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Rebecca Moore’s insistence at understanding loggers need to destroy neighborhood trees revolutionized humanitarian and environmental aids. Never make a computer scientist curious.
Since 2005, Moore has helped communities across the planet find every day uses for satellite data. She began the project when Google Earth was in its infancy and loggers wanted to decimate a local forest of redwoods in Santa Cruz, Calif. A computer scientist, she used programming knowledge to prove taking the neighborhood trees down was illegal while gaining neighborhood support.
And Google Earth Outreach was born.
Maps of #forest damage in #Colorado from beetles and fire from @rebeccatmoore @earthoutreach at GFW partners meeting pic.twitter.com/oOMRyJtHdW— Global Forest Watch (@globalforests) September 30, 2014
The Business Insider‘s Jillian D’Onfro opens an article about Moore on how Brazilian Surui tribe leader Chief Almir came across Google Earth in 2008 at an internet cafe and wanted to use the satellite information to document illegal logging and mining. Environmental erosion forged a bond between Moore’s team and the tribe, an unexpected family that would use the imagery and tools to allow a peace of mind for a healthier planet. The bond hasn’t ended, either.
Moore told Origin Magazine last year that being an activist was never the initial goal. Yet after the fight for the redwood trees, many international nonprofit organizations and associations wanted help for their own projects. Feeling the software and technology was “very simply used” in her case “and it was so powerful and so effective, and I realized that everyone could do this,” she created Earth Outreach.
Earth Outreach works as both an educational tool with case studies and a tutorial guide on how to maximize Google Earth for an Outreach project. It’s not just start ups, either. “We allowed those nonprofits who had used Google Earth successfully to communicate what they had done.”
Calling herself “a tiny instigator” for the revolutionary function, she often credits Brendon McClendon, Google Earth inventor and current vice president of Google Earth and Map development, for providing the funds in various programs. “He’s been a fantastic supporter from the very beginning of this idea of “geo for good, maps for good,” as part of Google giving back to the world.”
But it’s not McClendon’s working so passionately, dedicating so much time and effort into creating a worthwhile element to mapping. Her efforts have been used in documenting the Darfur genocide by letting them wall into the burnt out buildings. For the project, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum partnered the Google and Dafur because “never again” goes beyond the atrocities of World War II.
But how did Moore have time to create a project when working at minimum 40 hours a week?
Google encourages employees to spend 20% of the week on a project of their choice. The idea fosters innovative uses for Google’s resources—resources that grow all the time as the company buys niche products. Google Earth Outreach was Moore’s. A simple, personal matter broke ground on an entirely new but important purpose for mapping technology.
Reading D’Onfro’s article, there’s a aparkling moment of positive energy where you believe in Moore’s mission. “I really believe that when people have the information, when everyone in society is empowered with this information, people will make better decisions.” And Google Earth collects data from many sources, putting many elements into the same location. Pooling so many sources together provides a much larger network to pull from.
Moore works with the HALO Trust and Google Earth Pro to study and validate minefield data, to produce high-quality maps through Google Earth Engine tech. Providing that data saves the lives of people forced to walk on minefields without any indication where the mines actually sit. Google Earth also works with the Environmental Defense Fund to measure air pollution in U.S. cities in a pilot program. Environmentally, the company and Outreach are looking to band together to form a better quality earth for everyone—not just a privileged few.
And the Jane Goodall Institute uses Google Earth and Open Data Kit to monitor projects and natural environments on their Android phones via the REDD+ app. The Institute doesn’t just focus on their own data, but allows communities to connect and participate on their own devices. Dr. Lilian Pintea, Director of Conservation Science of the JGI, sees the wider picture of involving communities and bringing the harmful effects of deforestation on a personal level worldwide.
“Local communities will be able to interact directly with the global carbon marketplace and demonstrate unequivocally the concrete benefits of their efforts to protect the forest. As a result, local information will directly inform and influence national and global decisions regarding climate change.”
Moore’s 20% Project has grown into an international hotspot of data collection and crisis response tactics. For instance, Google’s Crisis Response team are now able to pull many different images to create an up-to-date imagery of natural disasters, like Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. And researchers at UCSF now monitor high-risk areas for malaria, potentially saving many lives in less-developed regions.
Not all responses are meant to be global organizations, either.Local communities can build a meeting point for local clean ups after a terrible storm or gathering to rebuild an area after a mudslide.
“It’s all about lowering the barriers to people using our mapping tools to make the world a better place.” In some ways, Moore is continuing the work Susan Fenimore Cooper advocated for over 150 years ago. Bringing environmental realities to the people in an easily spoken language offers a better understanding of the world. There’s something tangible to her passion and that indescrible attribute touches others to find humanitarian solutions in a conflicted world.
Moore’s optimistic outlook and work ethnic offers a different counterpoint to the often-lamented theory that the world is going to end soon based on humankind’s impact.
“I think we can change how we live on this planet. I really believe we can.”