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Nov-08-2021 13:14printcomments

The Value of What's Not There

The value of energy not used, money not spent, time not wasted, water resources not consumed, cannot be underestimated.

climate change

(LOS ANGELES, Calif.) - When Al Gore and a coalition of non-profits and technology firms announced the launch of Climate TRACE the other day at COP26 in Glasgow, it was with the following introduction:

    Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) is a global coalition of nonprofits, tech companies, and universities created to make meaningful climate action faster and easier by independently tracking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with unprecedented detail and speed.
    We harness satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and data science expertise to identify human-caused GHG emissions when and where they happen.

As they see themselves, Climate TRACE is both the sum of the parts, and the sum of the people who have directly or indirectly developed those parts.


A Negawatt is a unit in watts of power saved. It is basically the opposite of a watt.

Amory Lovins has advocated a "negawatt revolution", arguing that utility customers don't want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services such as hot showers, cold beer, lit rooms, and spinning shafts, which can come more cheaply if electricity is used more efficiently.

The concept of negative valuation is helpful in encouraging the public to visualize the scope of the problem, and the manner it can be addressed. This begins with data gathering and monitoring in a manner that is fair and equitable

A negawatt represents a watt of energy that you have not used through energy conservation or the use of energy-efficient products. It's also the offset of combustion, unnecessary release of GHG's such as CO2 and Methane to the atmosphere.


According to Lovins, energy efficiency represents a profitable global market and American companies have at their disposal the technical innovations to lead the way.

The value of energy not used, money not spent, time not wasted, water resources not consumed, cannot be underestimated. But it's not simply about managing waste and resources in the system. It's about getting something better out of that system itself.

It's a way of approaching the question, 'what if we look at things differently?' 'We might ask, 'What negative value is imposed by things we want to take away?' 'What is the value of taking them away?' Removing the input to our "life capsule," like we take out the garbage.

In the case of carbon, it has a very high negative life capsule value. Accurate computational analysis and observation through digital means is an important tool in assessing these values, communicated in the negative. or as a positive estimate of temperature increase in relation to IPCC 2050 goals.


Radical transparency is a phrase used across fields to radically increase the openness of organizational process and data.

  • Foster real dialogue between everyone
  • Be prepared
  • Get real about what’s important

Today, barriers to success not only cost money, they flirt with catastrophe.

Climate TRACE:

    We need data to pinpoint when and where human-caused emissions happen, and what sources are driving them. Data such as these help pivot from accounting to action. Yet many countries must rely on general estimates, broad assumptions, and emitters’ self-reported data.
    Consequently, status quo GHG inventories are often many years out of date, contain gaps, have high levels of uncertainty, are high level and not localized, and are fragmented and not comprehensive.


What good are climate accords if they are simply ignored, or become subservient to greenwash?


    “We’re in a century where we have really powerful technology and we don’t have the moral and ethical governance that we need to manage it properly. Somehow, our system doesn’t hold people responsible.”
    -Bill Joy, Al Jazeera interview

It's a dotted line from the Climate TRACE constellation of sensors, satellites, and public data to enforcement activities preventing further unauthorized releases of GHG's.

With an incentive as the driver, as opposed to a punishable offense, this is familiar too. Fear of being left behind is a powerful motivator in the tech community and its investors. Failure to live up to pledges scores a reputational zero.

When Bill Joy wrote "Why The Future Doesn't Need Us," in Wired, 2000, he stated that genetics, nanotech and robotics posed serious questions about human authority over the "sons and daughters" of its creation.

In traditional public relations, damage control involves the suppression of public information. But, as Clive Thompson observed in Wired, the Internet has created a powerful force towards transparency.

"Here's the interesting paradox: The reputation economy creates an incentive to be more open, not less."

Since Internet exposure is inevitable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it.

It is said, “Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Googleable reputation.

Corporate hype won't work, because people will either ignore it and not link to it – or worse, pick the spin apart and enshrine those criticisms high on your Google list of life."

Climate TRACE:

    With recent advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and with greater availability of remote sensing data such as satellite imagery from public and commercial sources, it is now possible to harness these technological advances to provide actionable emissions data to all stakeholders and usher in a an era of emissions monitoring that provides open, transparent, granular, timely data.
    Kevin Kelly argued in 1994 that, “in the network era, openness wins, central control is lost”: In 2006, Wired's Chris Anderson blogged on the shift from secrecy to transparency blogging culture had made on corporate communications, and highlighted the next step as a shift to ‘radical transparency’ where the “whole product development process [is] laid bare, and opened to customer input.”

WIRED, The Sensor-Based Economy:

    In emerging economies throughout the world sensor-driven tech can foster socioeconomic development and increase the country’s ability to compete on the world stage.
    The SWEETLab at Portland State University is working on a number of projects designed to help better life in struggling environments and draw attention to what the lab calls the “Internet of Broken Things.” Their monitors have been used in projects ranging from water pumps in Kenya to cookstoves in India and water filters in Indonesia.

One can speculate with a fair amount of reason that closely identifying and monitoring power plant emissions, with real time information, and their potential for causing harm to marginalized communities, could help mitigate or remove that harm.

Ultimately any concerns about privacy are addressed within the AI framework, how the software that correlates and connects data from a variety of sources is written.

    Climate TRACE:
    Data from Climate TRACE member TransitionZero show that in Q2 2021, China’s steel-related emissions reached record levels, but Q3 saw a sharp drop in the country’s steel-related emissions, bringing it closer to meeting its target of keeping 2021 emissions below 2020 levels.


Douglas Engelbart was a computer scientist associated with SRI, Stanford Research Institute where he ran a DARPA funded lab. Credited with the invention of the mouse, Engelbart was famous for a 1968 Multimedia Demo that was far ahead of its time.

    “The mouse was just a tiny piece of a much larger project, aimed at augmenting human intellect.” — Doug Engelbart, inventor of the mouse


VANNEVAR BUSH was an American inventor and science administrator, who during WWII headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), through which almost all wartime military R&D was carried out,

In "As We May Think" his Atlantic Magazine essay, Bush expresses his concern for the direction of scientific efforts toward destruction, rather than understanding, and explicates a desire for a sort of collective memory machine with his concept of the memex that would make knowledge more accessible, believing that it would help fix these problems.

Through this machine, Bush hoped to transform an information explosion into a knowledge explosion.


Climate TRACE follows the spirit and steps of technologies and ideas developed before it, now combined because the world has reached a threshold, or saturation point of available sensor and optical data streams to make the vision possible, along with the artificial intelligence capabilities that can help make sense of it all.

That its development coincides with major announcements from COP26, such as More than 40 countries have committed to shift away from coal and 20 countries pledge to stop financing unabated overseas fossil fuel projects calls attention to both the public image making and the effort to provide a means to verify and validate public claims and commitments.


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