Earlier this month brought a mind-blowing announcement in the world of power plants and pollution.
In a nutshell: A nonprofit artificial intelligence firm called WattTime is going to use satellite imagery to precisely track the air pollution (including carbon emissions) coming out of every single power plant in the world, in real time. And it’s going to make the data public.
This is a very big deal. Poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data have made it difficult to enforce pollution restrictions on power plants. This system promises to effectively eliminate poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data.
And it won’t just be regulators and politicians who see this data; it will be the public too. When it comes to environmental enforcement, the public can be more terrifying and punitive than any regulator. If any citizen group in the world can go online and pull up a list of the dirtiest power plants in their area, it eliminates one of the great informational barriers to citizen action.
And citizens have reason to organize. According to the latest State of Global Air report, air pollution is the fifth greatest global mortality risk. It causes 5 million early deaths and 147 million years of healthy life lost, every year, and the countries building the most power plants are experiencing the most air pollution. Their citizens have the most on the line. And now they’ll be armed with information.
A shorter way of putting this: Once the public knows what polluters are up to, it stops letting them get away with it.