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Empowering environmental action and activism through web intelligence

‘Nowcasting’ pollution levels by analysing popular web search terms, driving direct action by scraping digital information, utilising image search to detect illegal trafficking. Oxylabs’ Sustainability Manager Ure Karkliene explains how to protect our planet with functionality at your fingertips.

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Challenges posed by air and water pollution, waste disposal, and species loss are motivating a new generation of environmental activists dedicated to making a positive impact on our planet. However, in contrast to environmental advocacy efforts of the past, big-data-powered technology has completely changed the game.

Today, web intelligence and modern technologies, such as 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, in real time. Through infographics and visualisations, data tells a story that goes beyond emotional opinions to provide objective information based on facts and evidence.

Data-driven activism takes environmental action to a new level

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. 

However, identifying environmental issues that must be addressed is just the beginning. 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 activists get environmental data

Today, activists and scientists have numerous options for collecting data, including the purchase of datasets and collecting publicly available data with the help of web scraping solutions.

Some examples of traditional and alternative data sources include:

  • 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 circular economy-focused Ellen MacArthur Foundation) that releases reports and indexes in specific domains related to environment and sustainability.
  • Data, analysis, and policy recommendations from international scientific organisations 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 organisations, such as WWF, revealing 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.

Real-life 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. Substantiating these phenomena with data further solidifies those claims to create a compelling case for policy changes and innovative projects that benefit the earth, as shown by the examples of C40 Cities and Helsinki Hot Heart projects.

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.

For 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.

a foggy field with trees in the distance

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. While versatile, it has been associated with significant environmental problems, specifically rainforest destruction in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

A recent study analysed public opinions 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 dataset of 4260 online posts from YouTube and Reddit, researchers identified trends and patterns in public perceptions that revealed negative views on palm oil and how they connect to environmental destruction driven by greed, corruption, and profit.

Improving the detection of illegal activities against nature

Often, behavior harmful to the environment flies under the regulatory radar because it is too difficult for public institutions to monitor the vast cyberspace manually. A recent partnership by Oxylabs and the Environmental Protection Department of Lithuania as part of Project 4β tackles this issue.

The partnership aims to identify Lithuanian websites featuring ads offering illegal products or services specific to the trade of protected animals and plants as well as 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, the Oxylabs team developed an automated web intelligence collection solution that potentially identifies these advertisements. By automating the data extraction process, the project aims to help the organisation save time and reduce costs associated with manual ad monitoring.

Data intelligence: a powerful weapon enabling 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.

On the other hand, meaningful changes sometimes 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 utilise modern technological solutions to speed up environmental problem-solving.

More features: 

Climate negligence and economic decline define the UK, political reform is needed

Quick question: Can landfill bring dumped plastic into the circular economy?

How River Thames Scheme uses nature assessments to support vulnerable species

Images: Nathana Rebouças (top) / Maksim Shutov (middle)

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