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Apps for Climate Change: Get Your Vote On!

"Save the Rain" is one of 15 entries in the B.C. government's Apps for Climate Action contest. Now it's your turn to vote for the best climate change app in the province.

Can technology help raise awareness of climate change? And if so, can it motivate people enough to make a difference?

The British Columbia government thinks so. The province’s Climate Action Secretariat, GeoBC, and Ministry of Citizens' Services teamed up to sponsor an “Apps for Climate Action Contest.” The contest challenges Canadian software developers to raise awareness of climate change and “inspire action to reduce carbon pollution by using data in new applications for the web and mobile devices,” according to the contest website (http://apps4climateaction.gov.bc.ca).

Application developers were given until August 8 to submit their applications. On August 11, the government posted a list of the apps on the website and invited the public -- you and me -- to vote on the best one. The deadline for voting is August 29 and the winners will be announced on September 16. In the meantime, besides going to the website, you can follow A4CA on Twitter or become a Facebook fan (http://www.facebook.com/Apps4ClimateAction).

Thanks to some private sector sponsors, there are lots of prizes available -- best mobile app, best web app, people’s choice and overall best app. The grand prize winner will receive $5,500, and second and third place in each category also brings a cash prize. Honourable mentions get an iPhone or Harbour Air Certificate.

App developers were required to use the government’s catalogue of climate and greenhouse gas emission data to design “fun and innovative climate action apps.”

And what of the 15 apps in the contest? Are they “fun and innovative”? You can judge for yourself of course, by going to the website and checking them out. (You need to register your email address in order to vote). Overall, I was impressed by the apps, but think that some of them could use a bit of work. Some were fun, some were innovative, and some, alas, were neither. I may seem a little critical of some of the apps, but I would like to stress how much I admire all the participants for taking the time to pull together these apps for such a worthy cause. Congratulations to all the developers. May the best app win.

Web-based Apps

BCEmissions.ca gives a graphical depiction of greenhouse gas emissions broken down by community. It also provides graphs showing commuter modes, types of housing, land use and air quality. The app presents important data in a visually appealing and easy to interpret fashion. Find it at http://bcemissions.ca.

Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Industrial Sector is a collection of graphs that show, not surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions by industrial sector. Jan Ulrich, the creator of the app, argues that a large part of greenhouse gas emissions are created by industries so it’s important to know which industries are most responsible. You can find the app at janulrich.org/greenhousegasemissions/

The Climate Reports shows climate information from the year 1900 to the present for a particular community. You can get minimum and maximum temperatures, snow depth, precipitation and other information. I had two problems with this app, first; the city selector doesn’t work in my browser of choice (Safari) but it does work in Firefox and second; the data is sent to you as a pdf file instead of displaying live in your browser. You can find it at whitemagicsoftware.com/software/climate.

The Dictionary of the Climate Debate is an entry in an online climate change dictionary (http://thedgw.org) that points back to the B.C. government’s climate change data catalogue. 

Raincaddy does just one thing -- it calculates the average rain fall for your area over the past seven days. You go to the raincaddy.info website, enter your address or postal code and you get back the result. The purpose of the app is to encourage water conservation “by informing users on when or when not to water their lawns.”

“Save the rain, don’t let it go down the drain...” is the motto of the Save The Rain app (www.save-the-rain.com).  Enter your address and then “draw” the outline of your roof on the resulting Google Maps satellite image and the app tells you the area of your roof and, based on annual rainfall, how much rain you can “harvest” in a year and how many times you can flush your toilet with that water.

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