Contests Harness Crowd Smarts to Tackle Climate Change

Competitors vie for the ultimate prize: a sustainable future.

If two heads are better than one, then myriad heads are genius. That's the thinking behind crowdsourcing, an emerging field that draws upon the wisdom of the crowd to provide services, obtain ideas or raise money. The online encyclopedia Wikiepedia is a good example, as is the phone app WAZE, which pulls real-time traffic data from users to show the fastest routes around congested areas. Websites such as Kickstarter and Indegogo help startup companies raise money.

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One of the latest ventures into this area aims to tackle climate change. The Climate CoLab, launched by Thomas Malone, professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is designed to pool intelligence through a portfolio of online contests. Anyone can submit an idea under a range of categories, including for example "Energy Supply," "Transportation," "Waste Management," and more. Anyone can view the submissions, make comments on them, contribute to proposals or vote them up or down.

People with expertise in the specific areas are called upon to provide guidance and help find judges. Finalists are chosen based on feasibility, novelty, potential impact on climate change and presentation. After a refining stage, the final proposals are voted upon by the community as well as expert judges. Entrants can get a Popular Choice Award or a Judges' Choice. Contest winners are then invited to present their ideas at the Crowds and Climate Conference at MIT attended by policymakers, business executives and investors, officials at non-profits and non-governmental organizations, and citizen groups.

"A contest appears to be a useful way of synchronizing people's activities," Malone told the Guardian. "By giving a deadline and a schedule of things to do, it's a way of motivating people to act together and to get something done."

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Taking such a comprehensive, collaborative effort to address climate change is well-timed. In the last few months, a handful of important reports have come out pointing to the dire state of Planet Earth. Last fall, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put a number on the amount of carbon pollution Earth's atmosphere can support before it rises more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. And the same panel published "Climate Change 2013: The Physical Basis," the first of a series of reports on the topic.

This week, the National Climate Assessment, produced every four years by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, outlined the present and ongoing effects of climate change on the United States and the details are not pretty.

via Popular Science and The Guardian

Credit: iStockPhoto

Tens of thousands march on the National Mall and past the White House on Feb. 17, 2013, to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and to show leadership on other climate change issues.