Open & Collaborative Earth Hackathon

Yale University, December 2018

We propose to organize a non-competitive open hackathon to develop a globally trusted tool to monitor Earth’s atmospheric carbon budget. The event would start on December 7th, host a local invite at Yale University over the weekend of the 8th and 9th, and continue until December 14th coinciding with the final plenary of UNFCCC COP24. The output of this open and collaborative effort —an Earth Carbon Ledger Challenge— should be an open source software-based framework that would act as an accounting tool for Earth system governance; an impartial algorithmic system that can achieve decentralized and immutable consensus on one of Earth’s most important vital signs.


A single global budget

Planet Earth’s atmosphere can hold a limited amount of CO2e emissions before raising average global temperatures above a safe space for humanity. This limited quantity of emissions has been termed our carbon budget. The threshold level that determines this budget is derived from physical properties in radiative forcing (i.e. greenhouse gas effect) and its thoroughly studied effects on global climate. The Paris Agreement of 2015 consolidated a global effort to maintain this threshold to 1.5oC warming relative to pre-industrial levels. If present emission pathways are left unchecked, the budget could be consumed in as little as 15 years. To achieve the ambitions set in Paris, CO2 emission must peak by 2020 and then decline radically, arriving to net-zero by 2050 and negative values to the end of the century.


Hackathons are characterized by a specific prompt, often involving a ‘data philanthropist’ or a ‘hackathon client’ that provides a dataset that matches the prompt’s background, and enough flexibility on how to achieve a validated solution. Teams then compete for a fixed period of time and a pre-selected expert jury determines the best solution presented. The winner takes all.

We believe this traditional model is unsuitable for the task at hand. Collaboration rather than competition must be the source of collective strength and inspiration. Non-rivalrous hackathons have already been developed successfully; the live code is visible and ‘forkable’ by all participants. A healthy competitive dynamic is still accomplished by tracking the participants that effectively contribute value to the shared code base.  Immediate rewards come from attribution and positive social media feedback, yet anonymity is also a common feature. Participants are not limited to any confined quantity or geography since they all participate in a virtual room with version control. We propose to use this system of a global collaborative contest but include a local instance where participants can come together and work in the same physical space. This core shared space would be a large Hall or gymnasium at Yale University, Connecticut, USA.