Tracing Wolfang Sach’s idea of the ecological rucksack (the ecological impact carried by any product) could be pretty hard, except now it’s being crowdsourced. Sourcemap.org is a place where users can create maps that show where are stuff comes from.
For a shorter version of this video, click here.
I’m still working out whether or not I agree with Al Gore’s politics in response to global climate catastrophe (see Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil for a critique of “global” (i.e. corporate as opposed to local) solutions being proposed). I question, for example, Gore’s uncritical use of the word “development” in this video. Still, I think this Google climate change simulator is an awesome project. I’m a huge fan of mapping as a tool for pattern recognition, so for a real scare, check out the IPCC’s high emissions scenario (note the smoggy filter!).
Here’s a good overview of the project: Google Earth launches climate simulator | Leo Hickman | Environment | guardian.co.uk
There is a strong bias against technology and media tools among many ecologists, but this Nature Conservancy’s interactive map shows that mapping is a great systems tool for getting the big picture about complex ideas. I highly encourage you to check out this map to get a feel for how freshwater resources are impacted by human activity.
Indeed, a new generation of smartphones like the G1, with Android software developed by Google, and a range of Japanese phones now “augment” reality by painting a map over a phone-screen image of the user’s surroundings produced by the phone’s camera.
With this sort of map it is possible to see a three-dimensional view of one’s surroundings, including the annotated distance to objects that may be obscured by buildings in the foreground. For starters, map-based cellphones simply translate paper maps into a digital medium, but future systems will probably begin to blur the boundaries between the display and the real world.
“I always said the next interface would be Quake,” said Steve Capps, one of the designers of the original Macintosh interface, referring to the popular video game. “How long will it be before you come out of the subway and you hold up your screen to get a better view of what you’re looking at in the physical world?”
And will mobile mapping handicap brain development?
“Humans evolved with amazing navigational abilities in our brains from an evolutionary perspective,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive. He argues that the correlation between the map on the phone and the internal map in your head is a natural way to navigate all kinds of information.
For example, neuroscientists have discovered that people who have occupations that require them to maintain complex mental maps of the world, like London taxi drivers, have an enlarged hippocampus. What happens when our hand-held computers become extensions of the way we think?
“I have wondered about the fact that we might as a culture lose the skill of mapping our environment, relying on the Web to tell us how to navigate,” said Hugo Spiers, a neurobiologist at University College London. “Thus, it might reduce the growth of cells in the hippocampus, which we think stores our internal maps.”
Some people don’t see the connection between media and environment, often media is seen as the enemy (as it should be), but not part of the solution. Even the most anti-technology ecologists use maps to articulate their ideas. Maps are one of the earliest and most pervasive kinds of media. Let’s give it up for maps.
Consequently, GoogleEarth is providing some interesting a creative ways to visualize what is happening in the world. Here are two different recent examples:
1) Sprol’s Worse Places in the World is a depressing but necessary look at the various ecological disasters in the world via Google Earth. Look at your own peril.
2) Dreaming New Mexico has one of the most interesting applications I’ve seen yet. It uses Google Earth to visualize the state’s current carbon energy grid, then offers several alternative scenarios by overlaying satellite images with alternative energy grids. Seeing things like this always gives me hope that there are indeed smart, educated people thinking and planning for a better future.