Air and water pollution, waste disposal, and species loss are motivating a new generation of environmental activists to make a positive impact on our planet. Unlike environmental advocacy efforts of the past, however, big-data-powered technology has completely changed the game for today’s activists.
Web intelligence and modern technologies like IoT, sensor networks and observation services, telemetry systems, and others help scientists and activists to observe, capture, track, and report the effects of ecological degradation in better detail and in real time. Through infographics and visualizations, data tells a story that goes beyond emotional opinions to provide objective information based on facts and evidence.
Data-Driven Activism Supercharges Environmental Action
Publicly available web data allows scientists to identify patterns, trends, and correlations that leave little room for doubt about the severity and extent of environmental damage. Using web intelligence collection tools, activists can also monitor corporate activity and track policy changes more easily.
Identifying environmental issues is just the beginning, however. Web scraping technologies can also provide data for measuring the progress of environmental interventions and initiatives, enabling activists to build solid arguments for getting stronger support from important stakeholders, including governments.
Where Do Activists Get Environmental Data?
Today, activists and scientists have numerous options for collecting data, including purchasing data sets and collecting publicly available data with the help of web scraping solutions. Some examples of traditional and alternative data sources include the following:
7 Sources for Environmental Data
- Environmental reports published by governments and government agencies that provide information on air pollution, water quality, wildlife conservation, and deforestation.
- Data published by NGOs (such as the circular-economy-focused Ellen MacArthur Foundation) that release reports and indexes in specific domains related to the environment and sustainability.
- Data, analysis, and policy recommendations from international scientific organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the International Energy Agency. As an example, the IPCC publishes temperature data, precipitation records, sea level fluctuations, future climate projections, and other important metrics related to the global impact and mitigation of climate change.
- Information about wildlife protection and endangered species from wildlife organizations, such as the WWF, that reveals important information about deforestation, habitat loss, and conservation efforts.
- Corporate sustainability reports that enable activists to monitor whether companies meet their commitments related to renewable energy adoption, waste management, greenhouse gas emissions, and other important sustainability goals.
- Legislation updates from government websites that allow activists to stay informed about new environmental policies.
- Publicly available data from news sites that enable activists to stay informed on current events, legislation, environmental disasters, and other critical issues.
Data quality, relevance, and timeliness are critical to supporting environmental advocacy and awareness efforts. These factors are especially crucial when tracking compliance with environmental regulations, identifying discrepancies or non-compliance, and using data to expose malpractices and initiate legal actions.
3 Examples of Data-Driven Environmental Activism
Images of habitat destruction, irregular weather patterns, and polluted land and water can be very powerful in motivating public support for environmentalist goals. Substantiating these phenomena with data further solidifies those arguments to create a compelling case for policy changes and innovative projects that benefit the earth, as the examples of the C40 Cities and Helsinki Hot Heart projects show.
Tracking air pollution through web search queries
Traditional air pollution forecasting models rely on physical measurement data collected from expensive and limited ground-based monitors. A recent study suggests a more accessible method by focusing on developing and validating models using public web search data from major search engines to “nowcast” observed pollution levels.
To achieve this goal, researchers developed novel machine-learning-based models using supervised classification and deep learning methods incorporating meteorological data and aggregated web search volume data from Google Trends. The study demonstrates that combining this data improves nowcasting performance and suggests that web search data has a promising future for tracking physical phenomena worldwide.
Monitoring public opinion on deforestation
Palm oil is a primary ingredient in many processed food, cleaning, and personal care products. It’s also used for industrial processes and the production of biodiesel. Although versatile, it has been associated with significant environmental problems, specifically rainforest destruction in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
A recent study analyzed public opinion regarding the environmental impacts of palm oil plantation expansion and how this connects to tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss in Southeast Asia. Using a large data set of 4,260 online posts from YouTube and Reddit, researchers identified trends and patterns in public perceptions that revealed negative views of palm oil and greed, corruption, and profit schemes behind its production.
Improved detection of illegal activities
Often, behavior harmful to the environment flies under the regulatory radar because it is too difficult for public institutions to monitor the vastness of cyberspace manually. A recent partnership between Oxylabs and the Environmental Protection Department of Lithuania as part of Project 4β tackles exactly this issue.
The partnership aims to identify Lithuanian websites featuring ads offering a range of illegal products or services: those specific to the trade of protected animals and plants, prohibited hunting and fishing equipment, processing and removal of waste and sewage without the necessary permits, dismantling of unserviceable vehicles, and the unauthorized sale and use of fossil resources.
To aid the mission, Oxylabs’ team developed an automated web intelligence collection solution that identifies potential examples of these advertisements. By automating the data extraction process, the project aims to help the organization save time and reduce costs associated with manual ad monitoring.
Data Intelligence Enables Environmental Activism
Data intelligence powered by web scraping helps advance environmental sustainability by arming activists with compelling data to mobilize public support and, in the long term, pressure policymakers to enact legislation that drives meaningful environmental change.
Sometimes, however, meaningful changes do not require new policy and legislation but rather willful action, innovative thinking, and creativity. By harnessing the power of big data, activists can tackle environmental issues more effectively and use modern technological solutions to speed up environmental problem-solving.