AI and ML: Technological Allies Against Climate Change
Tue, April 20, 2021

AI and ML: Technological Allies Against Climate Change

AI and ML can strengthen climate predictions, enable smarter decision-making when it comes to energy sources, and decipher how to allocate renewable energy. / Photo by: everythingpossible via 123rf


The adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning is considered to be one of the biggest innovations in technology since the microchip. While AI is paving the way toward many breakthroughs, ML is providing systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, reported that AI and machine learning have the potential to create an additional $2.6 trillion in marketing and sales by 2020 and $2 trillion in manufacturing and supply chain planning. By 2022, it is projected that spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $77.6 billion with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37.3 percent. 

Research firm IDC predicted that the fastest investment growth of AI during 2017-2022 would be pharmaceutical research and discovery (46.8 percent CAGR), expert shopping advisors and product recommendations (46.5 percent CAGR), digital assistants for enterprise knowledge workers (45.1 percent CAGR), and intelligent processing automation (43.6 CAGR).

The increasing usage of AI and machine learning has led many to ask how these technologies can address or help with one of the greatest threats facing humanity: climate change. Bringing attention to this issue comes after many strategies tackling environmental concerns are proven to not effectively working but instead only worsen the impacts of climate change. Fortunately, the more we use AI and ML to help us understand our current reality, the better chance we have in mitigating or saving us from the impacts of climate change.

Tackling Climate Change

AI and ML play an integral role in predictive analytics, which is why they are heralded as technologies that can potentially save the Earth. AI can augment human decision-making by collecting enormous amounts of information generated by hundreds of thousands of data points. This function can be utilized in providing an accurate picture of how the world is changing. The more accurate experts know the current status of our climate is, the better our climate models will be. 

Through the data about the changing conditions of the world’s land surfaces gathered by NASA, we can identify our biggest vulnerabilities and risk zones. This knowledge acquired by climate scientists can be shared with decision-makers so they know how to respond to the impact of climate change. Unfortunately, it took us a lot of time to identify climate change, confirm that it is already taking place, and the extent of its impact due to a lack of technological advancements. 

According to Data Economy, an online site that brings what data centers have to offer closer to the enterprise and business world of cloud, data, and the IoT, AI and ML can also strengthen climate predictions, enable smarter decision-making when it comes to energy sources, and decipher how to allocate renewable energy. AI can also spot patterns quickly and automatically through analyzing large quantities of data that are generated frequently from sensors, gauges, and monitors located across the world. This can give us an accurate picture of how countries are affected by climate change. 

The Ways AI and ML Can Address Climate Change

Earlier this year, researchers published a study titled “Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning,” which suggested that AI could be “invaluable” in mitigating and preventing the worst effects of climate change. According to MIT Technology Review, an innovative, digitally oriented global media company that brings better-informed and more conscious decisions about technology, the study covered possible interventions of ML in 13 domains. Some of these areas included CO2 removal, energy production, education, solar geoengineering, and finance. 

The 13 domains where ML can be deployed can potentially create more energy-efficient buildings, better monitoring of deforestation, create new low-carbon materials, and greener transportation. Also, the study put forward “high leverage” recommendations to combat climate change. Here are some of them: 

1. Create better estimates of how much energy we are consuming.

A lot of countries can’t design and implement effective strategies to mitigate climate change because they have little to no data on their energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. Through ML algorithms, cities can estimate their level of energy consumption by extracting building footprints and characteristics using computer vision techniques. 

2. Predict extreme weather events. 

According to The Verge, an American technology news and media network, AI models can help scientists predict extreme weather events including hurricanes and droughts. This can help governments protect against climate change’s worst effects.

3. Improve deforestation tracking.

It’s no secret that deforestation has greatly affected our planet. Reports showed that it contributes to roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. The problem is, it is difficult to track and prevent because it usually involves a tedious manual process that takes place on the ground. With AI and ML, experts can automatically analyze the loss of tree cover at a much greater scale. Local enforcement can also stop illegal activity by detecting chainsaw sounds with the help of algorithms. 

4. Give individuals tools to reduce their carbon footprint. 

One of the common misconceptions is that people can’t take meaningful action on climate change. However, they should be aware of how they are contributing to climate change. The authors stated that through ML, it is now possible to calculate an individual’s carbon footprint and flagging small changes they could make to reduce it.


Local enforcement can stop illegal activity by detecting chainsaw sounds with the help of algorithms. / Photo by: parilovv via 123rf


While AI and ML have great potential in saving our environment, lead author David Rolnick, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that technology alone is not enough. “[T]echnologies that would reduce climate change have been available for years, but have largely not been adopted at scale by society. While we hope that ML will be useful in reducing the costs associated with climate action, humanity also must decide to act,” he said.

Indeed, the fate of our planet not only lies in the hands of technology but also of humans, who must realize the severe impacts of climate change and take action to lessen them.