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People, planet and profit - connecting local to global

In attending the Cabot Institute Annual lecture with Professor Peter Head CBE presenting on some of the big ecological issues – and novel solutions – facing the world, it struck me that ‘big data’ and its innovative applications being put forward during the lecture provided a clear example of an older adage much loved by the green movement “think global, act local”. This is particularly important to Bristol as the city closes-in on 2015 – its year in the limelight as European Green Capital.

Moving the situation on

Although we of course had to endure the oft-used explanation about the dire situation we humans have got ourselves into – with good reason, now that there is over 90% scientific certainty in accepting that human-made CO2 emissions are causal in climate change – there was a concise set of information on how we might do something positive to self-help our way to a better future.

The valid point was made during the lecture that we are living at the most exciting and critical time in our history, in that we now know the problems we face and we actually already have the tools to do something about them, but that we aren’t connecting the problems with the solutions yet.

Connecting Communities

Professor Head sounded the clarion call to begin to use the many sources of data out there to start to enable communities to plan their own future scenarios. Sounds woolly and technocratic? Well, maybe, but I have always expressed a viewpoint that technological approaches alone cannot ‘dig ourselves out of the hole’, and that we need a social science and societal (read: community) input to these problems to begin to make the positive changes we all now clearly need to see to our dominant paradigm.

This is in fact what was being proposed in a refreshing way. Out there, in our every day lives and all around us are millions of sources of data – from pollution sensors to cameras, mobile phones to heart rate monitors, sat-nav systems to weather sensors, seismic monitors to traffic management or motion sensors – generically known as the internet of things. There are forecast to be over 30 billion internet connected devices by 2020.

There is a huge amount of data that is useful but kept separate for no good reason, and the idea postulated by Professor Head was that this can and should be integrated to allow a whole view of our local and global environments.

An example is shown in the image below, which is a city region expressed in a 3D map showing energy, water, transport infrastructures, population density, land use and land quality, geology.
To this can be added limitless other sources and layers of data. This “map” can then be used by the local community to show what effects would be experienced by making a change to the physical environment.

For example, if a city centre motorway were to be replaced by a series of tram lanes, cycle and pedestrian ways and a canal (as was done in Seoul, South Korea), what effects would this have on the local and regional economy, on travel times, health, pollution, community cohesion, education etc.

Image from

Solar PV is a game changer

It is hard to do justice on paper the depth of possibilities as communicated by Professor Head but I can draw it down to my own community and my own area of business.

Solar PV has apparently the highest level of public acceptance of any renewable energy source, and the sort of visioning exercise outlined would be hugely useful to planning how much deployment could or should be undertaken in any given local community and in what way. Should it be solar farms where biodiversity can be seen to increase, or building-integrated power that melts into its environment, and would the community like to own that energy source themselves, or simply have access to the outputs – there’s a whole series of interactions that this kind of mapping would enable to permit community energy and perhaps even larger ambitions such as the West of England Solar City Region to take flight rather than trundling along at ground level.

More information can be found at the following sites:

This blog has been reproduced by kind permission of Kerry Burns, Your Power UK.
Read the original post on the Your Power UK website.


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