Our world has changed a lot, especially over the last 40 or so years. It's just hard to see how much when you're standing on the ground.
Despite mounting evidence, there are still many people who deny climate change, which makes it a lot harder for the world to try to solve this crisis, or at least prevent future damage to the planet.
In anticipation of Earth Day, Google Earth launched its biggest and perhaps most important update since 2017. The new Timelapse feature — created in collaboration with NASA, the European Space Agency, and other organizations — shows how much the planet has changed in the last four decades (between the early 1980s and now).
"Our planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century — more than any other point in human history. Many of us have experienced these changes in our own communities," said Rebecca Moore, director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Outreach, in a statement. "I myself was among the thousands of Californians evacuated from their homes during the state's wildfires last year. For other people, the effects of climate change feel abstract and far away, like melting ice caps and receding glaciers."
With Timelapse, the changes are directly and undeniably in front of you. Google gathered over 24 million satellite images from 1984 to 2020 and uploaded them to Google Earth for the new feature. Through these images, it's easy for a user to see what's happening around the globe, including deforestation, urban growth, melting ice, and changing shorelines due to either receding or rising water levels. These are all visible evidence of climate change, both as a natural phenomenon and as a result of human intervention, according to Google.
Not only can anyone use Google Earth to see the rapid changes happening right now on our planet, Timelapse also serves as a tool for educators, scientists, and policymakers, too. "Timelapse in Google Earth is about zooming out to assess the health and well-being of our only home, and is a tool that can educate and inspire action," Moore added.
To use Timelapse, go directly to the Google Earth website, where you can use the search bar to find any place on the planet where you want to see these drastic changes. Or, open Google Earth and click on the ship's wheel to find Timelapse in Google's storytelling platform, Voyager, to see guided tours. There are also more than 800 2-D and 3-D videos that are free for public use online ,for download, or streamable on YouTube.
Google intends to update Timelapse with even more images annually. For more information, visit the Google blog or visit the Timelapse page on Google Earth.
Andrea Romano is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @theandrearomano.
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