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AI helps protect the environment… but at what environmental cost?

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jan27,2024

AI helps protect the environment... but at what environmental cost?

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The University of Prince Edward Island's AgriRobot was trained using artificial intelligence to recognize diseases in potato plants.


Speech synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

Artificial intelligence (AI ) has unsuspected uses that can prove beneficial in the fight against climate change – such as the significant challenges that forest fires, floods and severe droughts can pose. But, ironically, AI is not carbon neutral in itself.

With climate change, farmers, to name only these workers, must face more numerous and more complex challenges than ever. Not only are there more and more diseases due to rising temperatures, but the harvest calendar is also being disrupted. In southern countries, locust invasions (infestations of pest locusts) are increasing, which threatens food security.

A new tool called Kuzi – in honor of the Swahili name for the European starling, a bird known for eating locusts – is giving farmers a boost by providing real-time data (from satellites and ground-based meteorological observations) on surface temperature, soil moisture, vegetation index, etc.

Kuzi displays a heat map of high-risk areas along with forecasts of breeding, swarm formation and migratory attacks that can alert farmers and livestock ranchers of a potential invasion two to three months before the event. The tool can even send SMS alerts when locusts are likely to attack farms in an area, including plants for livestock.

The AgriRobot, created by Charan Preet Singh, a master's student in the Department of Sustainable Design Engineering at the University of Prince Edward Island, is a trained robot using AI to recognize diseases in potato plants.

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The AgriRobot from the University of the Island -of Prince Edward was trained using artificial intelligence to recognize diseases in potato plants.

This small, black, four-wheeled contraption with two outstretched arms moves through a row of green leaves, its giant tires kicking up the earth. It will generate a map with the information needed to find infected plants and eliminate them, says Aitazaz Farooque, interim associate dean of the School of Climate Change and Adaptation at the University of California. Prince Edward Island.

Thanks to the information provided by AI, environmentalists will also be able to more easily determine new locations to reintroduce beavers.

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As droughts, floods and fires intensify, beavers are helping to take all three down a notch, said Emily Fairfax, assistant professor of geography at the University of Minnesota. , the majority of whose research focuses on the ecological role of beavers.

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Emily Fairfax specializes in ecohydrology, that is to say the interactions between water and ecological systems.

Beavers are incredible engineers – they build dams, ponds and wetlands that conserve millions of liters of water.

By storing a large amount of water both above ground in ponds, but also underground in the ground, beavers create these large, spongy areas in the landscape from which plants can access water in a dry spell – and are just too wet to burn when you have a fire spell, says Emily Fairfax.

These structures also reduce erosion and the consequences of flooding, she adds.

Dryad Networks, a company based in Germany, has developed solar sensors capable of detecting a fire even before a flame ignites declares.

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Solar sensors developed by the German company Dryad Networks are used to detect a fire.

Behind [the] membrane is a gas sensor sensitive to hydrogen, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. […] It's like an electronic nose that has been trained to recognize the smell of fire.

A quote from Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO of Dryad Networks

The company has already deployed 20,000 of its sensors worldwide, with a pilot project in Californian forests.

As it goes As the risks of climate change increase, engineers and scientists are designing new tools to detect and even predict the extreme weather events that are now part of our reality and likely to become more frequent in the coming years.

Whether it's helping us better predict solar energy and #wind energy on the electricity grid to better integrate them into electricity networks or to help us map deforestation and emissions using global satellite imagery, AI is used in all sorts of ways to address climate action.

A quote from Priya Donti, co-founder and president of Climate Change AI, a global nonprofit examining the use of AI in climate

Ironically, although AI contributes to climate change adaptation and mitigation, it has its own carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions problem. While it may seem invisible to most people, the computers that run it are housed in data centers that require a lot of electricity. If this electricity comes from a network using fossil fuels, AI will in turn contribute to emissions.

In the same order of However, the servers in these data centers generate a lot of heat and need to be cooled, which often requires more electricity.

Despite the fact that AI has enormous potential, we absolutely need to have a better idea of ​​its contribution to emissions, experts argue.

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Experts do not yet know the contribution of artificial intelligence to data center emissions.

We really need to pay attention to the increasing emissions footprint of AI. Fundamentally, there isn't enough transparency between data center providers and the machine learning entities that create algorithms for monitoring and measuring greenhouse gas emissions. p>A quote from Priya Donti, co-founder and president of Climate Change AI

Obviously, the need for energy will vary depending on how it is used. A recent study reveals that every time AI generates an image, it uses enough energy to charge a cell phone.

Priya Donti therefore emphasizes that we must reassess which uses are worth the electricity consumed and review our practices. We certainly shouldn't believe that artificial intelligence has no environmental impacts or costs, she concludes.

With reporting from CBC News' Nicole Mortillaro and Sheena Goodyear

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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