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Google and NatGeo team up to combat climate change

They're creating an unprecedented map of Earth to help government leaders make better decisions in regard to climate change.

(National Geographic/Google/Big Think)
  • A recently proposed campaign among scientists aims to protect 30 percent of Earth's land and oceans by 2030.
  • In light of this, National Geographic and Google announce an unprecedented mapping project to help government leaders make better decisions in regard to climate change, and to meet the 2030 targets.
  • The Wyss Campaign for Nature Foundation is pledging $1 billion to help meet the 2030 targets.

Google and National Geographic plan to construct a dynamic, four-dimensional digital Earth to help us more viscerally get acquainted with the planet's many corners, all the while highlighting those areas most in need of protection. Indeed, the ultimate purpose of the digital Earth is to enlist individuals and governments to support the recently proposed campaign to protect 30 percent of the earth's land and oceans by 2030.

With widespread support among experts and scientists, the proposal, which was co-written by National Geographic's chief scientist, Jonathan Baillie, seeks to preserve those habitats upon which the planet's lifeforms depend — including us — and it may well represent our own best chance for survival. This said, with NatGeo's storytelling skills and Google's powerful technologies, the two organizations envision the digital Earth's near-real-time view of the planet as delivering both widespread inspiration and detailed guidance for leaders, helping them make better-informed decisions as they confront climate change.

This living rendition of the globe will allow users to monitor the world's species and ecosystems over time, understand threats to the natural world and realize solutions to help achieve a planet in balance. — From partnership press release

At the Geo for Good summit in early October 2018, NatGeo and Google unveiled the first two products of their partnership, both viewable using their Google Earth technology. They're both fascinating, if only baby steps, toward the full-on model they envision.

Product 1: The Human Impact  Map

"Protecting the Earth's Wild Places"

(Google/National Geographic)

The Human Impact Map shows the areas of the Earth that are currently least affected by human activity. (Click the link in the previous sentence if you have either the Google Earth app or the Chrome browser plug-in installed.) A surprising, actually encouraging, amount of the planet is still characterized by very low or low human impact.

Product 2: Expanding Google’s Voyager stories

Waterfall on the Cuito River, in the Lisima Lwa Mwono region of Angola

(Cory Richards/National Geographic)

For Google Maps, the technology company has a collection of stories called the Voyager series. At Geo for Good, Google announced a new Voyager story, "Protecting the Okavango River Basin" co-authored with Nat Geo. After clicking the web page's EXPLORE button, you embark on a virtual expedition through this important area in Africa. The story told is based on National Geographic's Okavango Wilderness Project, complemented with Nat Geo's on-the-ground data and "newly visualized Human Impact data" from Google. With text, overlays, video, and NatGeo's reliably gorgeous photos, it all adds up to an unusually absorbing, rich experience and a tantalizing glimpse of things to come.

In 2020, there'll be a gathering of the world's governments to set climate change goals, and NatGeo and Google plan to continue developing tools that will help world leaders there better understand the challenges and opportunities in front of them.

30% by 2030 is gaining steam

The Wyss Foundation is supporting The Nature Conservancy's Australia program

(Wyss Foundation, by Ann Killeen)

The 2030 goal proposed by Baillie, and Ya-Ping Zhang, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences appears, hearteningly, to be gaining momentum. New partnerships continue to form. NatGeo, for example, is also working with The Nature Conservancy and the Wyss Foundation, whose just-announced Wyss Campaign for Nature is pledging a staggering $1 billion to help meet the 2030 targets.

Saving humanity, if we can do it, is an all-hands-on-deck project, and as exciting partnerships like these come together for the common good, it's hard not to feel a little more hopeful we can make it.

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