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Earth Monitoring

Nations Collaborate To Take Planet's 'Pulse'

The grandly titled Global Earth Observation System of Systems, which boasts nearly 50 countries as participants, is an ambitious attempt by governments, scientists and industry to launch a network that will continuously monitor the land, sea and air. If it meets expectations, it could transform the way farmers plant their crops, sailors plot their voyages and doctors work to prevent the spread of disease in remote regions.

For starters, the network would link data from 10,000 manned and automated weather stations, 1,000 buoys and 100,000 daily observations by 7,000 ships and 3,000 aircraft, officials said. Ultimately, it would vacuum up information from myriad other sources, including satellites monitoring ground and air movements, and feed it all into computers that will process it.

... "This is not a power grab by the United States or ultra-extremist organizations trying to seize control of the Earth," Lautenbacher said, adding that some nations are joining even though they "don't like our Iraqi policy. They certainly don't like our Kyoto policy" -- the Bush administration's decision to reject the 1997 pact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.

It's not a power grab to sieze control of the Earth because the people doing this already control the Earth.

From the persepctive of a human-environment researcher, this is an exciting development. However, the data being produced is highly one-sided. It's easy to set up global monitoring of physical processes like ocean circulation and land cover change. It's much more difficult -- and often unethical -- to create comparably rich databases about human systems. This contributes to a natural-science bias in thinking about, and dealing with, environmental problems. On the other hand, it's an open question whether the people that already control the Eath can be trusted with that more detailed human information.


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