Climate 2020 Lecture – Digital Changes Everything

February 26, 2015

In 2015, Glasgow is holding its first Green themed year, celebrating the city’s aspiration to be one of the most sustainable cities around. Last week’s Climate 2020 lecture – Digital Changes Everything — addressed the power of digital media in climate change. Crispin Hoult, Managing Director at Linknode showcased their innovative work in the field and joined the panel for the Q&A session.

climate 2020

On Monday evening, Scotland’s Climate 2020 Group held the fourth annual lecture on climate change and the effect on our lives and the environment.  This public event attracts a wide-ranging audience, passionate about understanding climate and environmental impact.

Held at St Paul’s and St George’s Church, Edinburgh, the venue is an excellent example of how architecture and history can be transformed into a modern, bright and attractive setting and is worthy of a visit in itself.

The Climate 2020 Group (from the website mission statement) was established to facilitate “working together to deliver a low carbon future for Scotland through smarter collaborations and better conversations.” Specifically, the purpose is to contribute to the transformational change required for Scotland to progress to a low-carbon economy by bringing together consumers, businesses, voluntary and public sectors.

In addition to working parties and sub-groups with interests in transport, behaviour change, innovation and finance.  The annual lecture is a prominent event for sharing progress and bringing people together.

The 2015 event kicked off with a clear reminder to all that Scotland’s aim is for a 42% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 – imaginatively interpreted through the reworking of a key piece of the late Douglas Adams‘ “The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy”.

Keeping with Adams’ theme and the ‘Digital Changes Everything’ agenda, Ian Marchant (Chair) introduced digital with a reference to how far the pace of digital change has come over his own lifetime.  A literal pace too.  Moore’s law, originally formulated in the 1960s, observes as a doubling of transistors in a chip (and hence performance) every 18 months.  This is called an exponential increase.  To demonstrate the difference between a linear progression and an exponential one, simply find a large room.  27 linear steps takes you across a large room.  27 exponential steps would take you around the world and back again, several times.  It is hard to envision such a fundamental difference happening in any other area of our lives, yet we take it as commonplace.

Now we know the power of digital, can we harness the revolution for good?  Can digital help us with understanding and managing reducing emissions?  Ian introduced key speaker Ian Abbott Donnelly from IBM who took to the stage to explain.

The 2% of resources computing uses in the world have a significant role to play in reducing the other 98%.  This can be as simple as the economics of computing (shared services and cooler, low-power chips) or as complex as “Watson.”  Ian introduced IBM Watson — a new way of handling “big data.”  Big data allows us to move from ‘guessing’ to ‘knowing’ by turning massive unstructured data into answers.  As an example, Ian demonstrated real-world optimisation in waste management and routing — so why isn’t every city and municipality doing things better?

Ian latterly turned to the Internet of Things (IoT) and highlighted that there are already more interconnected communicating sensors and devices on the internet than there are people on the planet.  The next challenge is to integrate and make best use of these.

In summary, digital allows us to capture and utilise information to share and communicate and understand our world better.  If we do this smarter, then we will be in a better place to adapt and react.

I was given a unique insight into the panel format when, some 6 hours previously, I was asked if I could stand-in for an absent member -  an experience I would thoroughly recommend, once the butterflies have settled down.

The Q&A panel session initially (and appropriately) took questions posted on Twitter and then went onto audience participation.  Questions ranged from privacy, the impact of change in consumerism (downloads, 3D printing, supply chain on-demand optimisations) and the role of the public and private sector in making more data freely and openly available (see

To close the formal proceedings, and before the reception, Mike Neilson, Director of Digital at the Scottish Government summed up by saying that to be a leader in the 21st century you must also be a digital leader.

Drinks and canapés followed but sadly there were no Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters!

A special thanks must go to the exhibitors CodbodColour ElementsEco WandEnvirodigitalIBI Group and Linknode.

If you were unable to attend the event, you can catch up with the lecture summaries on the website and view slides from the keynote speaker Ian Abbott Donnelly. For regular updates and more information on upcoming lectures, sign up to receive the 2020 Climate Group newsletter and follow their Twitter feed @2020ClimateGrp

Crispin Hoult is Managing Director at Linknode providing mobile 3D visualisation apps and services with specialism in the convergence of location, sensors, devices and model data for geospatial augmented reality (AR.) If you’re interested in finding out more about Linknode, please check out their website or follow them on Twitter @Linknode8