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EditorSpeak: The future is not a given

Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor
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In an editorial in February 2009, I had quoted Ian McHarg, Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania as saying, “The most important issue of the 21st century will be the condition of the global environment.” The industrial revolution and the following decades were man”s attempt to subjugate nature and bend it to its will. Big dams, big factories, big farms and big usage of non-renewable resources were the highlights of these centuries. The 20th century saw many other thinkers voicing concern about the depredations of anthropocentric man. Buckminister Fuller said, “Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us.” He then added the ominous words “We are not the only experiment,” perhaps echoing Arthur Clarke”s thesis in the Space Odyssey trilogy.

Three years and nine months on, I find myself going back to these quotes. At that time the world was in recession but it was hoped that this would enable the geospatial world to consolidate its position as a provider of key information for efficient developmental planning. Things have not changed for the better. The world is still in recession and what is worse, the geospatial market is feeling the pinch. However, the silver lining is the recognition by politicians during Rio+20 of the importance of geospatial systems in realising an inclusive sustainable world.

That future is however, not a given. It requires that geospatial systems must work to realise their true value in a complex world. Sustainable development requires the balancing of economic, social and human development, while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration. This will require a convergence of technologies and integrated applications. While such convergence is well established in some areas, it needs to be leveraged to include interoperability with other standards and systems which deal with economic, social and demographic data. The recently held Geospatial Artha Summit highlighted these views.

Another aspect of geospatial systems is that they tend to be insular. Meteorology and oceanography are poor second cousins to land-based studies. However, our environment includes land, oceans and atmosphere which work in unison. Geospatial systems need to cater to all three environments in a seamless manner. While the atmosphere is reasonably well understood, the oceans remain a mystery. Here too, we over-harvest the ocean environment for food and pollute it with toxic waste without trying to understand the delicate balance of various factors that makes the ocean environment stable.

It is time we remember what Mahatma Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man”s need, but not every man”s greed.”