Global Warming – One Freeze Frame at a Time

CCTV cameras on Tate Britain wharf via Flickr.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have come up with a new use for all those security cameras that have proliferated across the globe in recent years: They’re using public, Internet-connected webcams to monitor the effects of global warming across the globe.

It turns out that the local street views, so to speak, provide a better picture than satellite imagery that’s also used for this purpose. I learned about it this morning, via Mother Jones, which linked from the Conservation Maven site. And, here’s the paper, if you’d rather read the long version. Unfortunately the site is password protected, so be prepared to shell out some cash.

According to the abstract:

“Public cameras had an equivalent or higher ability to detect spring compared with satellite-based data for corresponding locations, with fewer numbers of poor quality days, shorter continuous bad data days, and significantly lower errors of spring estimates. Manual image segmentation into deciduous, evergreen, and understory vegetation allowed detection of spring and fall onset for multiple vegetation types.”

What insights the researchers are gleaning from the cams isn’t mentioned in the abstract. Perhaps it’s too early for them to provide a clear picture of the webcam images they are analyzing. Once they do start comparing images of local cams around the globe, the new approach could make the impacts of global warming much more real to people locally by showing them the changes in their own communities.

But one has to wonder if we really need more evidence that global warming is real, as much as a game plan for addressing it. The climate change deniers have had quite a run lately, but if you believe Yale’s Six Americas study, a sizable number of people are convinced that climate change is real. According to the Yale researchers, 18 percent would chacterize themselves as “alarmed,” while another 33 percent are “concerned” about climate change. That’s more than half the country but the political solutions we’ve been offered so far are all about political action as opposed to actual action.

The climate bill gaining steam in the Senate right now would reduce carbon emissions by just 17 percent over 2005 levels by 2020. That’s way below what climate scientists say in necessary if we are going reign in runaway climate changes before its too late. It’s going to be too late, very soon – within the next couple of years. Yet, people keep talking about what’s politically feasible, rather than what’s necessary. Sens. John Kerry, (D-Mass.,) Joseph I. Lieberman, (I-Conn.,) and Lindsey Graham, (R, S.C.,) who have teamed with the country’s leading Big Green environmentalists to push this woefully inadequate climate legislation this year,  may be able to negotiate a deal that both sides can claim as a victory. But nature doesn’t cut backroom deals.

What will it take to shift our thinking so that “political reality” includes keeping the climate from slipping beyond what’s “liveable” – not just for some cuddly endangered species, but for us humans? Some say the country needs a new civil rights movement to demand environmental sustainability. What do you think?


About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on April 5, 2010, in Climate Change and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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