Oof. Tuesday, July 26, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.
It’s 98f/36.6c outside right now and my anemic portable air conditioner unit says it’s 78f/25.5c in this room. The temperature is going to stay above 95f/35c for the next five days here, and worst, it’s only going to get to lows of 67f/19.4c in the evenings. That means the heat inside dwellings just keeps building and building and building over time. There’s no time to cool down.
My wife left a cooler of cold drinks outside our house for mail carriers and package deliverers, plus we’ve had one down on the street for unhoused people.
So heat.gov launched recently and it’s a website for the U.S. National Integrated Heat Health Information System, a product of NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The site is built with ArcGIS Hub, and I know this because there’s a little banner that says so at the bottom. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about that: it brings up associations of Built With Microsoft FrontPage or Built With Dreamweaver, and I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate for that badging and branding to be present on a government website. But maybe it doesn’t matter!
Right now, it excitingly (or depressingly) is telling me that there are 39,932,057 people in extreme heat warning areas.
But all that is beside the point because this is about things that caught my attention.
To which: what if there were a U.S. Climate Digital Service? Quick googling didn’t show me whether there’s any U.S. Digital Service or 18F involvement in heat.gov, but there’s no value judgment there. In fact, it’s also kind of good if there hasn’t been, because that means there’s “good” digital service capability at NOAA to design/build/deploy/iterate something like this.
But that’s also beside the point because what I’m thinking about is what would a U.S. Climate Digital Service do? Who would it do it for? How would you or the non-royal We know whether it was doing a good job, or whether it was worth it?
It feels especially more complicated in the U.S. because of the role of the private sector. Weather is big business1, I remember things like IBM buying The Weather Channel but only the data/website biz, not The Weather Channel, The Amazing Poster Child For Augmented Reality In Broadcast Television.
You know, all the stuff about fleets of microsats and modern data pipelines so the financial sector can get information like “how many cars were parked at Target this weekend” or “how many fields are the wrong color right now so that I can go mess with insert-crop-futures”.
I guess a Climate Digital Service would come down to concepts like resiliency, survivability, before you even got to something like comfort.
What would a public digital service for climate change look like? How might you interact with it? Not directly, probably. I follow the National Weather Service Portland’s Twitter account, but what I don’t necessarily get are push alerts telling me that hey, it’s so hot tomorrow people might die. But then: how many alerts are too many alerts? You can get Wireless Emergency Alerts for stuff like when a missile has not been launched toward Hawaii, and actually I do remember getting some alerts last year when it got Super Hot, like, 116f/46.7c in Portland.
One of the associations I had was “*Shotspotter, “but better”, but for weather and climate change data”*, as if there were some sort of nation-wide open network of climate/weather sensors, but honestly I don’t even know if that’s needed.
Some more thoughts: are we talking about the need for mitigation or for prevention? When do we (the public, I guess) have different needs? Does mitigation mean in the moment? Does it mean better data about public resources? Digital services don’t make up for a lack of decision making, they don’t make up for a inept or ineffective policy (though they can be forcing functions to show the need to improve).
So the whole thought of what would a U.S. Climate Digital Service be like is instead a prompt to consider what would need to change to meet unmet needs (wow, what a terrible sentence). What good does letting you know it’s hot do if you don’t have anywhere to go? If you should hydrate but you don’t have access to water? If you need somewhere to stay but you don’t have somewhere to stay? Is it to help with getting information out to the people who don’t have that information? Is it to plan better, on the supply side?
Or, and you wouldn’t need a U.S. Climate Digital Service for this, would it be something like telling people: hey, it’s going to be hot next week, here’s a one-click order for the stuff you’ll need to keep your home cool. Because that’s commerce. That’s efficient late-stage data-based capitalism, that’s marketing, that’s Content Optimization from your friends at The Wirecutter at The New York Times, who manage to get front-page, above-the-fold space based on your location to link you to The Best Gear To Keep Cold When You’re In A Heat Dome with that one-click affiliate link to the get-started pack that’s Great For Most People. Ugh. And yet?
Or, you know, Lowe’s knows where I live. They known where Portland is, they know the billing zip code of my credit card. They could be telling me I could get a box fan delivered tomorrow if only I ordered in the next checks watch three hours, seven minutes and twenty six seconds.
I mean, the marketing and commerce potential of lethal anthropogenic climate change is unprecedented!
So what would the role for government be, and how would you advocate for it? How would you ensure there is a role for government (assuming there should be), that it wouldn’t be lobbied against?
I mean, take the whole The U.S. Has A Shitty Federal Tax System Partly Because Intuit Makes Money Off Tax Returns, but then translate it to The U.S. Has Shitty Services For Surviving Climate Change Because Interested Private Parties Want To Preserve Or Generate A Monopoly On Useful Data And/Or Commercial Opportunities Resulting Therefrom.
Or even better, be restricted from gathering publicly useful data (I don’t know what that might be) but instead have to buy it on the private market.
And still, in my head, this set of associations:
and then why not just throw software-defined in front of things:
but then of course, software-defined climate resiliency. Software-defined neighborhoods. Software-defined geofencing.
It might be easy reading all this (and also for me, to be honest) to think that all of this is terrible technology that will be used and can only be used for terrible things but that isn’t the case. It’s more what could we use it for, and then what would be needed, what context, environment, drivers, systems would be needed for effectively using technology in that way.
We’d have to decide it’s important.
Cynically, what good does data do when we don’t even possess the will to make decisions with it? What good would more data do? Sure you could say it’d be more persuasive. But then I just throw up my hands and think about failures in terms of big-g governance.
It’s still hot.
How are you?
Weather is turning into big business. And that could be trouble for the public., The Washington Post, Andrew Freedman, November 25, 2019 via Noah Chestnut ↩