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U.K. layers climate shift on Google Earth

Interactive layer developed by British government lets users view side effects of worldwide temperature increase.

Four Degrees Celsius Google Earth
Screenshot of Four Degrees Celsius layer on Google Earth focused on the U.S. Google Earth

The U.K. government on Thursday launched a Google Earth layer that models what Earth might look like in the event of a significant worldwide rise in temperature.

Specifically, the interactive map visually demonstrates what could happen if carbon emissions are not curbed, and as a result, Earth's temperature rises four degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial worldwide climate average. As a plethora of scientists and politicians have repeatedly stated, an increase in things like drought and agricultural disruption as a result of drought, could lead to instability and violence in some parts of the world.

The free downloadable Four Degrees Celsius layer was developed and released by the U.K.'s Foreign Office (FCO) and Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in response to the public attacks that have been made against scientific research regarding global warming, according to the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"This Google Earth map supports that commitment to tackling climate change and will hopefully communicate with a bigger audience globally about why the U.K. Government is being active in championing the transition to a low carbon economy," the U.K. Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham said in a statement.

Kirsty Lewis, principal climate change consultant for the Met Office, notes in her introductory video to the layer (see below) that what the tool illustrates "are not predictions, but a range of plausible impacts."

The Four Degrees Celsius layer includes what could happen to permafrost, forest fires, water availability, marine life and related jobs, crops, sea level rise, and areas of the world that might experience extreme temperatures.

The layer can only be viewed using Google Earth. But for those who don't wish to download the free Google Earth application, the U.K. government also released a series of videos on YouTube featuring scientists explaining the U.K.'s position on the matter, and the various scenarios that could play out.

The U.K. is not the first government to take a teaching-with-visual-aids approach to explaining public policy.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in conjunction with the California Natural Resources Agency in December 2009 announced they were developing something called CalAdapt. The Google Earth tool, which is expected to be available in September 2010, will illustrate down to the immediate community one lives in, how California will specifically be affected by climate change.

Schwarzenegger did a preview video of the CalAdapt tool, which he said was "designed to promote awareness about the challenges we face from climate change." That tool dovetails with his executive order that the California develop a "Climate Adaptation Strategy" on everything from commercial land development to agriculture.