Communicating the Threat

There is a ton of data and work being done to address climate change by many organizations, both civilian and government. But this data will only matter if it’s shared and communicated correctly to an audience that understands the true crisis we’re in.


In the 1960s, a biologist discovered the beauty of humpback whale songs, inspiring a movement to save our oceans. Unfortunately, experts are still looking for a similar spark to get humanity to care about the climate crisis in the same way they cared about the whales. Finding that “whale song” and how GEOINT can impact climate change policy were just a couple of things discussed in the GEOINT Informing Climate Change Policies and Risk Management panel on Friday, Oct. 8.

Led by moderator Rachel Olney, Founder and CEO of GeoSite, the panel included: Barbara Ryan, Executive Director of the World Geospatial Industry Council; Robbie Schingler, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Planet; and Anthony Vinci, Managing Director of Tracker Capital Management.

During the 40-minute discussion, Olney and the three panelists explored the most significant opportunities for the geospatial and GEOINT community to impact climate change policy. What that comes down to? Talent and data.

“If I think about what the skills and abilities are of this community, it’s to look at things in a systematic, integrated fashion,” Ryan said. “Our organizations are segmented—we break down the Earth with agencies that worry about just the atmosphere or just the oceans or just the lands. If we’re going to tackle an issue like climate change, we have to do a better job at looking at the entire Earth as an integrated system.”

Vinci agrees that the community’s talent can be utilized, particularly if climate change is treated the same way other national security threats are treated—as a sole focus rather than tangentially. “I know from experience when I look at analysts and other professionals at NGA and other organizations, when they put their minds to it, when they have a mission requirement to focus on something, they are going to address that challenge in a real way, and they’re really going to help,” he said.

On the data side, Schingler sees GEOINT helping policymakers make informed decisions based on potential futures. “We can anticipate what’s about to happen and become more resilient,” he said.

To keep policymakers informed, data has to both be shared and understood. Analysts can also help in this endeavor by properly explaining the data, which usually comes in the form or models and simulations, Vinci said.

“When you talk about the climate crisis, models and simulations are how the issue is understood, analyzed, and processed,” he explained. “But that is not how intelligence products are typically created and, ultimately, communicated. We need to start making that shift to using these models and simulations, becoming comfortable with them, and then having them as part of the intelligence briefing process.”

Of course, helping policymakers understand the data and the threat of climate change is just one part of the overall problem. The other? Getting policymakers, and average citizens, to care. Both Schingler and Vinci think the U.S. military can make an impact by communicating the threat and instituting greener initiatives from within.

The panelists agreed that GEOINT products, such as that of Google Earth, can also help communicate to and engage with the public in a way they can understand and appreciate.

“I think proliferating GEOINT from something that is primarily used right now by governments, academia, and business into something that’s understood and used broadly by people” will help, Vinci said. “Google Maps was the first to do that, but you can imagine all sorts of other products that we could have in our lives that communicate information in that way. It becomes the norm for the average watcher of the news to engage with GEOINT-type information as opposed to a talking head just telling them something.”

“The time-lapse stuff that Google has done really is moving to see how much we’re terraforming our planet,” Schingler agreed. “That might be the signal that business as usual, or the way in which we behave, is not going to last for very long.”


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