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Youth-Friendly Apps Visualise Carbon Footprint

WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2012 (IPS) - Following what many regard as a disappointment at the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit, the World Bank and several groups have begun implementing new initiatives to “personalise” climate change, in hopes of revitalising the issue among the younger generation.

On Thursday, a World Bank-led programme here in Washington called “Apps for Climate” was held in a bid to bridge the gap between data and actionable results. Its organisers have fostered the creation of applications for mobile phones and the Internet, with the aim of allowing individuals to see their impact on the global environment.

“Rio+20 showed the vital need for sustainability,” Caroline Anstey, managing director at the World Bank, headquartered here in Washington, said at the event at the Newsuem. “It demonstrated that climate is too important to leave to negotiators.

“Data collected is just data. But data interpreted and visualised becomes something fundamentally more empowering.”

According to a 2011 Yale University study that surveyed U.S. teenagers’ understanding of climate change on a letter grade scale (A-F), only 25 percent of teenagers received a grade of C or higher. Comparatively, 54 percent of the adolescents tested received a failing grade.

“Solving the problem of climate change requires behaviour change. People in all walks of life will need to make decisions based on the best available data,” Rachel Kyte, vice-president of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, said Thursday.

The Apps for Climate venture brings the systemic issues inherent in dealing with climate change to a younger population by using technology and social media to heighten awareness.

On Thursday, the programme unveiled the results from a contest to help “crowdsource” the project, enlisting eco-activists and software and computer programmers. At stake was 55,000 dollars in prizes for applications that were successful in visualising relatively dry data.

Apps for Climate was originally announced by the World Bank last December at the United Nations COP-17 conference, an environmental symposium in South Africa.

Of 14 finalists, the winner was a software application called Ecofacts, built by an Argentinean software programmer named Andres Martinez Quijano, who claimed a 15,000-dollar prize.

The 33-year-old Quijano, who studied computer science at university and has been programming for 17 years, said he believed his project could have an individualised impact. “It’s not about government, it’s about people,” he told IPS.

Ecofacts, which Quijano built with open-application software, allows users to plug in data to visualise their own carbon footprint and effect on the environment, as well as that of their community.

The application is also open sourced, meaning that it allows users to customise its programming to their own specifications. “Anyone can access the source code for use in their own tools, or create improvements,” Quijano said. “I hope that Ecofacts will be useful to other developers and users.”

In a gala held Thursday in Washington, Connect4Climate, a climate change campaign by the World Bank, partnered with MTV, the music television channel, to launch a new initiative, “Voice4Climate” that brings together artistic youths to address climate change.

Connect4Climate already had a fairly significant reach, having received over 288,000 “likes” on Facebook and 13,000 followers on Twitter.

The endeavour connects to young people in typical MTV fashion, through photos, videos and music videos. Teens compete to earn a spot at the December 2012 U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Doha, where they will have a chance to voice their opinions on the issue, and to create a music video to be aired on MTV.

“Education and information do not change a lifestyle,” John Jackson, an MTV official, said. “People need real choices, before they can make real change.”

The programme started in 2011 with an African competition, receiving over 700 photo and video submissions from every country on the continent. The contest awarded prizes to 54 winners from 20 African countries.

Getting the message out to Africa was important for the initiative because Africa’s demographic houses a particularly large youth population. According to the United Nations, 70 percent of the African population is under the age of 30.

Further, as a group Africans are relatively less cognisant of global warming issues than the rest of the world. According to a Gallup poll, 44 percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are aware of global warming, compared to a global average of 62 percent.

Juliani, an environmentalist and rapper from Kenya, who performed here Thursday to raise awareness for the issue, says that when it comes to environmentalism, the problem might come down to bringing it to a level everyone can understand.

“When it comes to sustainable development, green economy, those are big words,” Juliani said in a statement. “You have to break them down into something people understand – I do it through music.”

 
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