Change is a natural part of life. However, what kind of change we want to see in our lives and to leave for our children and grandchildren—good or bad—is still a question that we need to answer. And if we look at what Google Earth is telling us, we have a long way to go to properly make up for what we’ve been doing to our pale blue dot, our home, Planet Earth.
Google Earth posted a series of videos over on YouTube showing how much our world’s oceans, forests, glaciers, beaches, and cities have changed from 1984 to 2020, as a way to promote climate awareness through its new timelapse feature.
Have a look below at how human activity and natural forces have changed the Earth, dear Pandas. You'll find the links to the original videos underneath each photo in this list. And remember, stopping climate change is up to us. Even if things seem grim from the four decades’ worth of video imagery we’ve seen, there’s always hope.
Natalie M. Mahowald, an American Earth scientist who is the Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, told Bored Panda that a lot of the impact that climate and environmental change have happens so slowly, it's hard for us to see.
"Revisiting different locations and seeing the change from either land use conversion or from climate change in one 30 second film, can really help humans understand the huge spatial scale of all the changes that are occurring," Professor Mahowald said about Google Earth's new timelapse feature.
Image credits: Google Earth
Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA
Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that climate change is very real, there are plenty of skeptics. Mahowald said that it's come to the point that the facts don't matter anymore. "Unfortunately, climate change has gotten politicized, so that science doesn’t matter," she told Bored Panda.
There have been some positive advances in the fight against climate change, however. "The revolution in renewable solutions like wind and solar have made it possible to convert our energy systems to much less carbon-intensive solutions," Mahowald pointed out that renewable energy tech is progressing in a very positive way. "This makes it likely that we will keep temperatures below 3C, which is much better than I would have said 5 years ago. Hopefully, another few revolutions like that and we can keep temperatures even lower!"
Nuflo De Chavez, Bolivia
It’s not all doom and gloom in other frots, either. Even though Google points out that nearly half of the world's forests have already been cleared or degraded for human use, the rate of deforestation has dropped.
Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was around 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s. This doesn’t change the fact that trees are being cut down at an alarming rate, however, the rate has dropped significantly. Whether that trend continues depends on us.
The message that Google’s sending to everyone is pretty clear: human beings are having a huge impact on the climate (and the best way to see the evidence for yourself is with its new timelapse tool).
For the timelapse project, Google partnered up with lots of government agencies including NASA, the US Geological Survey, and the European Space Agency (as well as the European Union itself!). According to Forbes, the timelapse feature uses around 24 million satellite photos gathered by Google Earth from these agencies to show how nature has changed over time.
Meanwhile, the timelapse tech was created with the help of Carnegie Mellon University. Over 2 million processing hours were needed to process the 20 petabytes of imagery to create the 4.4 terapixel zoomable video mosaic of Planet Earth. Which is a fancy and technical way of saying that a huge amount of effort went into the project. Remember that as you’re using the tool.
Climate scientist Mahowald told The Associated Press that the timelapse project is “amazing” and will help people understand climate change and its effect on our environment in a more tangible way.
“Trying to get people to understand the scope of the climate change and the land use problem is so difficult because of the long time and spatial scales. I would not be surprised if this one bit of software changes many people’s minds about the scale of the impact of humans on the environment,” Mahowald from Cornell Uni said.
This isn’t the end to Google’s ambitions, however. The company has promised that we’ll all able to see timelapse presentations of pretty much any place that we want.
Have a look at the tool and the videos, explore things a bit, and report back with your thoughts, dear Readers. Do you think it’ll help raise awareness about climate change? Let us know in the comment section.