GIS: Helping manage our world

GIS: Helping manage our world


Jack Dangermond
President, Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI), USA

With the ever expanding use of GIS and mapping related applications, it becomes increasingly clear that the technology is well established as a strategic element of our information technology infrastructure and subsequently, the decision making process.

Decision makers throughout public agencies and private industry clearly understand the intrinsic relationship between location and information and are using GIS in a multitude of ways to maximize the value of this unique association.

Our world is evolving, influenced by natural processes and the collective result of human activities. It is becoming more populated and more urbanized. Today, our world is more technically oriented and specialized than at any other time in history. We are more connected and more informed. And, some would suggest, we are more fragile and more vulnerable than ever before. The human footprint is affecting our environment, our security, the biodiversity of our planet, and the amount of natural resources available to future generations. The evidence of this is everywhere. Our cities are continuing to grow, demanding more resources and more infrastructure as they expand into previously rural and less populated areas.

Scientific evidence suggests that the planet is getting warmer and with it a multitude of predictable and unpredictable events will occur. The warming of the oceans will affect currents and weather patterns. Marine life will be affected not only by the change in temperature, but also the ongoing pollution of our oceans. These environmental changes in the ocean will affect the migratory routes, the health, and the well being of the larger sea animals, since they are regulated by the availability and abundance of edible smaller animals and aquatic plant life, which will obviously also be affected by the environmental changes. In addition, seas will rise, affecting the quality of human life and perhaps even the existence of coastal communities. This oversimplified example depicts only a rudimentary cause and effect scenario of the result of obvious environmental changes. The effects of the ongoing multitude of subtle, imperceptible changes are difficult to predict or even imagine. What is abundantly clear is that we, as a species, must learn and learn quickly how to better mange our world. We must learn how to act as guardians, not overseers, of the planet.

GIS provides a particularly valuable framework for managing both human and natural activities because it facilitates the integration and analysis of complex data, making it readily accessible to scientists, planners, and the general public. The GIS framework allows the assimilation of physical measurements, analytical methods, and computer models into a uniform system that allows analysis and maintenance of workflows and perpetuates sustainable development. Taken as a whole, GIS is improving our understanding of the natural processes of our planet, at both the micro and macro levels. GIS helps increase efficiency, reduce costs, and promotes better decision-making. Because it is presented in the context of a visual language, it stimulates communication, collaboration, and coordination. And, while GIS provides enormous benefit in this context, I believe that it can be of even greater value at the global level.