Environment Forum

Google launches mapping tool to monitor global environmental change

Mexico map 2.jpgGoogle unveiled a powerful new mapping tool at the Cancun climate talks on Thursday that allows scientists to monitor changes in the Earth’s environment as climate change accelerates.

The search giant’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, calls the new Google Earth Engine “a planetary-scale platform for environmental data and analysis.” It combines Google Earth’s maps with 25 years’ worth of Landsat satellite images and other data.

Just as important as that data goldmine is Google’s move to put its immense computing resources at scientists’ disposal. Google.org is donating 20 million computational hours over the next two years to developing countries so they can monitor their forests as the United Nation’s prepares to implement an initiative called REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.

“Deforestation releases a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, accounting for 12-18 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions,” Rebecca Moore, the engineering manager for Google Earth Engine, wrote in a blog post. “For the least developed nations, Google Earth Engine will provide critical access to terabytes of data, a growing set of analytical tools and our high-performance processing capabilities.  We believe Google Earth Engine will bring transparency and more certainty to global efforts to stop deforestation.”

For instance, scientists processed 8,000 Landsat satellite images on Google Earth Engine to create a map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that shows the loss of forest cover over the past decade.

Environmentalists to use new Google 3D Trees mapping tool to preserve forests

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Environmentalists have long used Google Earth to keep tabs on mountaintop mining and to monitor deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Now with the release Monday of the latest version of Google’s virtual world maps, they’ll be able to literally see the trees in the forest  — in 3D.

Among other new features, Google Earth 6 has initially mapped more than 80 million trees in seven cities, from olive groves in Athens to the flowering dogwoods of Tokyo. Viewers can also fly through a section of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

“Google wants to create a more accurate and real model of the world and we want to make sure we’re adding in more information to make the planet more alive and more complete,” Peter Birch, product manager for Google Earth, said in an interview. “Trees provide context wherever you go and this allows you to tell the story of forestlands.”

Google Green Energy Czar geeks out on solar thermal

Google Green Energy Czar (real title) Bill Weihl sat down with Reuters to talk about Renewable Energy Less Than Coal – the company’s plan to make affordable clean energy. Google started off trying to green up its own computer operations and then launched this save-the-world effort, which includes some investment in renewable energy startups and the work by a Google team.

Weihl describes that work in the video below, saying that the chances of successfully creating clean energy at less than coal prices – or about 3 cents per kilowatt — had risen from long shot to roughly even odds in about three years’ time.

This is an overview of Google efforts (that’s me asking questions):

And here is Weihl giving a bit more detail of solar thermal work for you wonks (like me):

Google co-founder may build eco-mansion

Google co-founder Larry Page is building green, according to a local report.

He’s planning a cozy 6,000 square foot eco-mansion on a 0.75 acre lot in Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Weekly’s Web site says. The interim city planning chief told us that’s the biggest house one could build on such a lot, although the total space allowed is nearly 11,000 including garages and other outbuildings.

The paper says Page is kitting the house out with solar panels and paving that lets the rain run through to get it “green points“. Check out Palo Alto Online, whose Web site has strong reaction from foes and fans of Larry’s plan.

(Picture of Sergey Brin and Larry Page by Reuters)

T. Boone Pickens working on solar

boonepickens.jpgT. Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil investor who is building the largest wind farm in the United States, is also setting his sights on solar power.

Pickens last month launched a campaign aimed at weaning the United States off its dependence on foreign oil and is in the midst of a nation-wide tour to promote it. Following a speech in Los Angeles, Pickens told me he is looking beyond his wind investments to solar energy and is eager to share his “Pickens Plan” with both of the U.S. presidential candidates. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Do you think your plan to meet with  Obama and McCain will happen any time soon?

Nike wins, restaurants lose on list of climate-friendly companies

nikeshoes.jpgCan the running shoes we buy really help protect the environment?

According to a new list by nonprofit group Climate Counts, Nike ranked first among the world’s most climate-friendly companies.

In its second annual report, Climate Counts ranked companies based on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support of global warming legislation, public disclosure of their efforts to address climate change, and whether they measure their impacts on the environment.

Nike ranked well in all those areas, garnering a score of 82 out of a possible 100 points. Stonyfield Farm, IBM, Unilever, Canon, General Electric, Toshiba, Procter & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard and Sony rounded out the list’s top 10.

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