- AI is known to help reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency, and increase the use of renewable energy sources.
- While AI can address some environmental challenges, AI can also accelerate environmental degradation if not managed properly.
With the effects of global warming being felt across the world, there can be no denying that humanity has locked itself into a global climate crisis that will exaggerate if we don’t act. Indeed, climate change is one of the most pressing issues for humankind. To this end, organizations worldwide are looking for ways to reverse the tide of global warming.
One critical aspect of the fight against climate change is the application of new technologies. Here, the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has proved to be instrumental in powering the climate change strategy. This does not mean that AI is the silver bullet, but AI leverages the power of machine learning to identify patterns in data that can help spot trends contributing to climate change and rectify them. Image and object recognition, conversational assistants, and autonomous systems are AI components that are already contributing to shifting the climate change tide.
At the basic level, AI is known to help reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency, and increase the use of renewable energy sources. Going a step forward, it can also help us adjust to the impacts of climate change by enhancing our ability to gauge extreme weather events and help us respond more effectively to the climate crisis with the help of decision-support tools. It can also help us increase our resilience to the effects of climate change by helping us identify risk factors and develop plans to mitigate them.
Despite all the advantages, issues remain. Prime among them is the amount of energy consumed by AI, which is very high. To store vast amounts of data – needed to power AI systems – data centers are critical, but they demand a huge amount of energy. Furthermore, training advanced AI systems, such as deep learning models, requires high-powered GPUs to run for days at a time. It is, thus, debatable whether AI can help or negate endeavors to rein in climate change.
Let’s weigh in on the debate if AI can help battle climate change or fuel global warming.
Using AI to offset climate change
While the positive environmental impacts of AI in the fight against climate change are already visible, there’s a lot more that can be done. On their part, businesses can share data and optimize the usage of environmental resources. AI can help ensure a profitable system for those utilizing environmental resources. Machine Learning can help identify even the minutest change in data, report issues in real-time, and adapt to ensure waste minimization.
The realization that AI can help fight the climate change crisis is nothing new. According to a report that surveyed 1,000 executives with decision-making authority on AI or climate change, 87% of the private-sector leaders expressed the belief that AI will play a critical role in the fight against climate change. The survey also found that roughly 40% of organizations plan on using AI for their climate conservation efforts. They realize that a more informed and data-driven strategy is essential to reduce carbon emissions and managing climate threats is possible with the unique ability of AI to collect, process, and analyze vast, complicated data sets.
What’s noteworthy is that AI can help different sectors minimize their carbon footprint and, thus, severely dent climate change impact. In a bid to become more sustainable, many organizations are already racing to deploy AI as a service.
The perks of embracing sustainability are as follows:
Financial incentives: Organizations that strive to minimize carbon footprints are offered tax breaks and other financial perks by the Government.
Green status: Organizations get a chance to join the league of other companies worldwide that receive recognition for their sustainable practices.
Popularity: With people becoming more aware of climate change, they choose to associate with companies that stand for the same cause.
Better stock value: If reports are to be believed, the company’s stock is bound to solidify with the implementation of eco-friendly practices.
Downsides of AI
AI technology can impact climate change, but implementation challenges remain. Moreover, the technology itself has raised concerns as it contributes to pollution.
A 2018 World Economic Forum report said that while AI can address some environmental challenges, it can also accelerate environmental degradation if not managed properly. An academic study on how much energy deep learning processes need suggests that developing an efficient AI could be expensive for the environment. During the training of a single model, around 300,000 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions are produced. Further, reports suggest that training a large algorithm emits approximately 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. This is five times higher than what an average car can produce throughout its lifetime. Using energy-intensive GPUs to run machine learning can easily contribute to higher CO2 emissions.
Increased legislation must be implemented to pursue advancements in “safe” AI. The environmental impact of creating such systems must be considered during the development of future AI programs.
Here are some practices that can help reduce carbon footprint:
- Power your algorithms with energy from sustainable sources.
- Minimize the time required to train algorithms and use resources efficiently.
- Use computer chips that are specifically designed for neural networks instead of putting AI’s workload on chips tailored to video games and graphics.
- Be wise when choosing your data center location. Do not opt for places where energy generation depends heavily on coal. Give preference to data centers powered by renewable energy.
As with any technology, the same is true for AI – when it comes to climate change, it can either be part of the problem or the solution. Let’s hope to move towards the latter – build a strategy that can help mitigate the carbon footprint to create a sustainable future for us all.