Here’s an appalling use of government resources: a London borough council commissioned a map of its territory showing how much heat is escaping from each building.
The colour coded map was created from footage taken by a plane fitted with a military thermal imaging camera.
The mapping took place at night in winter when buildings were heated and the cold air allowed high quality data from an altitude of 1,500 to 2,000 feet.
The plane flew 17 runs back and forth across the borough.
Haringey Council is the first local authority in the country to publish an online heat map.
It shows levels of heat loss from almost every building in the borough’s 30 square kilometres. Robert Wilkes, 39, boss of map suppliers hotmapping.co.uk, rejected any suggestion it was an intrusion into people’s privacy along the lines of satellite imaging service Google Earth.
He said: “I think it is less intrusive than Google Earth quite honestly.
“The fact that you can go on the Internet and zoom right in and see what colour car they’re driving. I don’t really see this as particularly intrusive.”
This is London goes on to report that the work was actually done in 2000, so I guess the council just bought and published the information now; a 2007 update is reportedly planned.
Some governments have proposed doing the same thing in an effort to spot possible marijuana grow-ops in North America (and probably elsewhere). Houses turned into illicit hydroponic operations emit colossal amounts of heat compared to buildings in normal use. The theory is that this isn’t an invasion of privacy because in law, your privacy ends where the outside wall of your home does — you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy if you’re doing something on your front lawn — and infrared imaging just captures the heat that escapes from your house into the outside world. That energy is ordinarily invisible, yes, but it’s still detectable without penetrating the confines of the house.
But privacy notwithstanding, there are other problems here. For one thing, as Global Warming Watch points out, “heat-maps do not discriminate between heat produced by fossil-fuels or 100% green energy.”
For another, the only purpose for making this information available in a public accessible map form is to shame supposed energy-wasters. If it truly were a public service, the council could deliver little notes to people whose properties were emitting a lot of extra heat. Or, frankly, those people could just look at their heating bills and wonder where all the money was going. Wasting heat is not actually illegal, and governments have no right to hold up to ridicule citizens who are behaving legally, if in a way of which the government has decided it disapproves.
If my house were turning up in red on the map, I’d be half-tempted to open my windows in midwinter, just to make a point.