45 years ago today the first celebration of Earth Day marked a rising awareness that our activities were having serious consequences on the environment around us. In the many years since, we have made great strides as a global society in developing solutions for many of the challenges that we face.
Through all this work, the Internet has emerged as a critical tool in the efforts to understand our situation – and to find and test potential solutions. Scientists are collaborating with each other all around the world – sharing data, working together on joint programs, communicating results and developing new programs. Information from satellites and other research programs are now being made globally available for all to see.
It’s not just scientists. School children are taking part in data collection experiments that are feeding into serious scientific programs. People are sharing ideas, learning from each other, experimenting and innovating.
The explosion of mobile devices has allowed people globally to participate in these environmental data collection programs on a scale we’ve never seen before – and also to learn about the environment around them. I was intrigued to read recently about smartphone map applications in China that allow people to understand local pollution levels and plot indoor routes to avoid the smog. These are the kind of helpful innovations that can occur at the scale provided by the Internet.
And now as part of the “Internet of Things (IoT)” we are seeing enormous sensor networks being deployed that can bring in data from devices being deployed in all sorts of places. Similarly we are seeing how Internet-connected “smart devices” can be enablers of greater energy efficiency. The scale of the Internet gives us the opportunity to solve hard problems.
The beauty of the Internet is that it allows anyone, anywhere, to publish their ideas, to promote their innovative solutions and to enable people to try out those solutions. The next big idea may just as easily come from Kenya or Bangladesh as it may come from the US or France or Japan.
This open and accessible nature of the Internet as a communication and collaboration platform is the key to unleashing the creativity we need to find our way forward. If there is hope to be found in confronting the serious environmental challenges we face, it will be found in the amazing spirit of the people who are the ones communicating over the Internet. On Earth Day and every day, the Internet can bring us together to find the solutions we need.
Of course, we should also acknowledge that this ubiquitous Internet access we now treasure does have its own cost in terms of the “e-waste” of old computers, mobile phones, chargers, etc. Plus this massive network of networks needs power to keep the packets flowing and that power must be generated in some form. These, too, are challenges that we must solve together.
Today we join in celebrating everyone all around the world who is actively working to find solutions to the environmental issues we face. We also celebrate the important role the Internet has played in enabling those activities and solutions. And we pledge ourselves that we will continue to work to ensure that the Internet remains an open and globally accessible platform for this kind of critical work to continue. I ask that all of you reading this join with us.
Happy Earth Day!
Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr