Student profile: Jack Townsend
The Impact of the Web
“Nothing like the Web has ever happened in all of human history. The scale of its impact and the rate of its adoption are unparalleled.” “The Web is the largest human information construct in history. The Web is transforming society.” (Web Science Trust Website)
The Impact of Climate Change
Climate change is happening, and it is likely that it is primarily anthropogenic. “The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling: sea level rise, global temperature rise, shrinking ice sheets, declining Arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, extreme events and ocean acidification” (NASA Website). The impact of climate change is likely to be felt most acutely by the least advantaged people in tropical developing countries “By 2020, between 75 and 250 million of people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.” (IPCC Fourth Assessment Report 2007).
The Impact & Timeliness of this Research
The last twenty years have seen the exponential growth of the Web into a global phenomenon with major impacts across the range of human activity. This has led to an urgent necessity for the new subject of Web Science. Those twenty years have also seen the formation of major scientific consensus on the causes of anthropogenic climate change and the great and urgent danger it presents. In parallel, the challenge of sustainability has been woven into the fabric of corporations, governments & NGOs alike, as they attempt to respond to climate change and a host of other economic, social & environmental challenges.
Some world leaders have called for a “purpose driven” web to tackle major world issues of sustainability such as climate change. This work therefore seeks to apply the new area of Web research to the highly pressing global problem of climate change, whilst considering the wider implications for sustainable development.
To identify significant opportunities for web technologies to support the response to climate change, and potentially to prototype and test such applications.
To develop the practical and theoretical basis of designing web technologies and applications that respond to global challenges such as climate change.
This research will build upon my summer dissertation, which mapped the ways in which web and related technologies are significant to responding to climate change. The framework which was developed has five main sections, with a promising theoretical approach being identified for each:
- Public engagement Social science
- Innovation & coordination Design
- Direct mitigation or exacerbation Technology
- Global development Social science
- Adaptation Technology
The plan at this stage is to research two of the most promising and relevant opportunities in depth, whilst at the same time synthesising & developing some of the most helpful areas of theory identified by my earlier work. The particular applications chosen may be of relevance to a variety of problems beyond climate change & sustainability.
Method & Methodology
This work will be interdisciplinary Web Science. Contributing subjects whose methodologies may be relevant to the project include: computer science; human computer interaction; economics; geography; international development; political science; environmental science; and complex systems.
At this stage it is envisioned that the main activities are likely to include:
- Analysing environmental/social situation to identify opportunities & develop theory
- Designing user experiences
- Optimising design through modelling/analysis
- Working with software engineers to build them
- Analysing environmental/social impact of systems built
Jack Townsend produced the concept for Globe Town, a site designed to expose myths about climate change, which was then built with the help of other Web Science students. An EPSRC article on Globe Town can be found here.