We need a data-rich picture of what’s killing the planet

Clive Thompson in Wired:

YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD about the plague of plastic trash in the oceans. You’ve seen YouTube videos of sea turtles with drinking straws in their noses, or whales with stomachs full of marine litter. But how much plastic is out there? Where is it coming from? We don’t really know, because we haven’t measured it. “There’s a paucity of data,” says Marcus Eriksen, cofounder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit focused on ending plastic pollution.

Marine litter isn’t the only hazard whose contours we can’t fully see. The United Nations has 93 indicators to measure the environmental dimensions of “sustainable development,” and amazingly, the UN found that we have little to no data on 68 percent of them—like how rapidly land is being degraded, the rate of ocean acidification, or the trade in poached wildlife. Sometimes this is because we haven’t collected it; in other cases some data exists but hasn’t been shared globally, or it’s in a myriad of incompatible formats. No matter what, we’re flying blind. “And you can’t manage something if you can’t measure it,” says David Jensen, the UN’s head of environmental peacebuilding.

More here.