Visualizing Climate Change

Visualizing Climate Change

This week, the UK government launched a new Google Earth layer to demonstrate just what will happen to the world's oceans, forests, grasslands, ice caps, and farms if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed within 4 degrees Celsius.

Appropriately dubbed the Four Degrees Celsius layer, the visualization tool— developed and released by the UK Foreign office in conjunction with the Department of Energy and Climate change—is partly an effort to boost public confidence in climate science in the aftermath of the so-called "ClimateGate."

It is also, however, part of a much larger effort to transform scientific data into visual tools useful not only to researchers, but also to the broader public and decision-makers at all levels. For example, as the UK government takes steps toward de-carbonizing its economy, its leaders will be able to use visual aids like this to build public support for its efforts and to communicate with a global audience about the need for major collective changes, in areas ranging from energy consumption to land use.

Plus, like Google Ocean and the forthcoming CalAdapt—which, when launched in September, will feature climate change impacts in California—they are really damn fun to play with. Permafrost melting, forest fires raging, sea levels rising, and crops dwindling are, after all, much less terrifying in virtual space. With vizualizations like this, hopefully we can preempt their becoming reality.

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