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How Big Data can Help Reduce Pollution

July 17th, 2014 by - 2,413 views

As Big Data continues to become a part of our everyday lives, new uses for the technology emerge that stand to improve the quality of life for millions of people. Such is potentially the case for the citizens of Beijing as one of the major projects in the field starts to take shape: an initiative to eliminate some of the city’s dangerous smog to improve the health of residents. IBM has announced that this plan will roll out over the next 10 years, with an emphasis on transforming the way air quality is analyzed.

As big data continues to become a part of our everyday lives, new uses for the technology emerge that stand to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

As Big Data continues to become a part of our everyday lives, new uses for the technology emerge that stand to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

Pollution disrupts professional routines and overall health
The pollution in Beijing has not only reduced the life expectancy of those who live in the heart of the city, but its constant presence prevents citizens from enjoying their daily lives. According to a recent piece from Quartz writer Gwynn Guilford, the Chinese government is tasked with shutting down many of the basic operations of the city, including the closure of schools and factories and limiting the number of cars that can safely drive within city limits when PM2.5 concentrations grow too high.

Here’s where the cloud infrastructure comes in. Because Big Data works best when mass amounts of information are collected and then boiled down to deliver a concise result, IBM intends to use the method to learn more about what pollutes the air around Beijing by monitoring changes in the atmosphere.

“Called ‘Green Horizon,’ the project will focus on air quality management, renewable energy management, and energy optimization among Chinese industries,” Guildford explained. “As part of the initiative, IBM has already signed a partnership with the Beijing government, which is hoping to tap into the company’s expertise to help tackle the city’s air pollution crisis.”

Cloud servers will be used to analyze current air quality in the city and identify potential solutions for alternative energy. Reuters writer David Stanway speculated that the biggest source of pollution is likely still smog from factories and cars, and that IBM can probably use the same Big Data tools that identified the problem to find effective solutions. Possible long-term projects might include solar- and wind-powered installations within the city to reduce energy consumption.

Getting citizens to do their part
In a country like China where distrust of the government is an ingrained part of the culture, Beijing-based IBM engineers seem optimistic that the partnership between the major tech company and legislators will improve the government’s reputation instead of damaging the Green Horizon initiative’s potential. Many Beijing citizens have distrusted warnings about the environment issued by the government in the past because they fear manipulation. If city residents took advantage of basic solutions such as carpooling on the recommendation of a reputable company like IBM, Green Horizon developers seem hopeful of almost immediate improvements. Guilford spoke to Wang Tao, a climate and energy professional at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, about the potential results of the initiative.

“IBM is renowned [for] advanced technologies [the government] will be able to use to improve the accuracy and authority of the analysis,” Tao asserted. “People will have to realize they are part of the problem to be part of the solution.”

As plans continue to emerge, there’s no doubt that Big Data is the biggest winner in Green Horizon – and yet another example of how technology can reverse damage done to the environment and to society as a whole.

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