The fact that we are vulnerable to climate change and its many manifestations the world over is well known. But just how vulnerable are we? How does one tangibly measure these effects and how much can they influence our lives and livelihoods?

A Bangalore-based not-for-profit society, Talking Earth, attempts to measure exactly this with what it calls a ‘vulnerability score’, calculated using a number of parameters based on data gathered through basic tools.

“There are two main ways in which people are vulnerable to climate change,” says Varun Hemachandran, the organisation’s founder. “One is through their wallet. For instance, when they are in an occupation directly related to the environment such as farming or fishing; or even simple things like investing in air-conditioners owing to temperature increases. The second is displacement of people.”

Talking Earth looks at all possible things that can create the two outcomes in communities and shares this information with people. As far as community-centric data is concerned, it collects data by mapping trees. This is done through a count of the number of trees and their types in a particular area, and other information like how vulnerable are they to collapsing during a storm, mapping the pollution of lakes, measuring the length and breadth of roads, measuring built-up area or where storm water drains are located.

All this simple, easily available data can help gauge what impact events like flooding can have on an area or a community. For example, resident welfare associations (RWAs) approach Talking Earth to map trees in their area, with regard to which are vulnerable to falling and damaging property. They then request the local corporation to inspect them and take a call on how to deal with the problem.

Some tools used by the organisation – such as Mapunity and Kobo Toolbox – are simple to use and come for free. After basic initialisation, they can be used by everyone.

Talking Earth creates a form for a particular data collection or mapping exercise, and volunteers fill in the form with the data that they collect — trees, lake pollution, road and street measurements,whatever the requirement. While Mapunity is used for mapping, Kobo Toolbox, developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, serves for data collection in areas where connectivity is weak.

“We also use Google Earth Engine (interface for raw satellite data Google gives access to) for remote sensing,” says Hemachandran. “You can sign up for it and they have an approval process. So if you are researcher or an NGO using it for non-commercial purposes, they give you free access.” But he adds that some form of training in remote sensing is required to use the Google Earth Engine.

Making an impact

Some of Talking Earth’s initiatives have already resulted in local impact. Earlier this year in June construction of a new multi-specialty block in the Government Veterinary Hospital on Queens Road in Bengaluru, which would have involved felling a number of trees, was halted after a tree-mapping exercise found that the area could come under ‘deemed forest’ and hence could be protected.

“We can no longer afford to have data locked up in silos, especially data that can help save lives and improve life,” Hemachandran asserts. “That’s why we do what we do.”