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Can AI slow down global warming? Weighing the pros and cons

global warming - cleanbuild
Credit: aa.com.tr

If you have ever wondered why there are so much intense drought, storms, heatwaves, flooding, and wildfires in one place after another, you don’t have to think too far. What you read about or see playing out are the effects of global warming.

Global warming is just one aspect of climate change although it is sometimes used interchangeably. It describes the rise in global temperatures because of the increasing emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Today, humans, wildlife, and even plants face new challenges for survival because of global warming. Not only does it have harmful effects on animals, destroy the places they live, it also wreaks havoc on people’s livelihoods and communities.

Needless to say, climate change is humanity’s greatest threat!

According to the United Nations, 2019 proved to be the second warmest year to be ever recorded. The year is 2021 and global warming is only getting worse. In response, the UN organization is hosting the CPO26 climate summit to address this pressing concern.

At this point, not much can be done to stem the tide, but there’s much to do in terms of damage control or should I say climate adaptation.

Many experts in the field of artificial intelligence have argued that AI can play a major role in tackling the effects of global warming and in climate change adaptation.

A Statista report has it that as of 2019, researchers in organizations that are involved in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for climate action predict that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by almost 16 percent through AI-driven projects within the next three to five years.

The same report shows that the use of AI-enabled climate action projects is also expected to improve power and industrial efficiency, reduce waster and deadweight assets, and assist in cost savings, according to respondents.

While many believe that AI brings great potentials in slowing down global warming effects, others view it with skepticism. Now, let’s weigh the pros and cons of AI application on the environment.

Pros
AI can enable smart agriculture

Occupying about 60% of the world’s arable land, Africa has huge potential. Yet, the continent is the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

As such, the World Bank stresses the importance of developing climate-smart agriculture solutions that promote an integrated approach to manage farming while also addressing any challenges interlinked to food security and climate change.

From Simusolar, Aerobotics, to Zenvus, African startups are leveraging artificial intelligence to enhance agricultural productivity in eco-friendly ways.

AI can develop greener transportation networks

One of the greatest drivers of carbon emission is the transportation industry. To tackle pollution, the industry can benefit by incorporating AI especially in the manufacturing of electric vehicles, environment-friendly bikes, and scooters

Aso AI can be used to predict traffic in order to optimize commercial transportation. For example, by using AI sensors, vehicles are able to communicate with each other and avoid hazards and traffic jams.

If you remove traffic jams, travel time is reduced which means fewer emissions of greenhouse gases. A win-win for everyone.

AI can predict extreme weather conditions

As the climate changes, accurate predictions become vital given that climate models often produce very different predictions mainly because of how data is processed into isolated parts.

AI can help researchers gain accuracy in detecting tropical cyclones, weather fronts, and atmospheric rivers, allowing people living in high-risk areas to evacuate when a disaster looms.

AI can help to reduce carbon emission

Organizations, particularly in the energy and manufacturing industries, can leverage AI to track their carbon footprint by analyzing data from across the organization.

To do this, data can be obtained from every department- operations, IT equipment, suppliers, transporters, and even consumers who use their products.

AI can help focus and tweak climate adaptation policies

Climate change is real and its effects are disastrous. Hence, smart adaptation strategies need to be put in place. Whether we are policymakers, firms, or households, we’ll need to make choices and take certain actions.

With uncertainties running high and extreme climate conditions brewing, AI can be used to focus and adjust adaptation strategies.

Con
AI has a higher emission risk

Experts agree that training artificial intelligence is an energy-intensive process.

In fact, research by the University of Massachusetts found that training a “regular” AI can produce around 284 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of 5X the lifetime emissions of an average car. Disturbing, not so?

Interestingly, researchers at the Cornell University also conducted a study to make quantifying the carbon cost of ML easier. In a nutshell, they tried to learn more about the carbon footprint of AI.

They discovered that the emissions incurred in the training of a neural network model are related to the location of the training server and the energy grid it uses, the length of the training procedure, and the hardware on which the training takes place.

What this means is that one research is not enough to argue against AI. Just as it is with any other kind of scientific inquiry, enough evidence must be produced to support the theory that AI is more harmful than beneficial to the environment.

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