Open Questions in a Warming world

Creative Commons: We Like to Share
6 min readNov 5, 2020


Ed Hawkins, CC BY-SA 4.0.

When we saw the call for proposals for the CC Global Summit, we thought it was a good time to ask a question that we (Alex Stinson and Evelin Heidel) had been asking ourselves: what is the connection between the various strategies of the open movement and the climate change projects working on solutions? Why aren’t we hearing more from the open movement about how “openness” helps us solve the commons-driven issues of the climate crisis?

Like many other parts of the climate communications landscape, the COVID pandemic only made the feeling that the open movement could be more involved in the bigger, more complicated space of climate action. We were excited to be able to convene a conversation as part of the virtual CC Global Summit, but it didn’t allow quite the workshop we had originally envisioned — so we thought we would do part of that with this post.

What we talked about

In our session “Open Questions in a Warming World”, we outlined the underlying implications of open culture in a warming world (slidedeck). It’s fairly clear: Open Access in science and research has been key to the bodies of knowledge and scholarship for identifying the problems and solutions for climate change. But… the open movement has been less clear in the ways in which it could help advance what needs to happen for climate action.

One of our slides.

This gap between the climate and open movement is surprising, because both communities come from similar places: how do we solve commons-based problems and do so at scale. Based on the projects we are seeing out in the climate space, we described several underlying issues or opportunities that haven’t been resolved in the relationship between the open and climate movement:

  1. Not understanding why open science: The climate movement is committed to scientific evidence, most of which relies on open access scholarship. But this doesn’t necessarily make the climate movement aware of the role that “open” plays in the widespread communication of this scientific evidence.
  2. Not seeing the communications and access barriers: Some of the organizations (from intergovernmental organizations to other non-for-profits) working towards solutions have communication challenges but don’t fully acknowledge the way in which copyright or restricted licensing options (such as using the non-commercial clause or the non-derivatives clause from the set of CC licenses) might interfere with a more widespread engagement strategy, and thus action. Instead they try to use copyright to maintain the accuracy of or control of their works.
  3. The climate crisis is not neutral. The climate crisis disproportionately affects marginalized or underrepresented populations that have overall less access to resources — this includes information resources AND professional communication channels. Any solution that tries to deliver information for these communities needs to come with the lowest barriers to entry — downloading a huge PDF from a paywalled server through a mobile connection does not reflect the realities in the parts of the world most affected by climate change, and this set of problems is something global open communities increasingly have experience working with.
  4. Controlled use prevents collective engagement. Because of the “echo chamber effect” in English and other dominant European languages, it might look like there’s a lot of information on climate change already out there. Truth be told, there are still so many places where information is not available, and more importantly, is not available in the language or culturally relevant contexts of the people that need this information. Open practices allow multilingualism and contextual adaptation to make it relevant and useful.

In a closing poll for our presentation, we tried to understand better what/if/how the open movement can actually offer to the climate movement. Here are some of the responses:

Help with license choices, help connect people.

OER that can be translated or used as references to create resources for local activism.

Speed of knowledge distribution, rapid iteration and collaboration, democratizing participation.

What might create focus in what the open movement could offer?

Climate action requires every part of human society to act — the open movement could be part of that too. One way we could think about action is to explore how the movement responded to the COVID pandemic. We invited the wonderful Diane Peters, General Counsel at Creative Commons, to our session to talk about the Open COVID Pledge. This is an effort that Creative Commons has been leading to help business, corporations and individuals to temporally release their IP rights while the pandemic is going on. The model could potentially be workable into an “Open Climate Pledge”, that allows for anyone holding some type of IP right to release their IP in case of a climate crisis — for example, during a drought or after a hurricane hits. This is somehow similar to the “GreenXChange” initiative that John Willbanks tried to put forward during his time at Creative Commons.

Help us find more projects: Who else is combining open with climate?

However, we ended the workshop with a similar conclusion to what Shannon shared later on Twitter:

This is the question that we failed to answer!

But the main problem that we didn’t get to address in our session: what is the bigger picture of open + climate? What initiatives are rallying change or focus on these issues?

We want to use this Medium post to try to gather around a list of initiatives working on this intersection.

Here is what we are including:

  • Projects compliant with the Open Definition provided by the Open Knowledge Foundation, which excludes projects that include any of the “Non-commercial” or “Non-derivative” clauses. We do this because we believe that in order to get maximum re-use and widespread dissemination, we need to truly commit to putting as little restrictions as possible to the information.
  • Projects or initiatives focused on developing materials, education or leadership from communities, rather than a single group of publications from one institution. We also are not including projects that use open licenses, but aren’t working to increase adoption or participation by others (i.e. one-off publications, or research projects). The goal is to identify activities supporting open-movement leadership or activity in the space.

So here’s our draft list:

Climate communication

We suspect that Climate Communication would benefit from open-licensed media, but we haven’t seen much. Open licensed materials like the Warming Stripes have been of huge impact. Here are the initiatives we have seen so far:

Open hardware and technology

Many of the solutions for climate change are technology problems that could be hampered by patent law or other intellectual property, and some companies or organizations have talked about their solutions in light of open science or “open source” (i.e. Project Vesta). These are the initiatives that we have found, which are broader initiatives of open hardware projects addressing this include:


Education is a powerful channel for increasing awareness about climate and related sustainability issues, especially as the Global Youth Movement leads the political action on climate change. Here are education projects that we are aware of:

Open Data

What open data initiatives are offering solutions for climate change? We have seen a number of local groups such as HEETMA in Massachusetts that publish under open licenses. There’s also the project Open Environmental Data.


  • The folks are in a sort of in between position. They have put together “Project Radar”, where some of the projects might or might not be using open as a strategy. More recently, the started an open access magazine called “Branch” where they expect to build a sustainable Internet, openly licensed.

We need your help!

Please, help us build this list! Get in touch with or .

Thank you so much for working together to make this a better world!

This post was written by Alex Stinson and Evelin Heidel.