Climate change vs AI – a battle for survival?


The clock is ticking, as the world emerges from the impact of COVID all the indications are that it is now heading towards a significant climate change-related uncertainty. The subject of climate change evolved from a term used by meteorologists to one being taken up by the scientific community. Whilst serious concerns about climate change impact were being finally accepted it also rapidly became an issue that directly impacted the foundations of the modern economy.

The world’s leading economies are driven through vast industrialization hubs. Extensive production lines mainly in the developed world produce everything from toothpicks through to the space station. Linked with these production lines is an ever-growing supply chain armada that provides the components to achieve the outputs from the production lines. In line with the capitalist concept, consumerism has been extensively promoted worldwide. Two examples starkly illustrate how the necessity for companies to keep selling new products impacts society.

The first one relates to the world’s most valuable company, Apple. Apple has a worldwide consumer following it is also the world’s most effective marketing enterprise. New versions of their flagship products are launched regularly with huge fanfare. Recently the iPhone 14 has been launched. A comparison between the capabilities of the iPhone 14 against the iPhone 13 leads to a conclusion that none of the new capabilities of the iPhone 14 is groundbreaking and certainly does not warrant a change of phone at a cost of $1000. Another example is how the humble washing machine that is the mainstay of every household used to be designed against a requirement for at least 10 years of service life. Increasingly there have been reports of leading branded washing machines having problems after a only few years of use.

This conflict of priorities on the world’s stage has been a major barrier to true global decisions to reduce activities that adversely impact climate change. On top of this conflict between economical growth and climate considerations enter the activists. These range from Greta Thunberg as one woman phenomena through to other activist organizations such as Greenpeace. Although there have been declarations recognizing climate change it is probably the Kyoto Protocol that really started really introducing controls followed by the Paris accords. Despite the lukewarm adoption of the key principles of climate control, many believe too little is being done too late – the average world temperature has already increased by approx 1 deg. Consequently, we should now embrace ourselves for the fallout.

Now, let us try to simplify the climate change problem. The world has a known climate that is established in living memory. What this means is that we know where in the world is warm at what time, we know tide times, and flooding seasons, we know where certain vegetation is more likely to grow and what the world’s geography to the minute detail of a crevice used by Sherpa’s to help guide mountaineers up Everest. As a result, we have families, communities, and societies that have adapted to live with the known climate. Conurbations have emerged, housing designs have passed from generation, and locations have been habited as a result of the known climate. So when there is a change in climate the impact on society becomes a major concern. The actual impact of the local change on society may simply be a few more millimeters of rain or it could be that the entire village is flooded. It is this variance in climate change impact that is most dangerous and warrants a more advanced approach.

AI is well suited in helping address the safety of citizens and infrastructure across the world. Let us provide a high-level breakdown of how the impact of climate change can be controlled:

  1. Reduction of carbon footprint – International obligation
  2. Surveys to identify specific climate change-prone areas – Understanding
  3. Infrastructure-related mitigations – Removal   
  4. Early identification of a climate event – Real-time measurement

In each of these 4 high-level areas, AI can provide support and act as a force multiplier. In the case of early identification of a climate event, AI gives us new capabilities. This is a very complex problem, the complexity arises because climate behavior by its very nature is non-linear and aligns with chaos theory. Consequently, understanding local climate change issues continues to be a challenge. Although we have improved our weather prediction models by using some of the most powerful computers/satellites in the world, climate change continues to pose a problem. AI has real potential to help, as a starting point by making better use of any localized models. For example, if the area is prone to occasional tsunamis the challenge is not only to detect the onset but also to understand the severity.

AI is able to use these manifestation models and learn the change of these models with corresponding real physical phenomena. In this way not only is the model being verified as a function of time, but the AI algorithms are also building up a unique insight into the sensitivity of parameters that are most likely to lead to an event. For the first time in our history, we have the ability to move away from relying solely on historical records, the concept of ‘read-across’ towards a real-time understanding of a situation. The frequency of climate change events is likely to increase. The AI battle against climate change has begun – time will tell who prevails. 

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