During the AI LA Earth Summit 2021, we invited nine guest speakers to discuss sustainability and equity, investing, and individual contributions in regard to climate change. Over three exciting conversations (‘Sustainability and Equity: Health for All Communities’, ‘Everyone Can Be a Citizen Scientist’ and ‘Investing toward a Better Planet’) the experts and leaders shared their knowledge in emerging technology and how it is shaping our future.
The United Nations has reported that humankind has less than ten years to act to prevent the very worst impacts of climate change. If humanity cannot limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, catastrophic weather events will be experienced worldwide. Unfortunately, events such as droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes, and food scarcity will be significantly worse for the hundreds of millions of people living in underprivileged populations. Low socioeconomic communities and those living in less developed nations (who did not necessarily contribute significantly to the climate crisis) will be most impacted. Environmental justice is the fair treatment of these people, and indeed all people, regardless of their nationality, social status, or economic status, for enforcing environmental laws. One way to ensure inclusiveness while reducing the adverse impacts of climate change is to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Currently, there is a large disparity between countries that have access to AI technology and those without. Developing countries may have the desire to implement strategies to reduce climate change, such as transitioning to clean energy, however, they do not necessarily have access to AI technology. To overcome this challenge as a global nation, we need to loosen patent rights on specific technologies and create open-source datasets to help developing countries and underserved communities access technology to advance them.
“There needs to be a discussion about how to loosen patent rights that will have to be done in conjunction with the world trade organization as well”
-Dr. Shannon Gibson, Associate Professor of International Relations and Environmental Studies at USC.
Furthermore, it will be beneficial not just to the local populations, but also to have positive flow-on effects on a global scale by preserving ecological systems.
INVESTORS ARE FAST-TRACKING PROGRESS
Investments by entrepreneurially-driven investors will fast-track progress towards climate change reduction. Over the last 10 years, there have been greater investments in energy, circular economy, ocean and maritime, logistics, supply chain, and transportation startups. These investments in AI are helping clean technology become more economical to manufacture. Due to the advances in technology, it is now cheaper to build solar energy infrastructure than to build a new gas grid.
“It’s actually (a) better economic decision to go invest in electric rather than internal combustion. The cost of solar has come down so much that it’s cheaper to build the solar than to run an existing coal, and cheaper to build new solar than to build new gas.” - Monica Varman, Investor at G2VP.
These advances are among the many reasons governments and private industries can now adopt clean technology solutions rather than utilizing old, outdated traditional methods.
Investment in clean technology startups does not only benefit the environment. Investors are now screening potential investments based on three pillars: the company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. The social criteria examine the company’s relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates, whereas the governance standards review the company’s leadership, executive pay, and shareholder rights.
Investors are rewarding startups for their ability to make a positive impact on all three pillars. Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, for example, rewards invested companies if they can scale their impact to include economic and social implications within two years. By doing so, these companies can earn back some of their equity. This incentivizing by investors benefits everyone, not just the environment.
THE ROLE OF THE EVERYDAY PERSON
However, you do not need to be an investor to make a difference and help contribute to a brighter future. Citizen science (also referred to as ‘neighborhood science’ or ‘community science’) is a way that citizens can convert curiosity into real impact. Citizen science is any action completed by a citizen that helps move science forward – this can be completed to collect or analyze data for research projects.
As citizen scientists, users do not need specific education or special tools or instruments to conduct observations. In most cases, citizen scientists just need a cell phone and internet connectivity. Crowd data collection can make some important contributions to science by helping actual scientists quickly fill research data gaps. Best of all, the data is open access – anyone can use it.
For example, in the Global Observer app, users can geospatially record the location of small human-made or natural water bodies to help identify mosquito breeding areas. Beyond this, users can record the presence of any mosquito larvae in the waterbodies. If the user has access to an attachable phone microscope, they can also input information into the app to determine the genus of mosquito to which the larvae belong.
The Global Observer app helps citizens in 120 countries get involved in science - and it is not just about collecting information or analyzing data for research purposes. Users of the app can access educational materials about climate change and other science-related subjects. Along with the Global Observer app, SciStarter is another platform for citizens to become involved in similar science-related projects within their local district.
If the global temperature increases above 1.5°C, catastrophic weather events will be experienced by everyone across the globe. We are collectively facing a global disaster, but there are many ways in which people can contribute to reducing the severity of climate change. Whether you are an investor, an individual, or a researcher, we all have a role to play in making a difference. If we each pledge to contribute by playing a role in science, AI, or tackling climate change, there is still hope for the future.
Sustainability and Equity: Health for All Communities
Guest speakers: Dr. Jennifer Lentz, Program Manager at Coalition for Clean Air, Dr. Shannon Gibson, Associate Professor of International Relations and Environmental Studies at USC, and Arnav Mariwala, Co-founder of HighTide.ai.
Everyone Can Be a Citizen Scientist
Guest speakers: Caroline Nickerson, Program Manager at SciStarter, Vivienne Byrd, Librarian III - Lead on STEM/STEAM and Citizen Science Initiatives at LA Public Library, and Theresa Schwerin, Vice President, Education Programs Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).
Investing toward a Better Planet
Guest speakers: Daniel Lichtenberg, Managing Partner at Keiki Capital, Monica Varman, Investor at G2VP, and Adriana Embus-Figueroa, Fund Management Analyst at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.
The future in AI is exciting and promises many different solutions to combat the problems that may arise with climate change. Researchers, innovators, and governments need to urgently share their technology and data with other countries or communities to address this global issue.