Can the Internet save the environment?
A study issued on Thursday hints that it could.
A scuba diver in the South China Sea off Malaysia (above, picture by David Loh of Reuters News) might write a blog if corals looked damaged by ‘bleaching’ — algae that give reefs their colours can start to die off because of higher sea temperatures. It might just turn out that divers far away in Australia, the Caribbean or elsewhere were starting to notice the same thing — perhaps setting off alarm bells about global warming.
“The Internet has the possibility to link up anecdotes to see if there’s a pattern,” said Tim Daw of the University of East Anglia who was among the authors. All that would be needed is an automated trawl of the Internet to pick up the information.
Daw told me, for instance, that he’s from Scotland where villages in the northwest had suffered a population explosion of millipedes. “People have had their houses overrun,” he said. No one knew why.
Already, outbreaks of disease are tracked online by the Canadian-developed Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), for instance, which picks up many early hints of medical emergencies.
So could an Internet search ever be smart enough to save the planet?