Wikipedia has a climatetech problem

Millions rely on Wikipedia, but its entries can be outdated or incomplete, especially on climate topics — and that’s where you come in.
By Mike Munsell

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(Oberon Copeland/

Canary Media’s Climate Meets Culture column explores the intersection of energy, climate and the culture at large.

Are you a climatetech professional? If so, there’s a little ol’ website that needs your help.

It’s called Wikipedia — with its billions of monthly pageviews, maybe you’ve heard of it.

The problem is that Wikipedia is often out of date, particularly when it comes to emerging or fast-changing subjects such as clean energy and decarbonization. 

For example, here is the Wikipedia page for grid parity.

You might have noticed that the note at the top has been calling for updates since March 2017 and that the first featured chart is from 2015 (8 years ago!). Grid parity is all about the relative cost of renewable energy compared to conventional energy sources — and if you know anything about renewable energy, it’s that costs have been falling fast. An updated version of that map would probably be a lot more colorful.

Outdated information like this has far-reaching ramifications. Think about all the people, including some HVAC contractors, who still believe heat pumps don’t work well in cold weather. Or how many don’t know that solar power is the cheapest form of electricity in history. Now imagine the hundreds, if not millions, of people turning to Wikipedia to answer their climate questions and learn about solutions to one of the most urgent crises of our time.

That’s where you come in. Canary readers include some of the smartest, most knowledgeable climatetech professionals out there, and I’m going to nudge you all to try your hand at honing Wikipedia pages related to climate, especially ones that cover advancements in clean energy and climate solutions.

The idea of editing Wikipedia can be intimidating. I get it! I consider myself a very online” person (my more corporate older brother once shared an article I wrote with his co-workers and referred to me as his weird internet brother”), and I’ve only edited a handful of items on Wikipedia in my 20+ years of using the site.

Fortunately, I bumped into someone on Twitter who can help.

Alex Stinson, a strategist at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit behind Wikipedia (among other Wiki” projects), has a link in his Twitter bio that caught my eye. It leads to a Wikipedia page that he put together explaining a series of small to medium tasks” readers can undertake to help update Wikipedia entries with timely information about climate change.

In a 2020 interview, Stinson argued that Wikipedia should reflect the fact that climate change touches every human activity. He pointed to the Wikipedia article on Miami-Dade county, saying, There’s no mention of climate change anywhere in the article. Yet it’s the city in the U.S. that will be most affected by sea level rise. Wikipedia could be a front line to How does this connect to my reality?’ 

I recently shot Stinson a DM on Twitter, and within a week, we were chatting on a video call about why and how more climatetech subject-matter experts should be editing Wikipedia.

At the heart of climate communication right now are a lot of misperceptions, and having a knowledge commons like Wikipedia sets the baseline so that we’re all having a similar conversation,” Stinson said.

It reminds me of the aphorism: A rising tide lifts all boats. If those of us with access to cutting-edge scientific advancements or up-to-date cost information around climate solutions can put that information into the public domain, then businesses, academics, policymakers and individuals all stand to benefit.

And it’s even more important in non-English contexts,” Stinson added. There are over 300 different language versions of Wikipedia, and volunteers will often translate from, say, English Wikipedia (by far the biggest) to Bengali Wikipedia. Wikipedia is one of the building blocks of creating access.”

Stinson says he wrote up the guide as a pet project on the side. He was inspired to get started after editing a Wikipedia article about T-shirts. He realized he could tie together fast fashion, climate change and environmental problems. The T-shirt entry garners 10,000 views a month, so the potential impact is huge.

Still hesitating to dive in? According to Stinson, editing Wikipedia pages in this way can be its own reward. He shared an anecdote about one contributor who said, “‘The climate crisis is big and overwhelming, but improving the content on Wikipedia is at least something you can do as an individual.’”

Wikipedia and the emergence of AI search

Stinson and I also talked about artificial intelligence, which is raising the stakes even higher when it comes to ensuring that the information on Wikipedia is accurate and up to date.

Microsoft recently introduced AI chat on Bing, and Google is now rolling out its own version called Bard. The verdict is still out on whether this will entirely reshape how society uses search engines, but one thing is clear to me based on my experience with the tools to date: These AI bots lean heavily on Wikipedia for the answers they provide.

Asking Microsoft’s Bing AI: What is grid parity?

When I asked Bing’s AI, What is grid parity?” the first source it cited was Wikipedia. There is nothing inherently incorrect about the answer it gave in this case (see above), but the broader implications of outdated pages still stand.

What we know for certain about all of these machine-learning tools is that Wikipedia is often a source of the knowledge,” said Stinson. And it’s often getting rebroadcast all over the place into new formats. […] For your audience, it’s absolutely important that the most recent science, the most recent impacts of [renewable energy technologies], are documented and accurate.”

Earning your Wikipedia stripes

So, how do you edit Wikipedia?

Stinson recommends starting small: The smallest building block of Wikipedia is the sentence with a citation. Anyone can add a sentence with a citation. All it requires is reading source material, summarizing it into a sentence and adding a footnote.”

Another easy step is to identify articles that have the citation needed” tag, and then find and add that citation.

Uploading photos to Wikimedia Commons is also a simple way to get involved. Anyone who has ever edited an article or blog that requires a decent photo of a heat pump or an energy storage technology knows that this is no easy feat. Stinson says, This is a really good way for corporate groups to participate in the Wikimedia movement.” He notes that when photos are uploaded to Wikimedia, they’re indexed on Google, and if they’re high-quality, they’ll get used across Wikimedia projects.”

One thing to keep in mind when updating Wikipedia pages is the website’s guidelines around conflicts of interest. You should not be writing the page on your own company, for instance. However, if your company uses a particular battery chemistry, for example, then you probably have valuable expertise to add on that topic.

One of my favorite internet accounts is Depths of Wikipedia. Run by Annie Rauwerda, it highlights weird and surprising factoids from — you guessed it — the depths of Wikipedia. Rauwerda believes in the importance of editing Wikipedia and also provides even more easy and concrete ways to get started.

If you want more formal training, the independent nonprofit Wiki Education offers a paid course that teaches subject-matter experts how to use and edit Wikipedia to benefit climate communications.

And of course, you can always check out the Wikipedia page on how to edit Wikipedia.

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Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.