It takes a high level of data analysis to predict the effects of climate change and the implications of our actions to stop and adapt to it. Often, scientists have terabytes of data, but not the computing power to make sense of climate issues like hurricanes. But this level of analysis is possible with artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, AI may be the best weapon we have to combat and adapt to the effects of climate change. That’s because it can analyze large chunks of data from past events and make accurate predictions about future ones.
Today, AI is helping to monitor and predict everything from glacier retreat to commercial waste management. As innovations in “deep learning” march on, AI’s prescience will help inform scientists about climate impacts and policymakers on the most prudent steps for adaptation. Here are some critical ways AI is helping to preserve our planet.
Smarter Home Energy Use
AI is helping save the planet by assisting homeowners through energy-efficient smart homes. The Internet of Things and today’s “smart devices” let homeowners control their energy use and lower their monthly bills. Smart thermostats can adjust temperature settings for specific rooms in a house. Smart water sprinklers can change water usage based on weather forecasts. And smart security systems can cut down on false alarms calls — so fewer gas-guzzling trips by first responders. The automation, connection, and prediction power built into these smart devices allow homeowners to lower their carbon footprint.
But smart energy use is not just about conservation — it’s also about the best time to use energy. Peak energy hours like evenings are higher-demand, higher-cost times. Smart devices can automate energy use for low-demand hours. Plus, off-peak times like mid-day are when alternative energy sources like solar and wind contribute the most. Therefore, smart technology promotes renewable energy.
Soil degradation is a problem often overlooked in the media. But it has serious consequences for humanity’s ability to adapt to and survive climate change. It takes a millennium to generate only three centimeters of topsoil, and soil degradation is happening at a much faster rate. Chemicals, deforestation, erosion, and global warming are major contributors to soil degradation. And if the current rate of degradation continues, the planet’s farmable land could disappear within 60 years, according to United Nations officials.
But farmers and scientists are using AI to help conserve the soil by marshaling complex algorithms along with robots and drones to detect erosion and monitor soil health. For example, one company has developed an agricultural app to help farmers identify nutrient deficiencies within their soil. And farmers are using machine learning to predict the best times to plant, irrigate, and harvest crops based on weather changes. Accurate predictions mean less need for pesticides and fertilizers, which degrade the soil.
Exploring and Protecting Oceans
Scientists watch and test the health of oceans because they’re the best indicators of Earth’s health. Microplastics, increased CO2 levels, and ocean acidification are changing the surface of the planet. The key to protecting oceans is exploring and monitoring them for changes. Climate scientists and oceanographers are using AI technology to drive autonomous marine vehicles to the deepest depths. And some companies are developing autonomous garbage collection systems that would help remove plastics and floating debris.
Another emerging technology — blockchain — is helping to track fishing and identify illegal behavior. Blockchain is the same technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The technology acts as a transparent ledger for transactions. Blockchain is a decentralized system, which means it operates autonomously and isn’t subject to misuse and abuse. Trust is critical to international treaties that regulate fishing quotas and manage overfishing. Blockchain technology can record each fish (e.g., tuna) with a scannable code uploaded to the ledger. Therefore, retailers, customers, and regulators can confirm that fish are legally caught.
Air Pollution Detection
AI is becoming an invaluable tool for tracking our air quality and identifying sources of pollution. During accidental emissions, city air quality officials need to identify and respond quickly. Some European cities are using leak sensors and AI to help create emission maps, predict mortality rates, and estimate financial costs of emergency responses. These data points give decision makers a more accurate view of the air pollution along with more targeted remediation.
In addition to monitoring air pollution, AI is also cutting tailpipe emissions. AI manages self-driving cars to make getting from point A-to-B more efficient. Self-driving automobiles can cut oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2% to 4% annually. AI and global positioning systems operating driverless tractor-trailer rigs will make deliveries non-stop, faster, and less costly to the planet. Complex algorithms, sensors, and traffic lights are directing traffic flow in some cities. These systems are currently reducing travel time by 25%, braking by 30%, and idling time by 40%.
Evaluating the Efficacy of Action
AI is bringing powerful ways to monitor and predict threats to our environment. Synthetic thinking adds value for scientists, officials, and policymakers by giving them deeper looks into current environmental situations. Perhaps, more than anything, AI’s biggest potential lies in figuring out where solutions hit the mark and where they miss. It’s counterproductive to invest resources and time into bad solutions. But that’s highly likely, given the complexity of climate change and adaptation.
Where do we invest? Which coastline needs saving the most? What communities are at a higher risk? With dwindling resources and bigger dangers, we will face some hard decisions in the future about where to deploy our efforts. At some point, those decisions will mean life or death. We will need quick thinking and accurate data. Evaluating our options and predicting their implications is where AI will bring the most value.