How to fight climate change with public web data

The threat of climate change is real, and everyday people like you and me can play a role in educating others and changing behaviors – individuals, organizations and governments – with a solid, data-based foundation.

Pandemic aside, climate change is definitely the global issue of this decade and the one to come. However, this is not a new problem. Popular mechanics said in March 1912 that the furnaces of the world were burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year at that time. “When burned, by uniting with oxygen, it adds approximately 7,000,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. This tends to make the air a more effective cover for the earth and raise its temperature. The effect can be considerable in a few centuries.

Well, the world is still burning more than 8.5 billion tons of coal a year while the atmosphere has recorded greenhouse gas concentrations of new highs, well above pre-industrial levels. The average temperature is higher and the sea level is higher. The polar ice is melting and the ocean is becoming more and more acidic.

What can we do you and me? This is a question I ask myself. Sure, I turn off the lights when I leave the room, have solar panels, and have tried plant-based burgers. Yet there must be more. How can one person – a technologist like you and me – have a greater impact in creating educational information and resources, tracking progress and, ideally, positive change?

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

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

Fortunately, we can enjoy a good public data collector to retrieve web data at scale, which means if we can find the data, we can use it no matter where it is. Here are some good starting points for public data:

  • Australian Bureau of Meteorology – datasets of temperature, precipitation, pan evaporation, cloud amount
  • climate.gov – 94 maps and data elements including details of drought conditions, arctic sea ice age, precipitation, geospatial data, average temperatures, global temperature anomalies, severe storms and extreme events , and many others.
  • Our world in data – CO2 and GHG emissions – CO2 emissions per capita, greenhouse gas emissions, share of global CO2 emissions by country, CO2 emissions per unit of primary energy, CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP, etc. .




With public data like this and using a public data collector, you can start building visualizations and performing your own analyses. What will you discover and what will you illuminate?

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

  • analyze rainfall and river levels to predict potential drinking water shortages
  • explore extreme storms and record events and predict, based on the data, what we might see in the next few years
  • explore sea level rises against coastal populations to identify potential disaster
  • identify the cost of coal power versus the cost of renewable energy and highlight how much additional work is needed to reduce the cost of renewable energy
  • identify downward trends in renewable energy costs as innovation and adoption increase, highlighting the cost reduction impact of each new renewable energy adopter

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

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