Wednesday, 25 May 2022 20:14

How you can combat climate change with public web data


The threat of climate change is real, and regular folk like you and I can play a part in educating others and changing behaviours - of individuals, organisations, and governments - with a solid data-driven basis.

Pandemic aside, climate change is surely the global issue of this decade and the one to come. Yet, it’s not a new issue. Popular Mechanics said in March 1912 that the furnaces of the world were burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal per year at that time. “When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”

Well, the world is still burning over 8.5 billion tons of coal annually while the atmosphere has recorded greenhouse gas concentrations of new highs, vastly greater than pre-industrial levels. The average temperature is higher, and sea levels are higher. Polar ice is melting and the ocean is becoming increasingly acidic.

What can you and I do? It's a question I ask myself. Sure, I turn off lights when I leave the room, I have solar panels, and I’ve tried plant-based burgers. Yet, there must be more. How can one person - a technologist like you and I - achieve a greater impact in creating information and educational resources, monitoring progress, and ideally affecting positive change?

The key is surely data. We have the benefit of open and publicly available data today that was not available 50 years ago - let alone the benefit of a global information network to consume and publish content. In fact, we can use the very same tools we use for business, in terms of data capture, data analytics, visuals and dashboards, and more.

However, despite this, there is still the challenge of inconsistent data formats, disparate data spread across different organisations and sites, and differing quality of data infrastructures from researchers, governments, and other institutes. Ideally, in time, we will see a culture of cooperation that invests in innovation and builds and enhances a collaborative data infrastructure.

Fortunately, we can make use of a good public data collector to scrape web data at scale meaning if we can find the data, we can use it, no matter where it may be. Here are some good starting points for public data:

  • The US Government climate . gov website - 94 maps and data items including details of drought conditions, the age of Arctic Sea ice, precipitation, geospatial data, average temperatures, global temperature anomalies, severe storms and extreme events, and many more.
  • Our world in data - CO2 and GHG emissions - per capita Co2 emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, share of global CO2 emissions by country, CO2 emissions per unit of primary energy, CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP, and more

With public data like this, and using a public data collector, you can begin constructing visualisations and performing analytics of your own. What will you uncover, and what will you shed light on?

Here are some ideas, but I want to see what you can do:

  • analyse precipitation and river levels to project potential potable water shortages
  • explore extreme storms and record-setting events and predict, based on data, what we might see in the next years
  • explore sea level rises against coastal populations to identify potential catastrophe
  • identify the cost of coal-fired power vs. the cost of renewable energy and bring to the surface how much more work is needed to bring the cost of renewable energy down
  • identify trends in decreasing renewable energy costs as innovation and uptake increase, highlighting the impact each new adopter of renewable energy makes in bringing costs down

Where will the data take you? Let's use our skills to apply data for good.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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