Wanted: better environmental data

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To make an educated decision you need data, good data. Unfortunatly, much of the environmental data cited by NGO’s, governments, and the private sector has holes in it and is often out of date by the time it hits the newstand.

In this modern age of Google Maps, GPS, and broadband internet, there is no reason why we can’t have better data on our oceans, land, water and air. The New York Times recently lamented how UN data is out of date and its quality is even considered questionable by its own scientists, yet UN data is commonly cited in scientific journals. Though the problems are gravest in developing countries, Canada is not immune:

Canadian officials recently admitted their own struggles with environmental statistics. A system of decentralized data collection, with provinces leading the way, means the nation lacks good data on national water quality or accurate forest inventory, Statistics Canada said.

Canada has recently announced plans to map groundwater, as usual, we are playing catch-up to the United states. The chief geologist responsible for the study claims that our lack of data is holding up the development of new laws and regulations on water usage.

That [groundwater studies] led Michigan to pass a law requiring big water users to prove their use of groundwater won’t affect the rest of the water system.

No comparable laws exist in Ontario or Quebec. Rivera said he believes the lack of detailed information about Canada’s groundwater so far is what’s holding up the development of such laws and policies.

As an engineer, one of my main concerns with the global warming argument is the quality and quantity of the available data. When data is weak, it is much easier to bend and twist it into the shape you want. I distinctly recall sitting in a McGill course on climateology and hearing that the model they were using for global warming did not yet have ocean currents in it. Ocean currents! I know this has changed since then, but by its very nature, accuratly modeling heat and fluid flow in a body such as an ocean (never mind a pipeline) is near impossible.

Even once data is gathered, then there’s the question of sharing and using it. Too often the data is sequestered in proprietary databases that can’t talk to each other. Some people are trying to change this, Hans Rosling being one major example. His talk below was life changing for me, I highly encourage you to watch it and then visit his site (which has been bought by Google).