Insurance and Climate Change column

Microsoft Wants to Pit AI Against Climate Change

By | December 21, 2017

Red and green make yellow.

And depending on how one feels about climate change, it could be considered a cautionary tale for the U.S. that China plans to create the world’s largest carbon market, possibly making it the lead nation in the battle against global warming.

The government announced plans on Tuesday to enforce an emissions trading scheme in China’s power sector around 2019 that it expects will play a key role in helping the country achieve its goal of beginning to reduce its emissions by 2030.

“The move sends a concrete signal to leaders across the globe that China is committed to addressing climate change at a moment when the U.S. is stepping back on the issue,” according to an article in Time that details the move.

Nat Keohane, head of the Global Climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund, called it “the Mount Everest of climate policy.”

According to the Time article, China’s power sector generates nearly 40 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions. The effort to curb emissions includes a financial incentive for natural gas and coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions by requiring plants to hold permits for those emissions. Plants that exceed the standard can sell their excess permits.

The effort to curb emissions will eventually expand to include the chemicals, building materials and aviation industries and others, according to the article.

Microsoft

Microsoft announced earlier this month that the tech giant is broadening its AI for Earth program and committing $50 million over the next five years “to put artificial intelligence technology in the hands of individuals and organizations around the world who are working to protect our planet.”

“At Microsoft, we believe artificial intelligence is a game changer,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer wrote in a recent blog announcing the funding. “Our approach as a company is focused on democratizing AI so its features and capabilities can be put to use by individuals and organizations around the world to improve real-world outcomes. There are few societal areas where AI can be more impactful than in helping address the urgent work needed to monitor, model and manage the earth’s natural systems.”

In the blog he writes that tapping into technology help to capture the vast amount of data already being collected on the health of the planet, including air, water and land conditions, “and convert it into actionable intelligence.”

According to him, AI can be trained to classify raw data from sensors on the ground, in the sky or in space.

“Fundamentally, AI can accelerate our ability to observe environmental systems and how they are changing at a global scale, convert the data into useful information and apply that information to take concrete steps to better manage our natural resources,” he writes.

He called out a handful of successful projects around the world that are already putting AI to work on climate, water, agriculture and biodiversity challenges.

The blog lays out three steps for using the new funding and expanding the AI program.

First, they plan to expand seed grants around to create and test new AI applications. They also plan to provide universities, nongovernmental organizations and others with advanced training to put AI to its best use.

Next, the plan is to identify projects that show the most promise and make larger investments in them.

Finally, as the projects advance, they plan to identify and pursue opportunities to incorporate new AI advances into “platform-level services so that others can use them for their own sustainability initiatives.”

Some of this will involve platform services that will be offered by others, and in other instances, these may be incorporated into Microsoft’s own platform services.

As we enter the world’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, a technology-fueled transformation, we must not only move technology forward, but also use this era’s technology to clean up the past and create a better future,” Smith writes.

Alaskan Snowfall

Snowfall since the beginning of the industrial age has more than doubled on an Alaskan mountain range, a new study shows.

The study by researchers from Dartmouth College, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire, is based on an analysis of ice core samples collected from Mount Hunter in Denali National Park.

The range now has an average of 18 feet of snow per year. Average snowfall from 1600 to 1840 was 8 feet per year.

According to the research published this week in the Journal Nature, the increased snowfall is evidence that climate change can trigger significant increases in regional precipitation.

The study suggests that warming tropical oceans have driven increased snowfall by strengthening the called the Aleutian Low, a low-pressure system near the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea that drives a northerly flow of warm, moist air.

“The precipitation increase is nearly synchronous with the warming of western tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures,” the study states. “While regional 20th Century warming may account for a portion of the observed precipitation increase on Mt. Hunter, the magnitude and seasonality of the precipitation change indicate a long-term strengthening of the Aleutian Low.”

The study notes that from 1950 to 2011, many coastal Alaskan weather stations experienced significant increases in winter precipitation in concert with a strengthening Aleutian Low: Juneau (+40 percent); Kodiak (+67 percent); Palmer (+36 percent); Seward (+35 percent); Yakutat (+26% percent).

Wildfires

A Los Angeles County supervisor wants the county government to look into the potential effects of extreme weather and says extreme weather conditions leading to multiple wildfires burning across California are linked to human-driven climate change.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting called for a vote to have several county departments to look into these effects.

Solis announced the passage of her proposal on her webpage, which follows in the aftermath of the massive fires that have raged in Southern California far past the state’s historic wildfire season.

“It is clear that extreme weather conditions are a byproduct of human-driven climate change, and abnormal weather is the new normal,” Solis stated on her webpage. “Historically, Los Angeles has been known for our idyllic weather, but the Creek Fire, Rye Fire, and the Skirball Fire are stark reminders of humanity’s fragile coexistence with nature. Today’s vote is a call to action: with the safety of our residents our top priority, Los Angeles County will never ignore facts and data simply because they are inconvenient.”

Southern California is experiencing record-breaking wildfires in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Diego counties, while Los Angeles is poised to end the Fall and Winter seasons without a rain storm, she noted.

“However, the next rain storm will bring its own dangers, including mudslides and trapping sediment in our dams, further hampering our ability to conserve water,” Solis states.

The motion directs the Office of Emergency Management, the Chief Sustainability Officer, the County Department of Fire, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Public Works to report back within 30 days on how the county is addressing climate change-driven extreme weather impacts on LA County.

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