Best Practices

Based on our analysis, we have determined the following best practices in implementing a mapping application for climate change.

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb by armisteadbooker, CCL on Flickr

Before embarking on a project to map climate change, during the implementation process, and once the application is live and running, several important questions beg to be asked. The following represents a set of essential factors to consider.

What will the climate change indicators be?
  • It is important to look at trends in indicators, as any single event should not automatically be attributed to climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists, in concert with the World Resources Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, Sierra Club, U.S. Pirg and the World Wildlife Fund produced a site illustrating global warming "early warning signs" in which they differentiate between climate change "fingerprints" and "harbingers." Fingerprints are described as "direct manifestations of a widespread and long-term trend toward warmer global temperatures" whereas harbingers are "events that foreshadow the types of impacts likely to become more frequent and widespread with continued warming." For the latter, a direct link to climate change cannot currently be confirmed. For more information visit Examples of indicators might include:
    • Increase or decrease in precipitation
    • drought
    • rising sea levels
    • extreme temperatures
    • biodiversity loss
    • glacial melting
    • more extreme natural disasters
  • When discussing indicators, it is important to take into account natural variability in the climatic system due to phenomena such as El Niño, La Niña, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). These natural systems of variability can both mask and exacerbate climate change caused by anthropogenic activities. A more nuanced mapping project would at least address natural variability and acknowledge that it complicates our full understanding of climate change due to anthropogenic activities.
  • How will we combine the scientific indicators with the human stories without compromising one or the other? Through testimonials, users will populate the map with personal stories about how their lives have been affected by climate change. To maintain credibility, the scientific and environmental community will verify whether the human stories are indeed results of climate change.


Who will populate the map?
  • In an effort to diversify the voice of climate change and empower local populations to play a role in documenting global warming, the map should be accessible at various bandwidths and across multiple languages.
  • Building a map on open source software would mean the map could be populated by anyone, anywhere. We would rely on our partners from the scientific community as well as media industry to vet the content, checking for accuracy and relevance. We would also rely on crowd-sourcing techniques to flag inappropriate content.
  • Citizen Journalists: The climate map should draw the testimonials of citizens across the world, with the provision of an open-source, free platform so that anyone can participate in reporting or raising awareness of the local climate changes they are experiencing from anywhere in the world. A successful example of “citizen journalism” is Ushahidi, whose mapping platform attracted 45,000 users in its initial deployment, sharing their stories through email, SMS, photo, and video.
  • Eco-travelers: Lonely Planet’s Eco-Travelers can be enlisted to populate climate maps during their travels, providing first-hand accounts of climate change they witness in countries across the world. The Thorn Tree travel forum provides a cyber-space for the Lonely Planet community to share and upload their stories via text, email, photos and video. Other travel guides that draw an eco-friendly transnational community to their site include Rough Guides, Bradt Travel Guides, and Trip Advisor.
  • International Development Organizations (Non-profits, NGO's, Government Agencies): Organizations involved in environment-related issues can make use of the climate mapping tool to document and track incidents of climate change. It can also serve as a forum for organizations to share their research and information with each other.
  • Press - those who cover the environment, climate change, and related topics can provide fresh and unique insights into the latest trends and patterns emerging within the climate change sphere. Journalists such as Heidi Cullen, founder of Climate Central, and creator of the New York Times' Dot Earth blog Andrew Revkin, have spent years studying the effects of climate change, and are important resources.

How would the tool be applicable?
  • Are certain regions of the world more suited to such an application? What are the regional factors that may pose challenges?

Who are the key partners to align with?

What are the measurements for success?
  • Site traffic and content uploads (photos, videos, comments) would measure site usability. What about real impact on the ground?
  • By partnering with local NGO and environmental groups, we will rely on the local experts to report back on how conditions have improved, worsened, or remained the same.

How will we deal with access and infrastructure barriers in the developing world?
  • Engaging local populations and providing a channel for them to tell their stories is crucial. We should integrate a grant program into the project to train local populations in mobile technology that could be used to populate the map.