It took four unsuccessful nominations over the course of two odd decades and a handful of hilarious viral memes before Leonardo DiCaprio finally received an Academy Award for Best Actor. DiCaprio won the Oscar for his compelling performance in the critically acclaimed movie – The Revenant – at the 88th Academy Awards held in February 2016. The award was way overdue, to say the least, after having produced great performances in The Wolf of Wall Street, Blood Diamond, and more. However, in his acceptance speech, after the obligatory thank you and acknowledgments, the actor went on to speak about a global issue he greatly cares about – climate change. The actor said that climate change is real indeed, and it is the most urgent threat our species is facing.
DiCaprio has already made an attempt to spread awareness of climate change by co-producing the 2016 documentary – Before the Flood. However, the actor is not nearly done with his endeavors pertaining to environmentalism. In line with this cause, he soon plans to summon the only hero who can take pollution back to zero – Captain Planet. That’s right, folks. The actor is going to produce a Captain Planet movie in a bid to get people talking about pressing environmental issues like global warming and pollution.
In actuality, however, movies and documentaries can only do so much. This year’s data from NASA confirms that there has been a dramatic rise in Earth’s temperature. The rate of increase in this temperate is apparently unprecedented in the last 1,000 years. After a study of historical data, a report stated that February 2016 was ‘unusually warm’. Climate change can not only cause the mass extinction of various species but also crumble the global economy. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, climate change could increase the number of people living in poverty by around 122 million by 2030.
In the world of animation and cinema, the human race may have the luxury to count on Captain Planet and the Planeteers to change things for the better. However, in the real world, it is up to us, the humankind, to make collective efforts towards saving our planet. Captain Planet’s catchphrase ‘The power is yours’ emphasizes the very same sentiment. We may not have magic rings to summon the crystal blue-skinned hero, but what we do have is the power of technology. And in today’s digital world, the biggest weapon in our arsenal is big data. Had Captain Planet really existed, he would perhaps don the data scientist hat to combat climate change and protect environmental interests apart from vanquishing the plunderers of the Earth.
Many government and private organizations worldwide are taking initiatives related to environmental protection. For instance, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) was put in place to reduce emissions in government data centers. The government began consolidating its data centers and investing in power-efficient infrastructure. Consolidation of such big data infrastructure alone has not only reduced carbon footprint significantly but also allowed for cost savings of a whopping $2.8 billion so far. Organizations have also been using big data and analytics solutions for applications, such as tracking climate change and monitoring water quality, for quite a while now. However, big data is a lot more versatile than one would imagine. Let us take a look a few major application areas.
Toxicity in Chemicals
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a toxicology research program – CompTox – to address the lack of environmental data pertinent to various chemicals. One of the primary objectives of this program is to rank chemicals with respect to the risk they pose to the environment. The warehousing of relevant data has facilitated the effective screening of chemicals so that they are used in an eco-friendly manner.
Monitoring of Power Plants
The Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) is a federal data warehouse, which contains information related to companies in the power industry. The data is gathered by organizations, including the EPA and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. The data helps determine the performance of power companies with respect to parameters such as greenhouse gas emission, carbon footprint, renewable portfolio standards, etc.
The EPA and NASA are making a collaborative effort to collect air quality data. This data enables scientists to identify the primary sources of pollution and study variations in emissions.
The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), formed jointly by a group of international governments and organizations, helps gather real-time environmental data collected from ground-based and satellite observation systems. This data allows for quick response in the case of natural calamities or other disasters triggered by human activity; these include forest fires, earthquakes, etc. The data helps predict the outcomes of these events apart from improving emergency responses and ecosystem monitoring activities.
According to a report by the New York Times, restaurants that were illegally dumping cooking oils into sewers were busted with a 95% success rate, thanks to big data. This initiative by New York’s Department of Environmental Protection helped in resolving issues like contamination due to clogged drains.
Real-time Earthquake Monitoring
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) gathers real-time data pertinent to earthquakes from the Global Seismographic Network and the Advanced National Seismic System. This data has been used to develop systems that can trigger warning signals in advance for imminent earthquakes and seismic waves.
The NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) collects petabytes of weather and climate data. Data scientists and predictive modelers use this data to create insightful simulations of climate change.
Although the harmful environmental effects of deforestation are known to most people, it seems to have become a necessary evil owing to rapid industrialization and pollution growth. However, big data and data science not only help minimize the cutting of trees but also suggest eco-friendly alternatives. The decrease in deforestation, therefore, leads to the preservation of the natural habitats of various endangered species.
Clearly, big data and analytics are among the biggest technological tools that are contributing to environmental causes and sustainability. Predictive tools and advanced visualization capabilities are facilitating projects related to climate change and the conservation of natural resources. That said, it is not just up to government agencies and private organizations to undertake environmental projects. We all need to do our bit and respect the environment. Let us not take our resources for granted. To reiterate Captain Planet’s catchphrase, the power is yours.