How a seed of climate activism grew into ClimateTree

At DemocracyLab, many socially conscious people come together to create and produce products, apps, and organize to help improve the world with technology.

Inspired by the global climate strike student movement, ClimateTree positioned themselves to optimize climate activism by creating a convenient visualizer using public data and information.

In Washington State, hydroelectric energy solutions face a complicated array of trade-offs. Drawbacks such as the violation of Tribal Treaty Rights or ecological degradation of rivers challenge the benefits of this globally rare carbon free-energy solution Parsing a compromise is just where ClimateTree could come in. We can find places comparable to Washington State, by population and hydroelectric capacity, and learn from their research media.

Check out these hydropower videos from the places you see on the map like Quebec, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden. Washington residents might be able to build on proven compromises and best management practices, like cutting edge fish ladders and hydropump storage which compliments adding additional renewable energy to the electric grid.

Efforts Local to Seattle

For the city of Seattle, easing off of fossil fuels is a major concern; 36% of the city’s energy is coal-powered, with 32% hydroelectric, 20% comprised of natural gas and 10% wind power (check out the complete PSE fuel mix statistics here) - and that’s just electricity. Fossil fuels are most intensively used outside “the grid” in transportation fuels and fuel to heat our homes and home water . One suggestion for reducing Washington cities’ carbon footprint is offsetting the use of carbon fuels used for heat and transportation with electricity provided by renewable energies instead. In fact, one city council member of Bellingham suggested banning natural gas for home heating. But as you can see above, not all of our grid is hydroelectric, so we would have to add more solar and wind to offset carbon sources of electricity.

How does Hydroelectricity work?

Its basically a giant battery - without the rare earth metals  In the words of project leader Greg Schundler, “the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, but there is usually water behind the dam-especially with a pump storage.Interestingly, hydroelectricity becomes even more valuable in a grid full of renewable energy sources. Comparing global values in Europe through the videos above and other media we would learn that hydroelectricity has been augmented with hydropump storage that stabilizes an electric grid with large amounts of wind and solar power.There is a lot of potential for renewable energy sources and hydro pump stations in Washington State, where the Columbia River Basin provides 40% of the United States hydroelectric capacity and the sun shines and wind blows in Eastern Washington.”

So what has ClimateTree done, and why is it important?

The ClimateTree team worked on web trawling for solution stories and solution story leads. There are 7.5 million search terms in their database of place names and solution themes. These solutions may be used to address the resource situation in Bellingham,, or in Washington State where a hydropump storage project is planned for the Columbia River.

Ultimately, infrastructure and energy systems are just one of the many ways to address climate change. Other goals may require cultural shifts en masse --like letting a child walk to school instead of driving them or accepting the limitations of an electric car. Will witnessing other cultures and learning their stories inform and inspire us?

In 2019 the project was presented by Abby Ruskey and Greg Schundler at the Drawdown Learn Conference in New York, has found student software testers in Olympia, Washington and Toronto Canada, and has since been taken up by 25 masters students from an Advanced Software Development Course and their professor, Chair of Computer Science, Dr. Ian Gorton, at Northeastern University (digitally between three campuses: Seattle, Boston, Bay Area).

In the future, ClimateTree hopes to tag the items in their database by financing mechanism, policy type, media type, user likes, and more. Ultimately they hope to get curators to rate the articles and media to help surface high quality content. Reach out on DemocracyLab to find out how you can help with this effort toward a cleaner, greener future. We are always looking for new collaborators - and keep an eye out for a beta version release in 2020 at