Question: What do you and Barack Obama have in common?
Answer: An opportunity to tackle air pollution and climate change. The only difference, of course, is that you'll probably be doing this on a much smaller scale than at the Davos or G20 summit.
InsideHalton reports that Emitter.ca allows users to input a Canadian address, and churn out an interactive map pinpointing the locations of factories in a 5 to 25 kilometre radius that pollute the local area. Not only that, but the app displays the name of the factory, its distance from the address specified and a pollution ranking (in terms of "good", "moderate" or "bad").
But it gets better - the real functionality of this app lies in its ability to empower everyday citizens. A few clicks further and now you can dig out the name of the factory manager, the name of the local MP whose riding the factory falls under and a call-to-action that enables you to do something about this.
Talk about the democratization of social change.
Emitter.ca is the brainchild of Microsoft Open Source strategy lead and Oakville-based open data enthusiast, Nik Garkusha, and Mark Arteaga, founder and president of Oakville-based company RedBit Development.
In a recent interview, Garkusha revealed how he used data located on Environment Canada's website as the database from which this app draws its stats and figures.
“Country-wide this information is sitting around on websites and not being used. We made it into a format that’s easily accessible and turned that into an application to see what are the facilities that pollute, how bad are these facilities and who to talk to about it."
Working with a team of like-minded enthusiasts and developers spread across the country, Emitter.ca enables open government data to be rehashed, tailored and repurposed for a variety of situations - and it's potential is astounding. In the spirit of open source data, the app's developers have made the source code (the code underlying the app's functionality) open to the public, allowing other enthusiasts build-on and use the existing app as a platform to refine the code and extend its possible applications.
So what's next?
Possibly a mobile app: “Through your phone you’ll be able to see where the factories are and get your ratings in real time as you move around.” says co-creator Arteaga. Garkusha would like to take it one step further and add a health angle to the app, including matching locations with pollution hotspots and asthma cases in the local area. Or perhaps they'll measure and classify groundwater pollution levels and the presence of waterborne chemicals, and match them with factories in the local area.
“Essentially, if you’re planning on going to Kelso or Bronte park, and go into the water or take a walk through the woods, and you think you’re breathing fresh air, is that really true? Or is there a factory up stream that’s polluting the water or a manufacturing facility nearby polluting the air?”
Wherever it is they're planning to take this app next, they're certainly not lacking in ambition.
“We are going to bring in more data sources, make the data more rich and interesting, and also get people to contribute their own ideas and information.”
Check out the pollution levels in your neighbourhood here at www.emitter.ca.