Green Geeks Gather in New Zealand


While digital mapping technologies are nothing new to Treehuggers, a group of IT professionals, scientists, environmentalists, and programmers will gather next week in Auckland, New Zealand, to discuss using digital maps to not only find greener services and renewable landmarks, but to address fundamental environmental challenges. The Digital Earth Summit on Sustainability aims to discover if the technologies that gave us Google Earth can also provide useful information about environmental degradation.

"Good decision making requires good information and what Digital Earth provides is a context to get that good information together and establish stewardship of that information," says Auckland City councillor Richard Simpson.

"We're in the quandary we're in now because of bad decisions and a lot of those bad decisions have been because of poor information."

Simpson, a computer scientist with a long background in 3D graphics and geospatial applications, was a driving force behind Auckland's bid to host next week's summit.

He says the type of initiatives being discussed and developed in the Digital Earth context include web-based "calorie maps" allowing members of the public to calculate things such as how many calories they would burn up walking from home to work and comparing that to the amount of fossil fuel they would use making the same trip by car.

"Making that sort of information available to people, you're getting on to another layer of informed decision-making," Simpson says.

A large proportion of resource consents in Auckland City relate to requests to cut down trees. A database based on aerial photographs could automatically calculate the "carbon balance implications" of removing a particular tree and the resulting effect on air quality, he says.

While not everyone involved in the Digital Earth project is supportive of the focus on sustainability -- the "do-gooder" label has been thrown around -- other participants believe such projects are critical: event organizer Tim Forseman notes "You have to be into sustainability or there will be no future." Keynote speaker Ian Dowman also notes that even if the conference attendees make a start at figuring out how to process the massive amounts of information provided by such technologies, political will at the national and global level must accompany such knowledge in order to take practical steps forward.

Fortunately, Google Earth and GPS systems have brought geoinformatics to the general public, so many conference attendees believe such commercial uses make the knowledge produced by digital mapping applications more comprehensible, and therefore more acceptable, to the average person. Information shared and debated at this conference will be sent forward to the International Symposium on Digital Earth, which will take place next year in San Francisco. ::New Zealand Herald via