There’s a new book out by Daniel Goleman called Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. The book aims to connect us to the intricate web of suppliers and chemical processes that produce the things that we consume with the idea that we must uncover the ecological impacts of these processes and vote with our wallets to force change.
Goleman talks about the “hidden web of connections between human activity and nature’s systems, and the subtle complexities of their intersections.” As an example, he reveals that a good deal of the 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen that we consume on this planet is washing off and promoting the growth of a deadly virus on coral reefs that is partially responsible for their dramatic decline.
In a piece that Golemna wrote for Newsweek, he describes Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a means to deconstruct the manufacturing process to provide a detailed industrial ecology. The process tracks the product creation process from its individual parts, and reveals different ecological impacts along the way. He suggest the use of the GoodGuide as a means to understand the impact of products and as a guide to our choices.
I can’t help but think of the role and impact that geospatial technology could have on this process. Knowing where products come from, and providing transparency about the ecological impacts of manufacturing processes in a geospatial context, would have a powerful impact on how we produce and purchase goods. Revelations regarding harmful manufacturing practice could lead to powerful changes in how we treat our planet, with a good deal of local empowerment when these practices reveal harm in our own back yards.
The origin, transportation, manufacture and distribution of goods are all processes with a strong spatial component that could be analyzed and modeled to better understand how our processes are affecting our planet. The spatial element would provide a fascinating life-cycle understanding of our consumption and the detrimental discard of our waste.
There’s growing interest to create such detailed processes and systems to track food distribution, given the alarming outbreaks of food-borne illness and the difficulties that we’ve had to trace the product distribution and origin. The detailed tracking of all goods makes good sense, for as Goleman puts it, “now that the costs are clear, we need to reinvent just about everything.”