Climate Change has become the most critical challenge we face in the world today. Sustainable solutions and alternative energy sources are certainly required to confront it. However, many other paths need to be considered if we are to resolve this catastrophic problem. One of the major technological developments in the last few years that could help is the application of AI.
AI gives us the ability to explore innovative approaches to existing services. It has, for example, helped to renovate and modernize financial reporting. Adding climate action to financial services will make the battle against climate change as creative and state-of-the-art as possible. Global warming is a complicated issue. AI can help augment our limited human capacities and develop new alternative solutions.
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How AI can help us work towards a climate-friendly future
AI can ensure that electricity and energy supply and demand are optimized. It can run a complicated grid with a variety of clean and dirty energy sources far more effectively. Using weather modelling to reposition panels or wind turbines accordingly, it can also improve Solar and Wind applications. In addition, AI provides consumers with tools to manage their own energy usage.
AI can facilitate the flow of traffic and ensure efficient navigation in vehicles. It can also reduce the impact of logistics on climate change by offering solutions for supply chain. Supply chains, especially flight and water based transportation, have a massive impact on the climate. Using predictive modelling, AI can optimize these, improving efficiency and minimalizing the carbon footprint of supply chains.
IceNet and TrashBot: AI solutions to Climate Change
TrashBot is a small scale AI program designed to improve the efficiency of recycling and waste handling. By using AI systems, TrashBot provides a tool that automatically sorts rubbish. When you throw something away it ensures it is placed in the correct bin. The AI effectively decides for you whether it will be recycled or not and cuts out human error.
IceNet is an AI tool to help researchers predict changes in Arctic Ice coverage. It ensures that longer term predictions of up to 4 months in advance are reliable and allow researchers to confidently study the effect of global warming on the ice. Effective predictions by IceNet of the boundaries of Arctic ice sheets also helps prevent shipping vessel colliding with icebergs.
How big a difference can AI make now?
AI is still in its infancy, therefore the question as to the extent to which it will be able to help us is difficult to answer. A recent study suggested it could reduce emissions by 1.5-4% depending the level of adoption by 2030. AI usage in the energy and transportation sectors have already contributed to a 2% reduction in global emissions.
While the percentages may seem small, the total impact is significant. A 2-4% reduction would be equivalent to eradicating the carbon footprint of Australia, Canada and Japan. So it has the same impact as 3 of the world’s top 15 economies, including the 3rd largest! AI machine learning programs could really help our efforts to curb climate change but it isn’t perfect.
AI’s contribution to Climate Change
We also need to consider the impact that AI and ICT operations themselves have on the climate. While AI can help reduce climate change, any benefit needs to outweigh the global energy costs of such systems. ICT’s carbon footprint alone makes up 2-3.5% of global emissions, so at this point in time it is net zero. Future development should bring positive results.
How Deep Learning and Big Data affect the environment
Machine Learning that enables Deep Learning requires Big Data. All these systems are incredibly power intensive for storage and processing. This means it needs significant energy to run, learn and store the data. As a result the Deep Learning process produces as much C02 as 5 cars for one machine learning program. So AI is an ambiguous tool for climate solutions.
So what do industry leaders and researchers say?
Whilst AI struggles with its own carbon footprint, this does not prevent industry leaders from backing its potential. A survey showed that 87% of people in decision-making positions regarding climate action believe AI can offer a feasible solution. In particular, they believe that it will help to mitigate climate damaging systems and it will improve the efficiency of clean energy sources.
There is a strong belief that it will improve efficiency in sectors such as transport and health care. Additionally, some even suggest AI solutions will allow us to begin reversing damage already done to the environment. This could be a game changer as, by 2050, most models suggest climate change could produce irreparable damage. Let’s hope AI provides yet unknown solutions.
So is AI the solution to climate change?
In conclusion, AI could offer many opportunities to mitigate climate change. In particular, it can optimise systems that human limits currently makes inefficient. However, at this point in time, with the costly carbon footprint AI produces, it is at best neutral. Future improvements could well make AI a more viable solution. Industry leaders definitely believe in it and for good reasons too.