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MIT Crowdsources the Next Climate Agreement

Copenhagen climate conference crowdsourcing

Last year's Copenhagen climate conference failed to produce any sort of useful legislation. Maybe the wisdom of the crowd can do a better job. That's the idea behind MIT Climate CoLab's Collective Intelligence Climate Contest, a project that asks participants to submit proposals that answer one deceptively difficult question: What international climate agreements should the world community make?

There will be two winners of the year-long contest. After a preliminary round where judges ferret out infeasible entries, visitors to the contest site will be able to vote on their favorite proposals. The most popular entry will be one of the winners; a judge's pick will be the other.

The crowdsourcing initiative, which launched at the beginning of October, has just four entries thus far. But while the contest doesn't offer monetary compensation, it offers the opportunity to make a real impact—the top ideas will be presented to the United Nations, Congress, and the Department of Energy.

Tom Malone, the director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, realizes that the project might not have an immediate impact. "From what I hear, nobody expects huge things to be done in the Cancun UN meetings this year, and it seems unlikely that there's going to be major action on climate change in the U.S. Congress this year," he says. "But we hope to move the global conversation forward a little bit, hopefully inject some new ideas into the mix, and hopefully get a number of new people more seriously involved in a constructive, problem-solving conversation.

The Climate Contest is just the first of many planned Climate CoLab crowdsourcing contests. The current version focuses solely on international climate legislation, but future versions might tackle national and local plans. "If we can begin over time to build out an ecosystem of people working at different levels, this could be extremely powerful," Malone says.

[Climate CoLab]

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.