EarthTalk: What exactly are “citizen
scientists” and how can I become one?
—Eric Wilson, Barre, MA
Noah is an app-based tool that allows everyday people
to share wildlife sightings via their Internet-connected
mobile devices. It has become one of the most popular
online communities for nature exploration and documentation.
© Project Noah
scientists” are members of the public who help scientists
and researchers by making observations and/or collecting
and recording data. The term was first popularized by the
National Audubon Society as part of its annual Christmas
Bird Count (CBC), during which volunteers from across the
country fan out to count local birds. The aggregated data
has been helping Audubon assess the health of U.S. bird
populations and plan its conservation initiatives accordingly
since the tradition began in 1900.
of Audubon members still participate in the CBC, though
modern-day citizen scientists are more likely to be members
of Project Noah, an app-based tool that allows everyday
people to share wildlife sightings via their Internet-connected
mobile devices. Through the power of so-called “crowdsourcing”
(outsourcing a task to a distributed but undefined group
of people), it has become one of the most popular online
communities for nature exploration and documentation. User-created
local missions allow members to observe specific wildlife
species based on their own interests, accessing the efforts
and enthusiasm of other Project Noah members in the process.
And of course, individuals or small groups or classes can
search for other missions to help via Project Noah’s
website or mobile app.
other examples of environmentally oriented citizen science
include BugGuide.net, an online community of amateur and
professional naturalists who share observations of insects
and collaborate on related research, and Citclops, a European
Union-funded project where everyday people help scientists
gather data to assess the environmental status of water
bodies across that continent.
citizen scientists looking for different types of projects
can browse the offerings on Zooniverse, a citizen science
web portal that grew out of the online crowdsourced Galaxy
Zoo project, whereby amateur astronomers help classify the
morphology of galaxies. Over 700,000 volunteers have so
far contributed time to various Zooniverse projects. Many
Zooniverse projects pertain to space and astronomy, but
green-leaning citizen scientists will find plenty to pitch
in on there. For example, analyzing wartime ship logs to
better model Earth’s climate, categorizing underwater
calls from endangered killer whales to help identify and
track family groups, or identifying African animals “caught”
on millions of camera trap pictures.
to Zooniverse, conducting research by using citizen science
has several advantages. One is the ability to cope with
extremely large data sets so that researchers can access
many person-years’ worth of classifications within
days, weeks or months. Another is the fact that so many
multiple independent interactions with the data sets help
highlight quantitative errors and also serve as great training
regimens for how to incorporate machine learning approaches
to classification problems.
the primary goal of our projects is to produce academic
research, by their very nature they are also outreach projects,”
reports Zooniverse. “As it involves our volunteers
directly in the process of research, citizen science is
a powerful tool for both formal and informal education.”
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EarthTalk: What is the Living Building Challenge
and how does it differ from the LEED certification program?
—Jason Marshall, Richmond, VA
far, six different projects, from New York State
to Hawaii, have been certified as “Living
Buildings.” The likely 7th is Seattle’s
Bullitt Center (pictured here in progress), a six-story
solar-powered "net zero" building designed
to make extensive reuse of rainwater and day lighting
and which features many other green amenities.
© Joe Wolf, courtesy Flickr
in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Living
Building Challenge (LBC) were created with the same goal
in mind: to encourage more sustainability and resource conservation
in architecture, design, construction and building operations.
LEED, a program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC),
is well known in architecture, building and design circles
as the standard for certifying the green attributes of new
and retrofitted structures (and even entire neighborhoods).
reference LEED’s 110-point rating system to inform
choices regarding design, technology, siting, landscaping
and other elements of building or renovation processes.
Structures using the greenest versions of each element would
qualify for the highest LEED rating, Platinum (followed
by Gold, Silver, and just plain Certified). In general,
a project gets certified the day its ribbon is cut—as
long as developers followed through on implementing what
they committed to on the LEED checklist. Upwards of 7,000
projects spanning some 1.5 billion square feet of development
area across the U.S. and 30 other countries have qualified
for some kind of LEED certification so far.
created in 2006 by the Seattle-based non-profit International
Living Building Institute (renamed the International Living
Future Institute (ILFI) in 2011), is a performance-based
standard where a building only qualifies if it achieves
its energy, water and waste efficiency goals moving forward
after the ribbon is cut. In fact, since LBC certification
is based on actual, rather than modeled or anticipated performance,
projects must be operational for at least 12 consecutive
months prior to evaluation by the ILFI.
Given the focus
on performance, LBC does not provide as much detailed guidance,
let alone a checklist of green attributes, instead letting
the developers of each individual project decide for themselves
how to best achieve their efficiency and conservation goals
via means appropriate to the project and to the region.
That said, each
project vying for LBC status must follow 20 general imperatives
arranged under a system of seven general performance areas
(or in the lingo of LBC: “petals”): Site, Water,
Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Given that the imperatives
are general, they can be applied to any conceivable project
type, be it a building, infrastructure, landscape or community
development. But whatever type of project, if it is to meet
the exacting standards of LBC it must live up to each one.
One of the imperatives
under the Energy petal, for instance, is “net zero
energy” meaning the structure must harvest or generate
as much power as it needs via alternative renewable sources.
Within the Materials petal, another imperative is avoiding
any of hundreds of building materials on ILFI’s “Red
List” of banned materials and substances. Yes another
imperative, under the Site petal, is “car-free living.”
projects, from New York State to Hawaii, have so far been
certified by ILFI as “Living Buildings.” The
likely 7th is Seattle’s Bullitt Center, a six-story
solar-powered net zero building designed to make extensive
reuse of rainwater and day lighting and which features many
other green amenities.
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