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Google Earth peers into California's eco-future

CalAdapt tool under development maps out scary climate change scenarios for the Golden State in the coming years. Imagine a state without skiing or nice beaches.

Google Earth and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Wednesday that Google is developing a tool to map out disturbing scenarios of how California can be affected by climate change.

The project comes out of a collaboration with the California Natural Resources Agency, Schwarzenegger, and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), an organization funded by the California Energy Commission and

"There is a serious bottleneck in delivering relevant information, much of which is map-based, to decisionmakers in a manner that allows them to turn climate change research results into effective climate change adaptation decisions and policies," according to a statement from SEI.

The CalAdapt Google Earth tool, which will allow individuals to view how their specific community would be changed, will not be ready for public use until September 2010. But on Wednesday, released two related videos narrated by Schwarzenegger. Both the three-minute video (see below) and seven-minute video demonstrate the kind of data the Google Earth CalAdapt tool will make more palatable. The extended version additionally highlights Schwarzenegger's concerns and political initiatives.

CalAdapt visually demonstrates the effects of climate change as determined by the current scientific data available to the state of California. It includes past data regarding temperature change and water shortages. It includes data modeling what will happen if, for example, the Sierra snow pack disappears at the various rates predicted. It also includes data on which parts of the state's shoreline would be most effected due to storms and rising sea levels.

Certainly, it's a teaching tool to show average folks what scientists believe will happen to the California climate in the coming years. But it also happens to dovetail into Schwarzenegger's executive order that the state develop a "Climate Adaptation Strategy" on everything from agriculture to commercial land development.

It's not the first time, organizations have turned to the Google Earth platform to give the public a tool for avoiding land misuse or harrowing legal battles.

In April Google Earth released the Path to Green Energy tool. Those layers, developed in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Audubon Society, show which lands in the greater western U.S. are prohibited from commercial development, awaiting approval for inclusion into the federal wilderness system, or considered natural habitats for endangered species among other categories.

It's intended to be a preemptive offering to commercial developers who may rather shy away from the hassle of an environmental fight if there are adequate lands available for their needs elsewhere.