Kate Pundyk

At a point in the semester when many Yale students bring up group projects only to bemoan them, members of the Yale OpenLab launched a global group project across eight countries to address climate change.

Climate researchers, technologists and students across the globe met this weekend in a “Collabathon” to work to create a global climate accounting system. Coordinated by members of the Yale OpenLab, approximately 300 participants met at schools, or “nodes,” located in North America, Europe and Asia. Inspired by the concept of a “hackathon,” in which teams develop separate projects, teams participating in the Collabathon work on a task that is part of a larger project.

“We know that we have a carbon budget because we know that if we exceed this budget we will have global warming effects that are not reversible,” said Collabathon Coordinator Sarah Söding SOM ’20. “In order to accomplish this carbon budget, we need to know where we are at, what each actor can contribute, and we need to hold to hold all actors accountable for what they are doing.”

Similar to how a student may create a budget to track expenses, the OpenLab is seeking to integrate global climate data into an accounting system to keep track of how the global carbon budget is being depleted and by whom. Researchers and policymakers can then use these metrics to make data-driven decisions for tackling the climate crisis. The Collabathon had five central prompts that teams worked on as their contribution to the wider accounting system. Most of the participants at the Yale node chose to work on consumer disclosure, which involved building tools to help inform consumers of the ecological footprint of the products they consume.

“This is a proof of concept of trying to show how radical collaboration around the world can happen,” Söding said. “We are trying to integrate all planetary stakeholders — everybody who is interested in contributing to solving the climate challenge — [and] we are trying to make it very accessible.”

Though the launch was over the weekend, work on the projects will continue remotely for the next two weeks. The teams are using the project management website Discord to communicate, as many of the teams are made up of members located in different countries.

“It isn’t about competing against each other, but much rather about achieving a common goal while collaborating with each other,” Luka Zrnic, co-host of the Berlin node, told podcast “The Mother Earth Heroes Show.” “It’s really a global initiative.”

The timing of this program was chosen so that teams will finish their projects a few days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2019. Organizers from the Collabathon will present the outcome of the participants’ work at the conference with the hope of inspiring future work in this space.

This was the OpenLab’s first Collabathon and they hope the event will continue in the future, with more teams contributing to the global accounting system project.

“We want to learn from [the Collabathon] because this is what a lab does — we create experiments that we can learn from,” said OpenLab founder Martin Wainstein. “This project is very ambitious because it has a lot of moving pieces, so we don’t expect that, by the end of these two weeks, it will be built, but we will have been able to map and get the right inspirations to continue to work on this shared tool.”

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity has only 12 years before climate change is irreversible.

Kate Pundyk | kate.pundyk@yale.edu