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Data Commons: Making sustainability data accessible

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At Google, we believe that giving everyone easy access to data can be revolutionary — especially when it comes to solving the world’s most pressing problems like climate change.

Take Google Maps for example. Before Google Maps, information — like satellite imagery, maps of roads and information about businesses — was found in different places. Google Maps brings all this helpful information together, so people can use it not only to navigate and explore the world with ease, but also to find solutions to problems facing their communities. We’ve seen people use Google Maps to help do everything from giving communities access to emergency food services to fighting the opioid crisis by highlighting drug drop-off centers.

Despite the critical urgency to combat the effects of climate change, finding data around sustainability is where mapping data was 15 years ago. It’s fragmented across thousands of silos, in a cacophony of schemas, and across a multitude of databases. In 2017, we started the Data Commons project to organize all this data to create standardized, universal access for consumers, journalists, policymakers and researchers. Today, Data Commons is one of the world's largest Knowledge Graphs on sustainability, spanning more than 100 new sources of data about climate, health, food, crops, shelter, emissions and more.

The graph contains nearly 3 billion time series across over 100,000 variables about 2.9 million places. Anyone can access, explore and understand this data using Google Search or our free dashboards and visualization tools. Or they can use our open and free APIs to build new tools based on this data. For enterprise customers, this data is available via Data Commons on the BigQuery Analytics Hub.

Illustration showing connecting dots and arrows that represent the data sources — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Census Bureau, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, World Bank and India Water Resources Information System.

The Data Commons Knowledge Graph is a single knowledge graph that includes more than 100 sources of sustainability data and more.

Connecting the dots on climate data

The effects of climate change are going to worsen food insecurity, health outcomes, economic inequities and other social issues. There is a dire need to create data-driven solutions that can mitigate these effects so we can take collective action. We’re working closely with the broader community — including universities, nonprofits and researchers — to use Data Commons to uncover insights and create solutions. Take a look at some of the work being done:

  • Temperature and health: Professor Arun Majumdar of Stanford University, who was also the Founding Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), is using Data Commons to look at the intersection of temperature and human health. When humidity and temperature reach a critical threshold, the human body can no longer regulate its temperature. Arun and his team are identifying which places will reach this critical threshold first. With this information, local governments can take proactive steps to mitigate these effects, like building infrastructure that provides cooling to communities.
  • Water for everyone: Professor Balaraman Ravindran of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras is working with Data Commons to add India-based data on water quality. With this data, communities can get a better understanding of water use, quality, availability and more.
  • Understanding food scarcity challenges: Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 member food banks serving tens of millions of people in need in the United States. Data from their annual Map the Meal Gap study is accessible in Feeding America Data Commons so anyone can explore food security and how it intersects with variables like health, climate and education. For Feeding America, this data allows them to quickly identify U.S. locations where food insecurity is most exacerbated by other root causes of disparities and hardship.

Our quest to organize the world’s sustainability information

Climate change is a defining crisis of our time, but together we have the potential to curb its effects. At Google one of the ways we can continue to contribute to solving it is through our mission to organize information and make it easily accessible. Data Commons’ data and code is open source so anyone can use it, and it’s built collaboratively with the global community. Join us in using Data Commons to tackle climate change, and see other progress we’ve made toward the sustainability commitments we made as part of our third decade of climate action.

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