Tackling a Changing Climate with AI

By Sashrika Pandey

Image Credit: Jason Blackeye

Climate change is an issue we hear about every day - rising sea levels, melting ice caps, and increasing temperatures are just a few of the effects of global warming that directly affect us. According to NASA, the five highest annual temperatures have occurred since 2010, giving us some insight into the drastic effects of climate change in the past decade. While it may seem like hopes for a sustainable future are lost, several undergoing projects aim to mitigate the effects of climate change through the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

​IBM’s Green Horizon Project, for instance, uses extensive modeling strategies to predict the effects of pollution in great detail; by taking in data from numerous sources, which is a process that is also powered by the Internet of Things, and accounting for seasonal changes and physical locations, the project is able to provide insightful results that can then be utilized by people in the impacted areas. The Green Horizon Project also takes into account the use of renewable energy resources and how alterations in the climate can affect the living conditions of those in densely populated areas. The project’s underlying methods rely on the constant adaptation of models that can take into account the conditions of a certain region. The use of a robust model in combating the detrimental effects of climate change provides a look into what the future has in store for using AI on a larger scale.

The project’s significance is evident in urban populations. MIT Technology Review reports that IBM is using its models to predict the air quality in Beijing, China days ahead of time by considering the daily activities in the city that directly contribute to air pollution. In the United States, the company Understory is able to “identify toxic hotspots in real-time” based on a series of climate and weather factors, according to BBC. Such information can be essential to the agricultural sector as well as the industrial sector, as shifting weather patterns and air quality can have a significant effect on the health of the population. Long term analysis of these trends can also reveal their general sources, but the current status of the aforementioned projects suggest that we must do more to combat the effects of air pollution rather than stop at just analyzing it.

Other approaches to combating climate change include using AI to minimize the use of sources that contribute to this global problem. The agricultural sector in the United Kingdom is actively adapting technologies that automate tasks, which can yield long-term benefits for the environment. For instance, according to New Food Magazine, Rootwave has received a grant to alter the process of weed removal by using electricity instead of potentially harmful chemicals and Tuberscan aims to maximize food production by using AI and sensors to determine when potatoes are ready to be harvested. Using such technologies from the ground level up will hopefully encourage more industries to overhaul detrimental practices in favor of cleaner, more effective solutions.

So, is there a future for AI in combating climate change? Past results suggest that many are on board. According to an Intel survey of people with experience in making environmentally-conscious business decisions, “74 percent of respondents agree that artificial intelligence (AI) will help solve long-standing environmental challenges.” Climate change has large scale effects across our planet, and by considering the plethora of parameters that can influence our predictions for the future, we can hopefully work towards environmentally sustainable solutions in a vast array of sectors. 

NASA - “Climate Change: How Do We Know?”

Forbes - “The Amazing Ways We Can Use AI To Tackle Climate Change”

IBM - “Green Horizons”

MIT Technology Review - “How Artificial Intelligence Can Fight Air Pollution in China”

BBC - “Tracking the toxic air that's killing millions”

New Food Magazine - “Funding for new innovations set to help farmers tackle food waste”

Intel - “Intel Study: Applying Emerging Technology to Solve Environmental Challenges”