A look to how the private sector is responding to our environmental crisis.
September 27, 2019 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A week ago today, millions of students took to the streets to protest the lack of action governments are taking to combat climate change. On Monday, 16-year-old Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg made an intense and emotionally charged speech at the United Nations, begging world leaders to step up their commitment to protecting the planet’s future. Headlines around the world echo her rallying cry, accusing our leaders of failing us.
I wholeheartedly agree that governments can, and should, do more to confront climate change. But I have been equally curious about how cutting-edge technology is being used to fight and shelter against the effects of global warming. After all, history has taught us that governments aren’t always as productive as the private sector. That interest led to me to a recently published paper titled “Tackling Climate Change With Machine Learning,” written by some of the leading proponents of artificial intelligence. The paper is a call-to-action, highlighting 13 areas where artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies can be applied to climate change.
While it may not be an all-encompassing solution, the companies at the forefront of this field are a small reassurance to anyone concerned about government negligence. Here are eight different companies utilizing AI in very different ways to address climate change.
Google’s UK-based DeepMind laboratory applies its industry-leading knowledge of neural networks and machine learning to apply more efficient data-interpretation to energy consumption and energy-grid distributions. In an announcement, Google explained how it has improved the efficiency and value wind-farms are providing by 20 percent by utilizing artificial intelligence to schedule energy deliveries based on predictability models. In other words, wind farms are able to inject their green electricity into a national energy grid at peak times based on AI recommendations. As a result, less reliance is placed on fossil fuels.
Microsoft and Long Live the Kings
Since the 1980s, salmon populations have declined by up to 80 percent in some natural fisheries around the world, to the mystery of resource managers. The World Wildlife Fund suggests climate change has a significant impact on salmon survival rates. But by using artificial intelligence made possible with a Microsoft grant, Seattle-based conservation organization Long Live the Kings has been able to compile large data sets to answer questions around salmon-population disappearance. By doing so, they’re able to create predictions and preventative solutions to future questions around environmental changes.
A significant part of environmental conservation falls within education and awareness. Led by AI innovator Julian Jewel Jeyaraj, JJAIBOT is an initiative that helps people understand the effects of climate change and wildlife conservation through an interactive, emotion-based artificial intelligence bot. The project uses AI to comb through wildlife research, conservation projects and other data sets to help drive awareness and education.
Poverty and poor living environments are a major global issue, particularly with the onset of changing sea levels and environmental pressures. AP-Latam, a project run by Arengtina-based Dymaxion Labs, uses AI to analyze high-resolution satellite imagery to detect areas of informal settlement growth in precarious areas that are logistically difficult to analyze on the ground. For example, by understanding and predicting areas of potential slum growth and population movements, governments can make better decisions on how to help affected families mitigate the effects of climate change.
DHL and IBM
Transportation accounts for 23 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, leaving plenty of room for positive contributions from AI. That’s why DHL and IBM have teamed up to use artificial intelligence to improve DHL’s global logistics operations. This is significant, as between 1970 and 2004, there was a 120 percent increase in emissions from the transportation and logistics sector. By predicting demand, risk, supply-side variations and 56 other variables, DHL can curb emission output by optimizing their processes.
Extremely sensitive to acidity, temperature and toxins, coral reefs are deteriorating around the world as a result of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. 50 Reefs, an initiative run by The Ocean Agency, combines advanced imaging technology with AI to gather and analyze images of shallow-water reefs at scale, and within seconds. Using deep learning, the AI is able to recognize different types of corals based on their colors and textures, giving scientists a powerful array of information to track the effects of climate change on coral populations around the world and make more informed decisions on how to ensure their survival.
While putting pressure on policymakers is crucial to making progress, there is also great merit in encouraging awareness and support towards the private sector and nnprofit organizations tackling climate change. With politics caught up in bureaucratic cobwebs, I believe it’s going to be the private sector making the biggest advancements, so perhaps they deserve a little more time in the limelight.