CoLab-oration: MIT Brings a Fresh Perspective to the Fight Against Climate Change

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Sustainable Energy

CoLab-oration: MIT Brings a Fresh Perspective to the Fight Against Climate Change


With global sea levels rising at an accelerating rate, climate scientists estimate that as much as 10 percent of the world’s population may soon be displaced by rising tides. Meanwhile, faced with drought and desertification, landlocked regions are grappling with environmental crises of their own.

For resource-strained governments confronting climate change in the developing world, organizing and managing environmental initiatives can pose a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

That’s where MIT’s Climate CoLab comes in.

Developed by MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, Climate CoLab is an online crowdsourcing platform where individuals and organizations from around the world can propose their very own climate change solutions. In addition to concerned laypeople, Climate CoLab’s global community is made up of investors, policy makers and climate experts as well.

Community members weigh in on one another’s proposals in a series of contests. After being evaluated by experts, the most promising entries are awarded funding as well as opportunities to present their ideas before influential governing bodies like the United Nations or U.S. Congress.

"This work suggests a new way of harnessing the collective intelligence of thousands of people around the world to combine many different ideas into integrated solutions for some of our most pressing and difficult problems,"  says Thomas W. Malone, professor and founding director of the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT.

By cracking open the restrictive spaces where climate strategies are usually devised, Climate CoLab is producing uniquely engaging—and effective—projects.

The program has garnered more than 2,000 individual proposals from around the globe, addressing everything from reducing methane emissions from rice cultivation in Nepal to helping Vietnamese cities accommodate seasonal migrant workers.

Climate Smart, the award-winning submission of a 2016 contest, helps local governments map frequently overlooked carbon emissions from small and medium sized businesses. The company has produced data on business community emissions in eight cities, and turned up some startling results.

MIT Winners Video: Business Energy and Emissions Profile (BEEP)

With small- and medium-sized businesses accounting for as much as 30 percent of total carbon emissions in some cities, Climate Smart’s proposal has already proven a valuable tool for identifying and reducing urban emissions.

Meanwhile, an ongoing Climate CoLab contest held in partnership with the UN aims to enhance climate resilience in vulnerable countries. While the contest is still in its semi-final round, a few promising projects are already turning heads.

Popular proposals include a gamified disaster preparedness program, a cloud-based vulnerability model for urban planning, and an effort to assess and mitigate emissions from brick kilns in Pakistan.

The diversity of ideas in Climate CoLab’s latest contest are a perfect demonstration of what makes the program’s democratized approach to climate solutions so promising. By creating fresh partnerships between citizens, scientists, and stakeholders, Climate CoLab is breathing new life—and valuable fresh perspectives—into the fight against climate change.

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