Google Earth Engine Brings Big Data to Environmental Activism

A new forest-mapping tool relies on unprecedented data crunching

4 min read
Google Earth Engine Brings Big Data to Environmental Activism
Photo: David Mantel/Getty Images

When a tree falls in the forest these days, it doesn’t just make a sound—it causes a computer program to generate an alert that’s sent out to activists, researchers, and environmental policymakers around the planet. An online tool to map deforestation is applying big-data processing techniques to massive troves of satellite imagery, and in the process it is making possible a new kind of environmental activism.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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