How data could save the Earth from climate change

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How data could save the Earth from climate change


AAs the nicknames say, Subak may seem like an odd choice for a new organization that aims to accelerate high-tech efforts to tackle the climate crisis. The name is Indonesian, it sweats, and refers to an ancient farming system that allows farmers to coordinate their efforts when irrigating and cultivating.

“Subak allows farmers to carefully synchronize their water use and thereby maximize rice production,” said Bryony Worthington, founder and board member of the new nonprofit climate action group. “And that’s exactly what we’re going to do – with the data. By sharing and channeling data, we can maximize our efforts to tackle carbon emissions and global warming. Data is going to be the new water, in other words.

Bryony Worthington and Gi Fernando, who came up with the idea for Subak. Photograph: Supplied

Subak will officially launch on Monday and will select and fund nonprofit groups, working around the world, to tackle the climate crisis. The first start-ups already helped by Subak include a group that is helping UK local authorities increase the use of electric cars, while another is using accurate weather forecasts to get the most out of solar power in Great Britain. Brittany and limit the consumption of fossil fuels to produce electricity.

These efforts are launched after a week of headlines highlighting how perilous life on Earth is becoming as global warming takes hold of the planet. Floods in Germany and Belgium killed more than 150 people; scientists have revealed that the Brazilian rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs; and the fires devastated vast swathes of California’s forests. In each case, scientists have warned that rising temperatures – triggered by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – may have played a key role in causing these disasters.

Urgent action is clearly needed, says Lady Worthington, a renowned climate activist and lead author of the team that drafted the UK Climate Change Act of 2008, legislation that required the UK to cut carbon emissions at least 80% of their 1990 levels. At the time, Worthington was working with Friends of the Earth, but was seconded to the government to help design the legislation. For her efforts, she was named a peer in 2010.

Floods in Liège, Belgium, Thursday. Photographie : Bruno Fahy/Belga/AFP/Getty Images

Since then, Worthington has continued in the fight against the climate crisis, and in 2019 she read the book by Harvard scholar Shoshana Zuboff The era of surveillance capitalism , which focuses – with disapproval – on the growing use of personal data by high-tech companies to make money.

“It made me realize that a whole new world of digital tools was being rolled out to generate profit,” says Worthington. “I realized that it would be best if these tools could be used to save the planet – to protect global commons – and not just to increase the value of stocks. “

Worthington reached out to Gi Fernando, a tech entrepreneur, and the couple came up with the idea for Subak, which has since received funding from the recently established Quadrature Climate Foundation (QCF) by London-based investment management firm Quadrature Capital. Its purpose is to provide seed funding to help groups get established but also to provide expert advice on legal, managerial and other issues.

“When you start a business or a group, you are quite alone,” says Fernando. “So if you have a community around you that can offer help – HR, finance, tools – that’s incredibly helpful. And then, once that group has risen up, then it can start helping other start-up entrepreneurs who want to break new ground in tackling climate change.

Fernando’s words are echoed by several of the groups that Subak has already helped set up, such as Open Climate Fix. This aims to reduce carbon emissions by improving weather forecasting to get the most out of solar power plants – whose efficiency is reduced when the weather is cloudy.

Doyle, a small town in California, was ravaged by a wildfire last week for the second time in less than a year.
Doyle, a small town in California, was ravaged by a wildfire last week for the second time in less than a year. Photograph: Noah Berger / AP

“If we get really good data on cloud cover coming up, we’ll know exactly how much solar power can be supplied to the UK on any given day,” said Jack Kelly, co-founder of Open Climate Fix. “This will mean that we will not need to generate electricity unnecessarily from other sources – especially fossil fuel sources like gas – because we have underestimated the solar energy that we will get on this day.” -the. This will help reduce carbon emissions.

Subak’s provision of engineers and software experts who turned weather satellite imagery into cloud cover predictions has been a huge help, Kelly added.

A similar story is told by Richard Allan of New AutoMotive, who monitors the adoption of electric cars in communities across the UK. Factors include vehicle use, sales models, and preferred types of cars and trucks. This data can be transmitted to local authorities to ensure that charging stations, battery replacement services and other resources are provided to maximize the use of electric cars.

“Replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles with electric versions as quickly as possible will be extremely important in reducing carbon emissions,” says Allan. “And data on participation rates in communities will be vital to achieving this goal. “

This view is endorsed by Worthington. “Just as a large corporation has many different businesses under its control, Subak will help set up many new businesses, each aimed at strengthening efforts to tackle climate change.

“We are going to be the Diageo of climate protection, even if we will not coordinate the production of drinks. We will generate valuable climate data.

The climate crisis in figures

415 : The number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that make up the atmosphere. Before the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, the global average amount of carbon dioxide was around 280 ppm. Fossil fuel combustion has since added an additional 135 ppm and if global energy demand continues to grow and is mostly met by fossil fuels, that figure could exceed 900 ppm by 2100.

3,6 mm : The estimated increase in sea level each year, according to tide gauges and satellite data. This is the result of human induced global warming. Sea level is predicted to rise another 40 to 80 cm by 2100, although future melting of the ice caps could significantly increase these values.

43.1 billion: In 2019, it was the number of tons of carbon dioxide from human activities that were released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that absorbs heat and releases it gradually over time, like the bricks in a fireplace after the fire is out. The current increase in greenhouse gases has upset the Earth’s energy balance, trapping additional heat and increasing the Earth’s average temperature.

28,000 billion: The estimated number of tonnes of ice our planet lost between 1994 and 2017. Global warming has a particularly severe impact at higher latitudes and this has been most visible in the Arctic. Scientists fear that as the ice melts, less solar radiation will be reflected back into space and temperatures will rise even faster. As a result, the ice loss will become more and more severe.

Sources: Royal Society; US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; American scientist

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