Climate change could blunt tech's travel culture

Along with more air turbulence and flight delays, global warming presents multiple tech market opportunities

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarizes the growing consequences of global warming -- rising sea levels and threats to health, food supplies, water resources and species.

Within the voluminous IPCC study, released this week, is the outline of a role for tech to help the world and its peoples adapt to climate change. For instance, there's going to be strong demand for vast Internet of Things-type (IoT) sensor networks to monitor the world's infrastructure and the environment.

There will also be ever increasing demand for technologies that can preserve water supplies, reduce energy, protect health and deliver warnings.

On the flip side is business continuity. One concern described in the IPCC report is air travel.

A big part of the tech business is travel. For all the HD video conferencing capability in tech offices, this is an industry that loves its big, splashy conferences.

Climate change will make air turbulence more likely. Storminess at airports, especially near coastal regions, "may increase the number of weather related delays and cancellations," according to the IPCC report.

The report warns that "clear-air turbulence will increase in the Atlantic corridor leading to longer and bumpier trips."

Airport maintenance costs will also rise, as heat and excessive rainfalls may damage airport runways in ways similar to what happens to roads today.

Hot air is less dense, and "in the summer months, especially at airports located at high altitudes, this may result in limitations for freight capacity, safety and weather-related delays, unless runways are lengthened," the IPCC said.

Government data, today, doesn't show a trend toward more airline delays. In 2013, 17% of flights were delayed, which was one of the lowest figures in years. In 2008, nearly 25% of flights were delayed, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration's statistical record keeping.

But the IPCC is looking out to the years and decades ahead, and it sees mankind in a race to survive and adapt to what's ahead.

Rising temperatures and related extreme weather events will broadly affect transportation, as well as bridges, roads, railways, pipelines, ports and communications networks.

But the IPCC also sees "a new set of possibilities for communication" of hazards, information sharing and advisory services, as well the monitoring and measuring climate change.

Information can be captured "bottom-up," from social networks to gather information about changes, particularly in health.

Scott Tiazkun, an analyst at IDC who studies the IoT market, said there is already every reason to invest in IoT systems for water usage, energy conservation and public infrastructure and roadway monitoring "that will improve everyday living through better resource efficiency," as well as save money.

Tiazkun isn't associating that spending directly with climate change, and it may not matter to vendors, "as there are direct, concrete and measurable ways to market the value of IoT," even for something such as fewer car trips to personally monitor a water level or ice pack.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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