Big Data and Climate Change

by Dr. Jagdev Bhogal, Senior Lecturer in Data Technologies.

Climate change is making the news headlines again, but for all the wrong reasons. Donald Trump believes that climate change is a ‘hoax’ and has signed executive orders to open federal land to coal mining, reverse the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and to halt new vehicle emissions standards. The Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce America’s emissions by 26-28% in accordance with the Paris Agreement made by 200 countries in 2015. Trump even pledged to “cancel” America’s part in the agreement, which he branded “the Paris compromise” as part of his presidency campaign.

Our research on Green IT

Climate change is a global phenomenon that affects countries in different ways. It poses a risk to our health, wildlife, food production and fresh water supplies, to name just a few. Typically when we think of climate change we may consider energy production and fossil fuels as being the big drivers, but the Information Technology (IT) industry is also a considerable contributor.

Did you know that both the IT and aviation industries release 2% carbon emissions?

Computers are often left switched on and are replaced unnecessarily. Computing equipment contains harmful chemicals which pose a major threat to health if disposed of incorrectly.

But computers can also be part of the solution: Green IT can help to minimize energy waste, avoid pollution (resulting from careless IT waste disposal), and build more sustainable information systems. Intelligent buildings and supply chain information systems can be used to optimise routing and transportation. Cloud computing and server virtualization technologies are a hugely helpful way to reduce energy waste and carbon emissions, by consolidating more applications onto fewer physical servers.

How can Big Data help?

Climate data has been collected over many years using satellite imagery and sensors. Social media is also being used to report climate change data. However, until recently, computers did not have enough power to process such large data sets. Cloud technology has changed this by offering distributed storage and massive processing power in order to collectively analyse these diverse and rich data sources.

Data can tell us what is happening with regards to climate change. For example, where it is happening and what the most significant causes are. Predictive modelling can be used for building working simulations of climate change systems, conducting what-if scenarios and adjusting variables to produce forecasts. Actionable intelligence is the final stage of analytics which points to the actions that are needed to improve the situation.

The Big Data race is on to tackle climate change. Initiatives such as opening up climate data sets in the public domain and crowdsourcing data will help to produce more creative and effective solutions to the climate change problem.

Big Data and climate

What we’re doing

I’m currently working on research to identify whether there’s a link between culture and Green IT with my colleague William Campbell. Culture is based on values, beliefs and norms. Put another way, it can be seen as “the way we do things around here”.

We’ve designed a Green IT and Culture survey to establish whether culture has an impact on the approach of organisations and countries towards their Green Information Technology policies. The survey will be distributed internationally and we would welcome your participation.

Please take a moment to complete the survey, and help us to tackle the issue of climate change.

If you’re interested in IT why not check out our computing courses.

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