Bioneers 2008: Using Google Earth for Environmental Activism

Google Eearth coral reef discovery screenshot image
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We've seen that with Google Earth you kind of hold the world in the palm of your hand. TreeHugger has posted on somereally cool things the software can do, such asillustrate deforestation and our renewable energy potential. But there is more to it than just a few layers of mapping that illustrate our world.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, Google Earth was used to help rescue workers to save more than 4,000 people. A little later a scientist in Australia discovered a previously unknown fringing coral reef with Google Earth. At the same time, the Australian government was going to subject that region to a major environmental assessment for an oil and natural gas push. Of course, the discovery shifted things in the favor of the coral reef.

At this point, Google started to catch on that the Earth mapping holds some serious significance.

So, the world has this tool — what is the world doing with it? Google Earth has become one of the most powerful tools we have to show the scale of problems,illustrate solutions, shift public policy, channel funding for projects, and change people's way of thinking about the world.

Rebecca Moore and Google Earth Outreach are hard at work getting this tool into the hands of nonprofits that need it to further their environmental causes. After presentations and workshops at Bioneers, Moore talked with us about some of the amazing programs they're involved with.

A few years ago, Moore was handed a fuzzy map that showed where a logging company planned to cut timber in her community. It was nearly undecipherable. So in just a weekend, she utilized Google Earth to map out exactly what those fuzzy lines meant. It meant water pollution and timber cutting within 300 feet of a public school. With this tool, she was able to show the community that they did not want this logging company to move forward with the plan as it stood.

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Through Google Earth, users can travel virtually to see with their own eyes what is at stake if we loose habitat, allow deforestation, move forward with coal plants or do nothing to stop a polluting factory.

With Google Earth features, users can add elements to make a map real, such as before and after imaging of things like oil spills or mountain top removal, imagery to illustrate what the maps mean and what people are looking at when they see the terrain. Video can also be embedded to increase the impact.

Through case studies presented on Google Earth Outreach, you can see the impact that seeing can have on an audience. For example, a group in Appalachia could, in just a few minutes, powerfully illustrate to politicians the devastation caused by mountain top removal, and they're making progress in stopping it.


Read on for more projects and video footage