Mapping as espionage is a concept that can’t be escaped even though technological advancements are slowly making this advantage obsolete. We are reminded of this as the Chinese refuse to be measured and monitored for their carbon emissions, showing a reluctance to be mapped based on security concerns. The strategic nature of mapping has become far less critical given the advance of geospatial technologies, yet there are still those left behind in pre-Internet thinking.
The fact is that we can and do measure the Earth from space. We have highly detailed and continuously updated maps of the entire planet in aggregate, and we’re on a path to add more and more sensors. If we continue on the rapidly expanding capacity of earth observation, it won’t be long before we have real-time data for the whole of the globe.
Refusing to be mapped and measured ignores the reality of current and coming earth observation, remote sensing, and mapping technologies. A Cold War mentality of life behind walls doesn’t exist anymore. It’s far more constructive to embrace the reality of transparency, and work to enhance the reliability and impartiality of measurement technology with a broad international science and technology team. A greatly enhanced Global Earth Observation System of Systems that is built on an open platform could greatly accelerate the realization of the Digital Earth vision, and China is at the forefront in advocating that vision.
The idea that it’s bad if you’re mapping me will certainly not go away. Clandestine operations are a political reality. However, coming together on whole earth mapping, modeling and monitoring goes way beyond the security of individual nations toward the security of our planet to sustain humankind.
While whole planet thinking is the aim and intent of Copenhagen, it’s a difficult concept given geopolitical perspectives. An awareness of technological capabilities, and the beneficial outcomes of a whole-Earth system of systems, could go a long way in reinforcing the realization that all countries need to come together for the stewardship of our planet.