From coast-battering storms to record-breaking summers, it could seem like a good ol’ British drizzle is a thing of the past. The Met Office is reporting that our storms are becoming more severe, and 97% of active and published climate scientists agree that climate change is currently happening and affecting it. As extreme weather and climate change climb the social and political agenda, we ask what tech is doing to protect and save planet Earth.
It’s a package deal
Firstly, extreme weather, global warming, climate change, pollution and waste management are all linked and they all affect the planet in varying ways. This bundle will imminently lead to more extreme weather or problems managing it.
For example, global warming will make our oceans warmer, evaporating more water into the atmosphere, hence more severe hurricanes. The damages of plastic waste range from severe effects like destroying the entire ecosystem of our oceans but can also simply clog drains and sewers during rainfall, contributing to flooding and destructions. Looking at the holistic effect of these factors combined is important when speaking about preventative measures and management of (without being pessimistic) the current hole we’ve dug ourselves into.
But why should tech care?
The onset of climate change predates most of these companies, so why should they be responsible for cleaning up after greedy Boomers right? Well as the industry disrupts more and more sectors and quickly engrains itself into our lives, more and more studies and articles are showing the massive carbon footprint that technology is leaving behind. And while we might feel like we can’t live without the technology that we each use day to day, we’d be pretty lost without a functioning planet too. In his book The New Dark Age, writer James Bridle sites a study predicting that by 2030, the power requirements of Japan’s digital services alone will be higher than it’s entire contemporary power generation capacity. Basically, we all need to channel our inner Greta Thunberg.
Less artificial, more intelligence
Artificial Intelligence is quickly establishing itself as a great tool to tackle climate change. One company leading the climate fight is Cervest, who joined Tech Nation’s first Applied AI cohort in September. Their machine learning platform predicts and simulates land and crop productivity, quickly and accurately detecting disruption. Not only does this allow people to protect their business, but it also maps out the most sustainable decision when growing crops, preventing depletion of the earth.
Joining them on the cohort are Greyparrot, who deal in more intelligent waste management. Their system can recognise and sort various different types of rubbish, contributing to more getting recycled and less ending up in our oceans and landfills.
Based in Newcastle, Tech Nation Rising Stars finalists, Equiwatt are saving people money and reducing carbon emissions by simply offering them rewards to turn off appliances during peak times, using their algorithm they save approximately 360 kWh of dirty energy every year.
AI is blossoming in this field and has also been reported to help scientist discover new low carbon alternative materials, monitor farming emissions, make transportation more efficient, geo-engineer a more reflective earth and much more. We got ourselves into this mess with natural intelligence, maybe artificial intelligence can save us. Wouldn’t that be ironic.
Cleantech and ecotech are on the rise
Startups working for a more eco-friendly planet are popping up everywhere, which is great! However, we do have the imminent threat of weather happening and some tech companies have stepped in to help here as well.
Scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) has been working on their model DeepMicroNet, and using Machine learning and weather satellites to predict the strength of a hurricane. Hurricanes can form rapidly, and predicting their strength as soon as possible can sometimes be a question of life and death.
After the severe flooding in Northern England and Ireland in 2015, the UK is no stranger to the destruction of flooding. The University of Sheffield is currently working to create the CENTAUR system (Cost Effective Neural Technique to Alleviate Urban flood Risk). It works by controlling gates and water sensors in the sewer networks which controls how much water can flow from one end of the network to the other.
Now with millions of pounds in backing, Belfast’s MOF Technologies are creating nanomaterials that are capable of capturing and storing greenhouse gases.
Waste management startup Dsposal in Manchester, aims to ensure that waste ends up in the right place and is dealt with by the right people by connecting users to waste services and simplifying compliance. They also want to eradicate the illusion of throwing something “away” – everything ends up somewhere, so take responsibility for it.
And let’s not forget about OLIO from our Upscale 4.0 cohort. The food sharing platform aims to eradicate food waste, and as food waste in the EU alone accounts for approximately 170 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, needless to say it’s important to make the most of the food we buy.
So what now?
The fact remains that most electricity used by the world’s data centres comes from non-renewable sources, product packaging is rarely recyclable and on top of that the e-commerce boom is contributing to a culture obsessed with buying, using and producing more stuff. All of this is collectively contributing to climate change, pollution, greenhouse gases and ultimately extreme weather.
But there is some good news. More and more tech giants are actually staying true to their climate vows. Facebook has pledged to use only clean and renewable energy sources (by sometime in the future) and Apple and Google claim to already have done so. Most importantly, changing people’s perception of waste, like Dsposal, or educating people on why it’s important to choose sustainable business solutions, like Cervest, is what we need. So here’s a shout out to all you Cleantech/greentech/ecotechers out there – keep doing what you’re doing, our world depends on it.