Data Policy Thoughts

Data : the key to the Climate Change debate ?

Over the next week or so the media will be full of stories from Copenhagen as the world’s leader fly into the city for United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP-15. There will no doubt be limited progress towards agreeing to reduce greenhouse gases emissions globally, getting international governments to agree on anything is difficult, and to agree on making such potentially major changes to their economies is difficult despite the dire consequences of doing nothing.

The debate is not helped by lingering doubts among many people that climate change itself is no more than a liberal conspiracy or at least there is little evidence to support that mankind and increased CO2 emissions are actually responsible for the changes.

Of both sides of the arguments there are powerful interest bodies, who are actively working on providing their interpretations to the evidence without necessarily being fair and open minded, even respected academics it appears have felt it necessary to manipulate information to fit their world view.

Ultimately if we are to get politicians to act with conviction on this matter, they need to believe it is something for which there will be a domestic political cost for not doing so, and this only results from the issue becoming something that the mainstream population has a firmly held opinion of.

Unfortunately people have lost confidence is both politicians and I’m afraid scientists to provide unbiased analysis of data on Climate Change, perhaps we now need to better educate people as to how to look at climate change data themselves  and to make this data available without spin or interpretation so that people can make their own minds up.

Last week I visited the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra, Italy and meet with some scientists who are analysing greenhouse gas emission data over the last 25 years. The EDGAR project latest analysis is to try provide a granular map of the distribution of greenhouse gas emissions which they have visualised using Google Earth.

This is no doubt a powerful image, and an interesting talking point to the debate, but it is also the results of a model, a manipulation of raw data to paint a picture.


There is of course nothing wrong with this, as it makes a particular point, and because in this case the  raw data behind the analysis as well as the well documented model are also easily accessible for bedroom scientists to analyse themselves.

And before any climate scientists out there claim that this is ridiculous and that the general public cannot be expected to deal with such complex tools and concepts, ask a surveyor or cartographer if they expected that the general public would be building the only detailed global digital maps a few years ago ?

Written and submitted from my home (51.425N, 0.331W)

12 replies on “Data : the key to the Climate Change debate ?”

Climate change related data (raw and not only processed data) is too important to be in the hands of only a few academics. Sure we still need scientist to provide meaningful interpretation, but given proper tools, bedroom scientists can provide new insights in novel and unexpected ways.

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