Every single day, a variety of issues from around the world appear on the news, on social media, and in our day-to-day conversations. But there is one particular issue that has recently been put into the spotlight: Climate change.

While the dangers of climate change have been an ongoing issue for some time now, people worldwide are fighting to save the environment now more than ever. Data may be able to help work towards a solution. Let’s examine a few ways:

Enhancing resources

One way that data can help fight climate change is through research: finding better ways to manage the resources around us.

Onpower, a company working on energy analytics, found that citizens are usually influenced by the energy consumption of their neighbors. They used this behavior to the advantage of their company as well as the environment. Onpower sends personalized reports to citizens that compare the energy usage of neighbors, resulting in an incentive to individuals to try and save the most energy in their community. Since 2007, their energy-saving project has saved almost 6 billion kilowatts of energy, which is equivalent to being able to provide energy to a city of 1 million citizens for a full year.

Visualization

Navigation tools such as Google Maps or Waze usually offer different viewing options such as satellite, terrain, or 3D. These options allow us to see locations from various perspectives, which is an extremely useful tool being used in climate change research, and data has stepped in to make such visualization possible.

For example, Climate Central’s program Surging Seas provides information on the rising sea levels in the United States through an interactive map. Users are able to view different locations on the map and see accurate sea levels, flood warnings, action plans, patterns, and historical data. Richard Wiles, vice president of Climate Central, states that their strategy is to “tell people about their climate locally in ways they can understand, and the only way to do that is with big data analysis.”

Another visualization tool developed to help the environment is Trase. Trase’s platform connects independent data sources to reveal the trade flows for items such as beef, soy, and palm oil, which are responsible for an estimated two-thirds of tropical deforestation. This allows for an extended view of how exports are linked to agricultural conditions, including where they’re located. This helps companies, organizations, governments, and the general population understand the risks and how they can develop more sustainable production.

Energy efficiency

Saving energy is one of the most common ways that individuals choose to play their part in saving the environment, but did you know that every sustainability-oriented energy initiative is actually powered by data? The U.S. economy wastes 61 to 87 percent of the energy that flows through it, and on average Americans spend $130 billion a year on the wasted power. This is where data can help.

One of the most important first steps to saving energy is to receive an in-home energy audit. Energy audits, otherwise known as home energy assessments, allow you to understand just how much energy you are using on a daily basis, where your home is using the most energy, and if all of your energy-swallowing sources are necessary to have. However, there is still upkeep that needs to be done in order to keep your home as energy efficient as possible, and by implementing big data systems, individuals can accurately evaluate green strategies and components to ensure that they are working and to identify other areas that can become more green.

Another tool that data has helped develop are smarter grids. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Smart Grid is the “single best chance to build sustainability into the electric system.” As opposed to “smart meters,” a fully-functioning Smart Grid will “feature sensors throughout the transmission and distribution grid to collect data, real-time-two-way communications to move that data between utilities and consumers.” Smarter grids also optimize solar and wind energy by allowing excess energy to be circulated back into solar systems which enables the excess to work the system without the danger of overloading it, which would not be possible without the advanced set of data in place. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), U.S. carbon emissions are expected to rise from 1700 million tons of carbon per year today to 2300 million tons by 2030. With tools such as the Smart Grid in action, though, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the energy sector’s carbon emissions could be cut by 25%.

Tackling climate change is not an easy task. We all need to do our part, even if it’s as simple as recycling whenever possible or biking instead of driving. But with data at hand there are so many tools that we’re now able to access in order to start fighting for a cleaner and greener planet.

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Lindsey Berke