“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
T.S Eliot’s timeless quote rings true for the climate change discussion as well. As 2018 drew to a close on the heels of the historic Katowice Climate Conference, let’s look at the topics foremost on everyone’s mind when climate change bites us in the rear (and it will, trust me).
Monitoring climate change
If there’s one technology that has taken the world by storm, it’s Artificial Intelligence. When machines respond with human-like intelligence, it becomes possible to tackle vast and intricate issues by deploying them at different locations. Every business is searching for ways to integrate AI into their practices—to make themselves more efficient, accurate, and effective. AI has impacted areas such as operations, e-commerce, agriculture, social media, and even board games. So why not use it to tackle climate change?
Here’s how AI can be used:
- Gauging recurring weather patterns: We might not realise it, but cities generate a lot of weather-related data. By measuring pollution (air quality meters), temperature (thermometers), and air pressure (barometers) over a significantly long period of time, scientists and meteorologists have detected changing weather patterns, and possible reasons contributing to climate change. IBM’s Green Horizons is a step in this direction, generating accurate pollution forecasts, and suggesting remedial steps to keep pollution in check.
- Integrating AI in HVAC systems: Many corporate offices are notorious for consuming large amounts of energy, and sending greenhouse emissions through the roof. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems dominate energy usage in commercial buildings, accounting for between 40% and 70% of the total building electricity consumption. AI and machine learning can help to drive down consumption and optimize the HVAC system—thus fuelling the fight against climate change.
Behold the age of Tesla
Tesla, with its heady mix of sustainability, eccentricity, and controversy, and its owner have been in the limelight for the better part of the past three years. With conversation around climate change growing every day, 2019 seems to be the breakout year when Tesla either goes bust or boom—and changes the face of the automobile industry. Tesla has pushed every major manufacturer to compete in the electric vehicle segment, making it a hotly contested race but more importantly cutting down on emissions. The world’s electric fleet hit the three million mark in 2017, compared to less than 750,000 in 2015, the year which marked the beginning of Tesla. This number is expected to skyrocket to 125 million by 2030.
Tesla’s second venture, SolarCity, has already become the largest installer of residential solar panels in the US. Tesla also has four projects, totaling 567.5 megawatts in the pipeline (which can power 100,000+ homes) in the San Francisco region. Combined, the forces of Tesla Motors and SolarCity have the potential to lay an exciting, sustainable roadmap for our planet.
El Niño makes a return
El Niño, a southern wind oscillation that drastically affects ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific region, is expected to make its presence felt in 2019, with the World Meteorological Organization sizing its probability at 75%-80% within the next 3 months. If you want to know what’s in store for the future, just look back at the havoc created by the El Niño of 2016. Loosely translated as ‘The Boy’, El Niño raised the average ocean surface temperature by 2°C—the kind of rise in temperature that our entire planet is now staring at, and furiously trying to stave off.
In 2016, the unusually high warming of the Pacific Ocean led to increased frequency of cyclones in the Asia Pacific region. Also, regions around Australia witnessed a prolonged dry spell, with notably 125 wildfires and severe coral reef bleaching incidents in Australia. Conversely, southern Brazil experienced spells of torrential rains, which flooded cities and ravaged the crops.
Climate change is expected to profoundly affect the El Niño cycle, with WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas remarking:
“Climate change is influencing the traditional dynamics of El Niño and La Niña events as well as their impacts. 2018 started out with a weak La Niña event but its cooling effect was not enough to reduce the overall warming trend which means that this year is on track to be one of the warmest on record”.
This year, El Niño is expected to announce its arrival by December 2018, and attain its peak at February. At that time, the average ocean surface temperature is expected to rise by 0.8-1.2°C—severely affecting marine life and enabling extreme weather conditions in and around the Pacific.
Oil industry dictates the focus on climate change—let’s stop that
Oil prices plummeted to record lows in November 2018, dipping below $50 a barrel, showing no signs of recovery month-on-month. The drop in prices has stimulated the demand for oil across various industries wanting to extract full benefit out of them. On top of that, US President Donald Trump has been aggressively pushing the OPEC to continue pumping more oil, while allowing Iran’s neighbours to buy oil despite US sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
While all this spells good news for the economy, what with low fuel prices and more oil to ramp up production—the same has sent negative signals to climate change activists and entrepreneurs working in the sustainable energy space. Cheaper oil means more people would be switching back to oil rather than paying up for clean energy. At the very least, oil consumers would stay put. This year should be all about changing this narrative. For too long we have allowed our planet to follow the supply-demand cycle of the oil industry and dictate how our planet fares against climate change.
Climate change is real
In German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s words—“The effects of climate change are already apparent around the world, and they are a matter of life and death”. A lot can be done, and more importantly must be done. Because as of now, there is no Planet B.
Anant Gupta is a Business Intelligence Analyst at KPMG.