Pooling Intelligence to Deal with Global Warming

Published Sep-27-11

Crowdsourcing contest that used the power of collective intelligence to create new climate agreement proposals.

The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, United States

The Story:

Pooling Intelligence to Deal with Global Warming To many people, climate change and global warming are among the most pressing and important issues facing humanity today, requiring creative and innovative solutions to ensure the long term health of the planet and its inhabitants.

Collective Intelligence to Save the Planet

The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence as the name might suggest is a strong believer in the wisdom of the crowd and of the potential of crowdsourcing initiatives to generate solutions and guide thinking. Inspired by crowdsourcing platforms and the connectivity of the Internet it set up the Climate CoLab to utilize collective intelligence to address climate change.

Its director, Prof. Thomas Malone believes that collective intelligence is the only way that we will be able to save the planet. To that end the Climate CoLab harnesses the pooled brain power of thousands of individuals across the globe. Users include world class experts, students and members of the general public. They make use of a suite of online tools and computer simulations to predict the likely impacts of certain activities and engage in debates.

In addition the website hosts an annual competition where participants propose ideas to address problems caused by global warming. Leading climate change experts then discuss these ideas alongside regular users and the top ones are voted for.

The 2010 competition asked participants to come up with new international climate agreement proposals for the world community and the Climate CoLab website was inundated with a wide range of ideas.

They were voted on by 403 members of the community and winners were announced in two categories:

Popular Choice Award
Judges’ Choice Award

Crowdsourcing Contest Winners

The winner of the Popular Choice Award was a project called ‘Overcoming the North-South Divide’. It won 43% of the votes and was developed by two graduate students in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. The overall objective of their idea is to strategize methods to break the impasse between developed and developing countries over issues surrounding climate change, and they proposed a number of specific actions. The proposal called for emission reductions to be based on regional clusters rather than national targets.

The Judges’ Choice Award was a tie and the honors were shared between ‘Overcoming the North-South Divide’ and ‘A Realistic Climate Change Proposal’ which, in the words of its pitch document states:

“The goal of this proposal is to offer a pragmatic view of a global climate deal that: countries might realistically agree to, countries might be able to actually achieve, and would achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Crowdsourcing Brings New Thinking to the Fore

According to Prof. Malone the crowdsourcing competition more than proved its worth as it generated many new ideas and proposals that had not previously been a part of the climate change conversation:

“The contest has furthered our goal of crowdsourcing to help discover new ideas and possible solutions from people around the world, including those who otherwise would not be part of the discussion. Several of the ideas in the finalists' proposals have not yet been part of the general conversation about these issues and we hope this contest will broaden and inform the global discussion of climate change.”

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