Listen Up, Earthlings

Message from the Editor

Welcome to GISWeekly! Each new year we like to think of how this year we're going to be better, more prosperous, greater, be it as a company or as individuals. This year, we are faced with the fact that we are using our resources in such a way that it will impact the future geography of our planet, and every facet of our existence here. This week's Industry News talks about how different companies and individuals are taking part in solving problems of global warming and energy production and use.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Alliances/Acquisitions, Announcements, New Products, Going on Around the Web, and Calendar.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at Managing Editor

Best wishes,
Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Listen Up, Earthlings
By Susan Smith

In making New Year's resolutions, it occurred to me that we earthlings might make our a community resolution this year: to give something back to the planet. Each new year we like to think of how this year we're going to be better, more prosperous, greater, be it as a company or as individuals. This year, we are faced with the fact that we are using our resources in such a way that it will impact the future geography of our planet, and every facet of our existence here.

In October 2003 GISWeekly ran a story about Marine GIS and how it's playing a part in trying to solve the problem of the results of global warming. A recent New York Times story talked about how global warming is affecting fall foliage in New England, while Spencer W. Weart has written an engaging novel-like history of “The Discovery of Global Warming.”

No doubt about it, climate change is contributing to numerous changes in the earth, and one of the most profound changes is its effect on sea level rise. Ultimately sea level rise impacts the huge population centers on the world's coasts, where most human population is concentrated. While this is only one of the negative impacts of global warming, it is significant enough that world leaders are taking a look at just how to diminish the CO­2 emissions that are largely responsible for this phenomena.

I came back to this subject because I was researching the story of Edward Mazria, an architect who has made it his mission to charge all architects with taking responsibility for their role in contributing to global warming.

GITA's webcast about the August 14 Blackout that literally wiped out electrical power across the northeast part of the U.S. made me see the issue of energy from another standpoint. Utility professionals know that they must find better ways of providing energy to customers to avoid future blackouts that paralyze large segments of the country. I thought that these two concerns - global warming and power - and how they impact the future of our planet --are crying out to be voiced within the same story.

Over the next 20 years, U.S. energy consumption is predicted to rise by 37 percent at the current use level. For the same period, the worldwide figure is 59 percent. Ed Mazria contends that architects and the building industry are responsible for half the energy consumption and half the greenhouse gas emissions in the country, produced by fossil fuels. What Mazria has to say about energy consumption and emissions makes a good case for how we contribute to the use of energy and emissions - not only by driving our SUVs. Architecture is responsible for a huge chunk of the pie-just about half. Industry is also a big contributor, but part of industry is the manufacture of architectural materials. The right siting and building materials can save up to half the energy usage in buildings, according to Mazria. So although architecture doesn't have a whole lot to do with GIS directly, it does if you consider its responsibility for causing global warming, which leads people at GIS software firms to develop software to analyze and measure the effect of global warming on coastlines. It does, also, when you consider architectural decisions ultimately affect our environment and climate change.

As though others have the same thing in mind, I received this announcement this week:

“Energy Info Source's International Green Power Report is a comprehensive 250-page study of the International green power market -- mainly the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. The report takes a wide-ranging look at the past, present, and future state of green power, and both individually and collectively addresses the technologies of Biopower, Geothermal, Ocean Power, Photovoltaics, Concentrating Solar, and Wind. View Executive Summary

The Valles Caldera, New Mexico, a basin shaped depression in the earth, ringed by cliffs, that is the result of two violent volcanic explosions and collapse.
Also this week, I read an Associated Press story entitled: “State asked to Halt Plans to Drill.” This wasn't a story about oil drilling, but about a company that wants to drill wells to develop a geothermal plant at the Valles Caldera preserve in New Mexico, a cliff-ringed hollow in the earth that is 14 miles across, formed by the explosion and collapse of a volcano. In 2000, the federal government bought the preserve and most of its mineral rights for over $100 million. The area is home to 17 species of plants and animals and sacred Indian sites, as well as 27 miles of trout streams.

By now we know there are no easy solutions. In fact, it is an overarching principle that every solution is only a new problem. For example, although geothermal energy is considered a cleaner, renewable source of energy, drawing energy from the heat of the earth could threaten some of our wild lands. Petroleum engineer Ken Boren said that he thinks eventually the Caldera will be developed, “because it's the very best undrilled geothermal prospect in the country.”

Other alternative sources of energy listed in the Green Power Report such as biopower, renewable electricity derived from plant material, is the subject of a DOE geoenergy initiative. Photovoltaics is semiconductor technology that converts light energy into direct current electricity, with no moving parts, without burning fuel, without creating pollution. The DOE's program for concentrating solar power (CSP) is another candidate that can offer low cost energy during periods of peak demand for large scale deployment.

One need not be an idealist to consider these possibilities; even utilities recognize the need for a reliable power supply but also the potential for cost savings by placing emphasis on recovery as well as prevention of blackouts.

Global warming will definitely affect commerce of the future. Although the electric utility folks are not directly concerned with global warming, perhaps they will be in time. They are looking at how to deliver more power to more people, how to build more power plants, not diminish the number of them. Energy and power will continue to be a vital facet of global economy but will have to make changes to keep up with demand and the growing need for cheaper, cleaner, renewable resources. GIS plays a role in utilities that can easily evolve to tracking, locating, analyzing a new energy source.

Now we all know that few, if any of us, keep our new year's resolutions. But these resolutions serve to emphasize what we feel will impact future generations. We cannot continue to take without giving something back. The earth and its surrounds are the source of everything we are and everything we need. So, in keeping this new year's resolution, this one is fairly easy: consider the planet and some way, whether big or small, in which we can all contribute to its survival.

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