Climate change has dominated headlines for years, and interest in the issue will only increase. But the causes and effects of climate change are complex – and don’t fit neatly into headlines. Our ability to understand these global changes and their consequences will define the future of individuals, businesses, communities, countries, and the world. Leveraging climate data and other datasets can improve our understanding of what’s happening and help us to stop climate change.
So what are some of the ways that data can help us prevent climate change?
Five ways data can help us stop climate change
1. Recognising climate change is an issue
Acknowledging you have a problem is an important first step in solving it. We have intensely debated the existence, causes and effects of climate change for many years. But we now widely accept that climate change is happening, and that it is a problem.
Many factors have contributed to us acknowledging climate change, but access to data – and what it has shown us – is one of the most important. While we can point to various datasets, Nasa’s Images of Change is particularly striking. It clearly shows how Arctic Sea ice has shrunk between 1984 and 2012. And polar-ice melt has knock-on effects to sea levels: a problem for low-lying communities.
Arctic Sea ice shrunk between 1984 and 2012. Image: Nasa
Datasets such as Nasa’s have helped us understand how our climate is changing. And they have informed governments’ first steps to tackle climate change.
2. Improving the climate change conversation
Not all data is negative when it comes to climate change. We can also use certain datasets to convey positive messages. This is important because it can help to avoid pessimism, which decreases the will to change.
Take Climate Central, a non-profit research organisation. In September 2018, it released a free online tool for TV meteorologists in the United States. The tool lets them share three-day estimates of local solar and wind power generation with their viewers, increasing awareness of low-carbon energy sources.
Meteorologists can therefore illustrate the positive effects of clean energy around the country to a large, diverse audience. This is positive news indeed, given that 60 per cent of Americans trust weather forecasters on information about climate change.
3. Understanding our collective impact on the environment
It is important for state and regional climate data to be publicly accessible. Transparency helps people understand what is being done in their own country or locality. It also lets them compare progress to stated governmental goals.
Take the UK trends in single-use plastic carrier bags, 2017-2018. In this period, the main seven retailers sold 289 million fewer bags than during the 2016-2017 period – a 22 per cent decrease.
This substantial figure follows an even more impressive drop during 2016 to 2017. The period saw the main seven retailers issue around 83 per cent fewer bags compared to the calendar year 2014.
These statistics are significant because they demonstrate how effective the 5p carrier-bag charge has been. But it is also important that they are publicly available because they provide positive reinforcement of the benefits of recycling. Crucially, people can see how small changes in their own habits have contributed to an impressive collective impact.
4. Understanding your own impact on the climate
We now have access to more data about our own habits than ever before. Advances such as smart metering can help consumers and businesses understand their contribution to climate change.
Not only do these apps help you understand your energy usage, and environmental impact, in much greater detail. They also highlight patterns in your usage data, making efficiency changes and corporate sustainability much easier.
5. Understanding perceptions of climate change
Accurate climate data is essential. But data can also help us understand the beliefs and attitudes towards climate change in particular communities.
In May 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that 71 per cent of Britons were concerned about climate change. This is certainly a high level of concern. The UK government’s primary challenge is not to convince the UK public that we need to stop climate change. The British public is also easy to survey.
In contrast, other communities may well have very different attitudes to climate change – and be much harder to reach. Being able to conduct face-to-face brand research wherever you are is particularly important here. It will provide data on where attitudes against climate change have hardened, and begin to understand how to change such perceptions. (For more on this, see How a data collection app benefits people and planet.)
However, we need to be clear about what data we are collecting, why and whether it is reliable. Data is only useful if it allows you to take action, inform strategy – and help stop climate change.
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