By Neil Sahota
Many are concerned about the increasingly brutal wildfires burning every year along the West Coast in British Columbia down to California. The blazes thrive in lush, forested environments, and record rises of global temperatures are making this a terrifying reality.
In the summer of 2020, the Arctic Circle even caught on fire. Despite having a historical average of 10 degrees Celsius during this time of year, over one 100 wildfires scorched one of the coldest areas of the planet. The blazes burned in the carbon-rich soil and even in arctic climates such as Alaska, Canada and Siberia, environmental events fuelled this surge and many were left in dismay.
This is the profound new challenge we’re facing globally: the inability to predict and conceive of climate events that seemingly come out of nowhere and wreak havoc in unsuspecting places. These events are called “Green Swans.” These are unexpected climate events that are becoming all the more frequent due to warming temperatures and their effects go beyond just environmental harm into wreaking havoc on critical global infrastructures. Green swan events are a type of black swan event that is triggered by climate change. By definition, Black swan events are harmful, seemingly random natural disaster occurrences that are rare and impossible to expect for a given situation.
Our environmental ecosystem is so layered and interconnected that we cannot fathom how one change ripples across the spectrum of life. Compound this challenge with unexpected events, and it is not surprising that we’re experiencing a tidal wave of green swan events. We are already experiencing over 10,000 wildfires a day, according to NASA satellite data, along with rising sea levels, heat domes appearing across the Earth, increases in disease — like Lyme in Southern Ontario. In turn, these changes have triggered social and economic impacts such as forced human migration and increased healthcare costs. We are dealing with so many climate-related black swan events that it is believed that we experience a new green swan event each week.
Emerging technology for detection and mitigation
While future severe weather incidents and the catastrophic effects may point to a bleak future, technology can help us understand what’s causing green swan events and offer forward-thinking solutions. With emerging technology like the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, we have powerful tools to understand circumstances and harness this data to act with innovative solutions in mind.
An example of cleantech to address green swan incidents is IBM’s development of a digital twin farm. Using this technology, IBM made a platform that mirrors a real farm in the digital space, down to the soil composition. Through this digital farm, the system generates simulations of dynamic events — both considered normal and green swan — to anticipate what effects climate change may cause on the farm fields such as crop disease, insect infestation. It also measures crop yields, community nutrition availability, food safety, and revenue generated from cash crops under such conditions.
The farm comes to life in the digital space but satellite data and a touch of AI helps anticipate what people would consider impossible events. Use of IBM’s digital twin farm has already started in Nigeria and is expected to expand out to forage conditions in Kenya as well. While results will take years for us to observe, there is hope that this technology will help accelerate sustainable farming practices, reduce the carbon footprint from agriculture and livestock, and increase food production and safety — all counteracting the harms climate change may bring.
Socially driven organizations also pitch in to measure how personal choices can impact the environment. Climate solutions company Planet Home is using AI to point people towards everyday activities that help protect the planet against chaos the climate change could — and likely will — bring on. Changing people’s behavior is a key factor in combating the issue at large. Unfortunately, we don’t realize how our actions have an impact on the world around us nor do we realize how our seemingly small behaviour adds up to collectively dire consequences.
By tapping into the lifestyle profiling capabilities of AI, solutions-based climate companies like Planet Home aim to help people incorporate small steps into their daily lives they are to adopt a more sustainable future. That is, they are going beyond green swan prevention to green opportunity identification — from passive action to proactive behaviour.
On the forefront of preventing extreme weather disasters, companies can examine them even before they happen. Doing just that is ACSI Labs by combining data, cognitive science, AI, and the metaverse to develop a platform that accelerates reaction and enhances problem solving capabilities. In a simulated world, corporate leaders can confront potential problems and get ahead of solving them. Industries that have the greatest impact on climate are adopting this approach to green swan events. Some of the biggest mining, oil and gas companies are employing this platform to develop sustainable exploration and extraction practices. Sustainable mining is now a much more achievable reality, in a much shorter time frame at that.
Despite the despair, we have hope thanks to powerful technology tools. There is a means to make everyone a green swan problem solver. Let’s put it to use and turn the tide on climate change.
Neil Sahota is a lead artificial intelligence advisor to the United Nations and CEO of ACSI Labs. He is a Professor at UC Irvine and he co-authored the book “Own the A.I. Revolution.”
Featured image credit: Robert Woeger @unsplash.