AI could be a helpful tool in fight against climate change

Our planet is our life support system and we have interfered with its complex mechanisms in ways we do not understand. Our finite brains are not designed to comprehend complexity at this level. We need a full systems-level view of our world. AI — artificial intelligence — will not solve the climate crisis but it can help with prediction of impacts and in developing mitigation and adaptation strategies. AI has the complexity to understand the risks and vulnerabilities that come with climate change and we need to harness its potential to effectively attune policy and channel resources. But can we do so in a responsible manner?

There are already many initiatives underway. Microsoft is building a planetary computer. AI for Earth will assemble data from NASA, NOAA, European and Chinese agencies, as well as crowdsourcing networks. The Multi-Mission algorithm and Analysis Platform, designed by NASA and the U.S. Space Station, is an open source project that collects data on the biomass of forests to help us understand how forests absorb, store and release carbon. International organizations like UNESO jointly with (non-governmental organizations) and companies are highlighting some of the uses of AI, big data, and digital transformation to promote sustainable development. Some of those initiatives include AI and remote sensing technology to improve greenhouse gas emissions monitoring, using AI in statistical modeling to identify areas where water resources management can be improved, and using AI to build community resistance to natural disasters.

The International Telecommunications Union is working with partners around the world using AI to help combat climate change. Nonprofit Ocean Clean-up is using AI object detection tools to map plastic hot spots in the oceans allowing for focused cleanup efforts; Brahm Works in Bangalore is using AI to monitor and optimize agricultural control of fertilizer use to increase yields and reduce emissions; Sipremo is a start-up using AI to predict the details of future climate disasters to help mitigate and avoid negative impacts; and Deloitte Impact, a project of the World Wild Fund for Nature, uses AI to predict and plan for deforestation.

In 2022 the Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1,000 executives with decision-making authority on AI and climate change from 14 countries. Eighty-seven percent of these leaders said that AI could be a helpful tool in the fight against climate change but most said they do not have sufficient access to AI expertise and solutions. Overall the BCG survey found that AI can be used to measure emissions at both macro and micro levels and can reduce emission and greenhouse gas effects if scaled effectively. They determined that AI can improve hazard forecasting for regional long-term events like sea level rise and for immediate events like hurricanes. It can also enhance climate research and modeling, climate finance, education and behavioral change.

“The most urgent need in this context is not to have more powerful AI but to become smarter in where and how we use AI,” says Lambert Hogenhout, chief of Data Analytics at the Office of Information and Communications Technology.” Most experts agree.

As reported in Forbes by Mark Minevitch, AI may be our best hope in fighting climate change. But AI cannot do it alone. “Despite its promise, AI cannot be used to solve the climate crisis in isolation. It depends on the will of decision makers to act and make necessary changes – supported by AI and other emerging technologies,” stated Damien Gromier, co-founder of AI and the Planet Alliance.

I went to the source and directly asked the popular chat bot, ChatGPT, how it could be used to fight climate change. The key applications it identified are climate modeling and prediction, renewable energy optimization, energy efficiency, smart grids and energy management, emissions monitoring and management, smart building and cities, climate risk assessment and adaptation, natural resource management, climate communications and behavioral change, and environmental monitoring and conservation. But ChatGPT cautioned “AI should be developed in an ethical and responsible manner to avoid unintended consequences to ensure AI technologies contribute positively to climate action and do not perpetuate existing inequalities.”

Therein lies the rub. Can we use AI with all its potential in a sane and responsible way? And will we have the collective will to act sanely and responsibly? When I posed that question to Chat GPT it could not answer it.

Published on August 7, 2023, in the Albuquerque Journal.
© Judith Polich. All Rights Reserved. May be republished with author’s written consent and proper attribution.

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