Earth Observations and Global Change
July 14, 2008
Is it possible to predict or alleviate the impacts of natural and manmade disasters? From California wildfires to Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico to the changing climate to the ongoing violence in Darfur, environmental and national security events are around the world are unfolding more and more quickly. How can we manage the water shortages and droughts that – combined with crop failures, soaring energy prices, and a growing demand for biofuels – have aggravated an unprecedented global food crisis? Will we be able to balance the need for alternative energy and soaring gas prices while simultaneously limiting carbon emissions and managing cap and trade agreements? These questions and many others highlight a few of the challenges presented by global change. Our ability to understand and address these challenges relies on the uninterrupted flow of timely and accurate information to planners and first responders. The CSIS report “Earth Observations and Global Changes” looks at the current state of Earth observations technology and whether or not current and future decision makers will have access to enough information to reliably address global change.
Earth observations systems — from space, land, air, and sea-based sensors to climate models, decision support tools and information networks – provide the timely and accurate information needed to address global change in coming years. Since the dawn of the Space Age 50 years ago, space-based technologies from communications satellites to GPS have been essential in bringing humankind together. Similarly, we are increasingly reliant on Earth observations as a vital tool in a number of areas including the management of disasters, energy, food, and water.
Yet our accomplishments in using of Earth observations to bring us closer to our world still lag behind our successes in using space-based communications and navigation to bring us closer to each other. And while our use of Earth observations continues to grow, we are still far from secure in our ability to predict, mitigate, or prevent the challenges caused by the ever-increasing pace of global change.
If we are to understand and plan intelligently for global change, we must take every opportunity to build on our past successes and redress existing shortcomings. The CSIS report “Earth Observation and Global Change” gives a number of recommendations of steps the United States needs to take, which are grouped into three main categories:
- First, the United States must demonstrate strong domestic leadership by making a commitment to long term, continuous acquisition of Earth observation data, doubling funding of US Earth observation efforts to avoid the looming gaps in Earth observation coverage, and placing the responsibility for planning and coordinating US Earth observations efforts with a single individual at the cabinet level.
- Second, the United States must exercise global leadership in bringing nations together to cooperate effectively in Earth observations and consequently, global change, through continued support of efforts such as the Global Earth Observations System-of-Systems (GEOSS).
- Third, the United States must coordinate among users and producers of Earth observations in both the private and public sectors to enable us to take advantage of the ingenuity and innovation that the private sector can offer.
Rather than learning to adapt to natural and manmade disasters, the changing climate, the global food crisis, as well as our growing appetite for energy, and dealing only with the consequences after the fact, we need to start focusing our efforts on the Earth observation systems that will better connect humanity and its home, allowing us to prevent, predict, and mitigate the increasingly dramatic impacts of global change.