smart Communities: Eco-Living Through Technology After making an inventory of what data is already readily available, we will quickly find out what information is missing - and how we can go about generating this. Big Data and algorithms, created and run using modern technologies, will most likely help us doing so - especially if data is clearly, uniformly, and articulately collected by companies and governments alike.   This kind of data can include information generated by open data cubes, providing spatial data on climate change parameters, which will help us to determine areas for growth and improvement on initiatives. This will make it easier to guarantee funding and investments for all kinds of innovations. Additionally, more data and insights regarding supply chains and raw resource usage will allow investors to recognize opportunities and dangers ahead of time, getting them more involved in sustainability practices and highlighting polluting and damaging activities. Blockchain, for instance, is slated to be a significant help in this, as it allows for the creation of a transparent, traceable database showing all the steps or resources used.   Recommended: Y our Smartphone Is Polluting And Generating Massive Waste The use of artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning algorithms Finally, through the use of artificial intelligence, big data, and all kinds of machine learning algorithms, consumers can be encouraged to think more about the environmental footprints of products they are considering. By tracing the supply chain and consumption patterns, it will be possible to find a way of changing consumer behavior and using gamification, reward programs, and apps, encourage consumers to up their sustainability efforts. Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: People And Companies Another powerful element of a digital ecosystem is the actual people and companies that are making use of it. Social media, in particular, hugely influences the way that we interact with the world around us. It shapes our attitudes, perceptions, and invariably determines our actions. The recent commotion surrounding election influencing through social media should be enough to highlight how impactful this could potentially be. {youtube}                                                 Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: Big Data Worldwide                                         The Money Machine: What Google and Facebook Do With Your Data However, while many people are looking at the dangers of this, it can be flipped around and used to our benefit as well - such as the mobilizing of people, encouraging them to not only let their voices be heard in a meaningful manner but also actively recruiting them to collect data on our ecosystem, global warming, biodiversity, and other sustainability matters. Crowdsourcing and citizen science have never been more relevant than today. Even the simple act of making people and companies aware of the issues and pointing out the impact it will have on their own lives will make a difference. Understanding the implications of the problems the world is facing today will help them to take action locally. Perhaps a minor change, but if those are added up, it can become a massive movement.   Getting people aware of the problem, preceding any ‘fake news’ probability, but focussing on the matter at hand in an objective, scientific manner will get them on board and set in motion a sequence of micro-actions that can turn into something great. Markets can be influenced, just like consumer behavior and actions - but only if they have access to the digital ecosystem that points the way forward. Making environmental data global public goodwill makes it easily accessible, open, and available for analysis. Digital Ecosystem: Satellites, Drones, And Mobile Applications. What Are The Risks? Some of how we can generate the environmental data mentioned include satellites, drones, sensors, and mobile apps that continuously measure a specific object, area of the phenomenon. Therefore, those who are in control of those kinds of technologies will find themselves a willing target for governments and international organizations hoping to get better insights. The tech companies that are now holding those cards will find themselves faced with an interesting dilemma. Historically, they have been developing and privately acting upon their valuable data, using it to outwit the competition and make more significant profits. Their motivation is, therefore, primarily based on the creation of profitable business models. The ultimate idea, as proven by companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft, is to find a way of locking in customers - making sure that they only benefit if they exclusively use their (affiliated) products and services. As a result, much of the data and proprietary know-how available regarding digital infrastructures and cutting-edge data-generating technologies are held close to the chest. They alone have access to the majority of this data, shifting decision-making power to a handful instead of the many. Often, valuable information is sold to another lucky few instead of shared with a larger group. An issue that has inevitably come up in this regard is that of privacy.   After all, who owns the data? The party that collected it? The party that paid handsomely to receive it? Or the party who finds himself the subject of the data? If the plan is to release an armada of satellites, drones, and sensors on our planet, the issue of data governance is bound to come up. How to respect the privacy of people and private companies, while still getting meaningful intel? As cliched as it may sound, information is power - and people are understandably afraid of anything or anyone that yields excellent power. As no single party can or will be able to be ‘in charge’ of this data, it will likely be a scattered field of tech companies, parts manufacturers, digital gurus, infrastructure experts, scientists, governments, private persons, and environmental groups. This is great - what we need is the combined effort of all those stakeholders to move forward and create this global digital ecosystem where environmental data is available at a moment’s notice. Yet this makes the issue of who is in control more pressing. A 'watchdog' will have to be appointed In an ideal world, data in this digital ecosystem would be a public good. Yet, in practice, there will be some pitfalls regarding individual privacy, intellectual property, data security, data quality assurance, transparency, and purposely fake or malicious data entries. A watchdog will have to be appointed, while countries around the world will have to agree on specific guidelines and restrictions. These two preventive measures will be critical in validating and running this massive undertaking. Digital Ecosystem: Harness The Power Of Data, How Do We Get There? The basic idea is simple. If we can harness the power of Big Data, AI, and mobile apps responsibly and sensitively, we will find ourselves in a position where we can see what is happening and therefore hold governments and institutions accountable. We will finally be able to track our progress on a large number of environmental indicators that have previously gone untracked. Simultaneously, we can analyze the trends and insights to make even more meaningful changes in the ‘way we do,’ the ‘way we are,’ and the ‘way we should be.’ Now that most of the technologies are widely available, this is the time to take action. We must move ahead of the game and look at the ten-year-deadline given to us as a challenge instead of a threat. Through the power of data, we can influence consumers on a microlevel, changing their behavior, awareness, and actions when it comes to global warming and other pressing environmental issues. We can challenge long-held beliefs and, through millions of micro-actions and micro-changes, bring about significant change.   Recommended:  Climate Change Natural Man-Made: Causes And Facts Companies and governments can be held accountable for what they are (not) doing. At the same time, alternatives and solutions can be analyzed and optimized to ensure we keep on making the right choices, every time we find ourselves at another crossroads. We can do so by making data sets as open as possible and involving companies, encouraging them to share their expertise, infrastructure, and technologies on data science, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.   Environmental data as a public good should be the norm, not the exception—data that should be streamlined for transparency, accuracy, quality, and comparability. Governments play an instrumental role in setting forth guidelines and deciding on standards and norms; while also keeping in mind the issues outlined in this article, including individual privacy, data protection, and intellectual property. A global, independent watchdog organization could be in charge of continually verifying and purifying the generated data sets and checking the performed analyses. A digital ecosystem that thrives The result? A digital ecosystem that thrives is openly accessible and contributed to by many. That allows for quick, accurate analyses and insights. That sets about a revolution: which companies and communities are doing well and leading the way to a better future, and which are seemingly undermining any progress, irreversibly harming our planet and undermining our actions in doing so?   This can turn the tide for global warming and other environmental issues. Accountability is a powerful tool. Let’s use it to our benefit. Before you go! Recommended:  Digital Economy: Is Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet? Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about collecting data? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage.'
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