Earth Day 2015 - We can get to know the world and what is good for it and good for us.

Earth Day 2015 – We can get to know the world and what is good for it and good for us.

We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.

Wendell Berry

I created The Ecological Sequestration Trust in 2011 because I was frustrated that all over the world people knew what was good for them, but investments and city development practice often delivered noisy, polluted places that were unpleasant for people and damaging for ecology – and in the countryside outside cities, agriculture practice was increasing pollution, reducing biodiversity and starving countries of fresh water. I was very clear that we needed to embrace this complexity in the way we planned and invested, and the Trust must facilitate this by creating practical tools for all communities to be able to work collaboratively and invest in what was good for them and their children. I knew this would have to involve holistic modeling, simulation and visualization of human and ecological activity in a city region and I knew who could bring that together-Imperial College London and IIER Zurich.

But it was equally clear that enabling the local region to work better for people was not enough. People also had to be able to know enough about planet Earth and learn what was good for Earth too. This was a real worry for me at the time-but was it a realistic expectation, because without it my vision could not be delivered?

Unknown to me, Bob Bishop, who is in my view one of the leading digital, computing and visualization experts in the world, was setting up the ICES Foundation at exactly the same time. His vision for ICES was to integrate the vast pools of knowledge contained within today’s multitude of scientific and socio-economic specializations and to develop next generation ‘holistic’ modeling, simulation and visualizations that accurately depict the medium and long term future direction of planet Earth – ambitious indeed!

I was very excited when I saw Bob’s TED talk about this and contacted him straight away. We met on the shores of Lake Geneva on a sparkling day, looking out to the snow covered Alps in the distance. We discovered very quickly over lunch that we were looking for each other. He knew that Earth simulation was of limited use unless data and knowledge could be drawn down into day to day life, and I knew that day to day life had to be informed by understanding humanity’s impact on the Earth and it’s changing impact on us. We quickly discovered that the Trust and ICES are both projects for the common good and together can provide enhanced decision support, investment management and improved scientific underpinnings to our current and future policy makers, especially with respect to the effects of climate change, extreme weather, geo-engineering, resource depletion, fresh water availability, food security, public health & safety, and hazard reduction and mitigation. That is really a lot of important services now we are in year 2015, the “year of sustainability”.

The last twelve months since Earth Day 2014 has been a continuous massive learning curve for us all. Around every corner the Trust and ICES are finding technical solutions that make the partnership work better as we connect up with the risk and insurance community. The reason for optimism, in us being able to get to know the world and what is good for it and for us, is that science is now embracing this complexity. For example I have had the privilege this year of being a member of the Planetary Health Commission, which will shortly be reporting on the critical interrelationships between human and ecological health and how local and global systems modeling can help our understanding, and Bob has been closely engaged in water quality programme of the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), Geneva.

Clearly, we have the computing power, the modeling skills, communication and visualization technologies, gaming designs, open data systems, earth observation and ground based sensor data at hand. Yes, we really can bring all this together into practical day to day use! It looks like it is really going to be possible from now on for us all and our children to get to know the world and what is good for it and good for us all. Indeed, I hope we can use this capability wisely.

Happy Earth Day 2015 everyone!

Learn how you can help us get there quicker and be among the first to use these tools.

Peter Head