Until just a few weeks ago, climate change was the biggest challenge facing our planet. And while public attention has quickly shifted to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not let it overshadow other concerns that also need our immediate attention.
It is becoming hard to ignore the devastating effects of climate change; recent cases of raging bush fires in Australia and toxic air pollution levels in India demonstrate how catastrophic the repercussions will be if we leave it too late.
Could intelligent technologies like AI offer the answers to addressing this global problem?
It might surprise you to learn just how AI and machine learning (ML) can meaningfully help us tackle climate change. Here are just a few standout examples…
Modelling climate trends
It is hopeless to try and create solutions to a problem if you do not fully understand it or cannot predict how it will evolve. The field of climate modelling, which aims to overcome this challenge, is not new – it has been undertaken by data scientists for decades to track patterns in our environment. Indeed, the first system was created over 60 years ago in the 1960s.
AI, however, brings something new to the table in terms of how we can make sense of the data and use it to forecast future events. Amongst other things, climate models use data from our oceans, atmosphere, and land; the sheer volume of data collected is almost unimaginable. AI and ML algorithms can help data scientists make better sense of the information and spot hidden patterns that might otherwise be overlooked.
In turn, better predictions can be made about what we can expect in the months, years, and even decades ahead, helping officials make better informed policy decisions. With luck, insights gleaned from this data will uncover ways that we could eventually reverse some of the effects of climate change.
Monitoring and measuring pollution
That said, it would prove difficult to reverse climate change if we cannot determine what is causing it. We need industries to work together with government to lower their emissions – and AI can help here, too.
Monitoring systems near power plants, for instance, are already aiding our understanding of how much pollution is being released into the atmosphere. Keeping track of the results, however, is a mission in itself – be it on a national or global scale. AI can step in to automate the analysis of power plants in order to record regular updates on carbon emissions. Using this data, we can not only pinpoint where emissions are coming from, but how much CO2 is being produced. With this in mind, policymakers can work with the world’s most polluting industries to lower their carbon footprint.
Helping consumers help the environment
On a smaller scale, AI can help consumers make more environmentally-conscious decisions.
AI is already an enabler of many technologies that we use on a daily basis to live ‘greener’. Autonomous vehicles that don’t rely on fuel, for instance, are helping us transition to more environmentally friendly forms of transportation. In 2017, more than a quarter (27%) of total EU greenhouse gas emissions came from the transport sector.
Meanwhile, the smart meters which many of us already have installed in our homes help us use energy more efficiently. Lab-grown meat, meanwhile, is reducing our reliance on animal agriculture. These examples will only grow as technological innovations develop further.
AI is not a perfect solution. However, it gives us the tools to generate valuable insights, and find new ways of tackling a long-standing problem. If used wisely, it could prove to be a game changer in our battle against climate change, not to mention other pressing social challenges we need to tackle as a global community.