Strengthening Climate Advocacy Using Technology - The Years Project

Strengthening Climate Advocacy Using Technology

By FXB Climate Advocates

By Om Desai, Academy for Information Technology, Scotch Plains, NJ

Technologies, especially like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are very powerful tools. However, this power is often not used for long-term humanitarian causes, where a lack of instant return on investment doesn’t inspire influential businesses to make a difference. 

The idea of making machines more intelligent, in such a way that they serve humankind in making the world a better place, has always been very fascinating for me. I am very impressed with the advancement in technology, especially AI, in a relatively short span such that it can now perform “miracles,” so to speak. However, I wish that such great tools could be more widely used to overcome some of the many challenges of climate advocacy. There are gaps between the capacity to do and willingness to act, gaps between the understanding of a few and awareness for all, and gaps between the knowledge of the privileged and empowering the underprivileged.

How can we bridge this divide and connect diverse and global groups consisting of climate advocates, high school students, industry experts, local innovators, remote and under-privileged communities, and university researchers for the causes we care about? How can we build resilience in poor communities, lift people out of poverty, and sustain their prosperity even when confronted with a fast-changing climate? How can we educate and empower people in a remote part of the world? How can we make the next generation ready for sustained climate advocacy?

I am Om Desai, a rising high school junior and an FXB Climate Advocate. These ideas and epiphanies made their way into my mind when I visited India, where my parents were born. I was able to see remote villages myself and see poor people in drought-affected areas that were fertile only around 10 years ago. These people’s livelihoods have been practically wrecked by the effects of a fast-changing climate. Access to basic human necessities, such as water, are a struggle. 

Years later, this trip to India was still fresh in my memory when I had to prepare for a debate in middle school about climate change. As I did my research, I came across a few insightful papers by renowned scholars that detailed how bad climate change was getting. I also analyzed many books, blogs, and data such as the one available on the NASA global climate change website. I noticed that there was a lot more evidence supporting the fact that climate change was a dangerous threat, based on many different factors like rising sea levels and increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. I was greatly inspired by blogs from Renee Cho, who writes about the environment and technology. From what I have seen myself and what I have researched, I am now aware that the future is under threat, and I want to play my part in protecting this future.

I have always wanted to be optimistic about the future, but deeply cared for the truth and science that leads us towards there. The more I read, learned, and watched about climate change, it became harder and harder for me to just engage in wishful thinking about the future of the planet without taking concrete actions. As I started to think about how I can contribute to the solution, I came across the AI research by Maria Uriarte and Tian Zheng of Columbia University.

I have always loved technology, and especially AI has always fascinated me. I worked on many AI, data and robotics projects that won my team and me multiple hackathons, and robotics competitions. I recently formed a group SamurAI to focus on building innovative AI solutions for social good, such as detecting face masks using AI, predicting COVID19 strain’s lineages using genomic data, and building COVID19 infection risk classification model

I felt empowered realizing that I can make a difference using technologies like AI and machine learning for climate resilience and to help people sustain their prosperity. I have a deeply rooted belief that technological advancements have the potential to enable the movement of climate advocacy and to build climate change resilience. As I was brainstorming with my mentors about the tremendous potential of technology, the idea of combining AI and climate advocacy into a project was born. I formed an AI & Climate Advocacy committee within FXB for like-minded climate advocates with a passion for technology to join our projects and add value. My long-time friend Siddhant Desai, who also loves to work with AI and technology for social good, joined the initiative right away. Since then, many students from various high schools have joined us as well.

As the technology has matured in recent years, scientists and researchers have realized that many hurdles can be overcome by technology, especially AI. These types of hurdles include restricted physical access, remote and hostile environments, secretive governments and companies, or a lack of resources such as workers and money.

Our intention with this project is to create a platform to connect climate advocates, technology lovers, students, industry experts, and university researchers with each other to brainstorm ideas about how AI can help climate advocacy. I envision that the platform will make AI more accessible by providing opportunities to collaborate on necessary technical know-how, and by providing resources related to available tools and techniques. Our team will conduct youth immersion programs and host collaborative virtual events. We will also create content (such as short online classes, presentations, and videos) to bring awareness to the potential of AI to elevate climate advocacy to the next level. We aim to build conceptual ideas, proofs-of-concept and prototypes using available AI technologies so that it can inspire professional companies and researchers to implement real-life applications that help humankind slow down climate change. At the same time, this technology will allow us to build sufficient resilience in the face of a changing climate, so we can thrive and continue our progress as a society. 

Our project targets a global audience that includes innovators who will be empowered with the tools to create tech-enabled sustainable solutions to local issues and climate resilience. We will also reach young children who will engage with our content and activities, so they can grow up more capable and willing to support climate advocacy. We look forward to collaborating with university researchers who will share their knowledge and mentor us, and partner with companies and other like-minded groups to build real-life applications from ideas and prototypes. The whole world, including upcoming generations, will benefit as a result of these efforts. The platform could help build capacity in remote parts of the world, where groups will be enabled to utilize knowledge and support from this project to solve often unique local climate change-related challenges.

My vision is to turn this project into a social movement where people can empower and educate themselves and others about the way technologies can help climate advocacy. I want to create a global platform where knowledge and help are always available from experts that welcome the exploration of any new idea. The acquired knowledge and changed culture from international teamwork will be passed to future generations for a very long-term positive impact. This project also has the potential to drastically reduce the divide that exists between nature-loving climate activists and technology-loving problem solvers, while they work together towards the same goal of saving humanity from the worst ever crisis we are facing on Earth.

Combating climate change and achieving climate justice is an extremely tough issue to tackle, but there is still hope. Using the newest technology like AI, we can better track how our world is being affected and work together to mitigate the risks, letting us greatly help the planet and all the people affected. Do you want to be one of the global influencers? Do you want to team up with like-minded people to share the same goal? Come join us at FXB, and ask to be a part of the AI & Climate Advocacy project.