Thinking Machines’ Climate Action Commitment
“Unequivocal” is how scientists have described the evidence that climate change is happening and requires urgent action. The overheating planet will bring stronger typhoons, heat waves, droughts, water shortages, rising sea levels, reduced food production and more.
But the data also shows there is a window of opportunity to turn the situation around. To keep the climate liveable, we need to halve our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and get to net zero by 2050. In just the next nine years, we have to change how we do everything – how we produce electricity, grow our food, build our cities, invest and spend our money, and travel. This transformation will require urgent action from every sector of society.
This is why our team at Thinking Machines is making a commitment to find our niche in the climate fight. We believe that taking action is the most logical response to the data.
While there’s a ton of data and scientific information about climate change out there, it can be overwhelming to make sense of it all, or to turn that information into something actionable. In the last few months that we’ve been learning about climate change, we’ve been constantly surprised by the issue’s nuances and complexities. For example:
Seriously dealing with the climate crisis will demand warp-speed, global action, just as drastic as our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but sustained over decades. To get the world on track to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, scientists say we have to reduce our emissions by a mind-blowing 7.6% per year for the next nine years. For context, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a 6.4% reduction in emissions in 2020. Imagine the cooperation, innovation, urgency, and political will it will take to implement pandemic-scale changes to our economies but in a planned way.
Developed countries’ emissions have been falling (albeit not fast enough) for years now, while developing countries’ emissions are rising. While rich countries do bear a greater responsibility for the climate crisis because of their historical emissions, it will be impossible to avoid catastrophic warming without also reducing emissions in the developing world. The big challenge for countries like the Philippines is to solve multiple complex problems at the same time: 1) uplifting millions of people out of poverty, 2) while weaning our economies off of fossil-fueled growth, and 3) protecting our most vulnerable communities from the harshest impacts of climate change.
Emissions come from some surprising sources other than electricity – including rice cultivation and cow burps! Most people think of coal, oil, and gas-fueled electricity as the only villains of climate change, but in the Philippines, electricity only overtook agriculture as our top emissions source in 2017. Today, agriculture still accounts for about 26% of Philippine emissions because of the methane and nitrous oxide emissions produced through rice cultivation, livestock, manure management, and crop residues. Transportation, industry, building construction, and waste are also sources of greenhouse gas emissions. No matter what industry you’re in, you have a role to play in the transition to a low-carbon future.
Mitigate globally but adapt locally. While there are many helpful information resources about mitigation solutions, such as Project Drawdown, we’ve found it more challenging to understand the menu of solutions available on how to adapt to climate impacts. A ton of emissions here in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world has the same impact on the climate. But every country, city, and village will experience climate impacts differently and need to have different adaptation strategies. We hope to learn more about the adaptation solutions out there and how to implement these as soon as possible.
To figure out what we can do to help address this problem, we’ve created a new Sustainability Team that will work to integrate sustainability into the company’s culture, operations, and business model. And we intend to share what we learn in the process to help other organizations trying to do the same.
Our program includes three streams of work:
1. Practicing a culture of sustainability.
One of our first initiatives will be to measure and reduce our own carbon emissions. While solving the climate crisis requires systemic solutions, reducing our own carbon footprint aligns with our values and also helps us to understand the supply chains of which we are a part. Even if we don’t produce physical products, technology companies can use energy-efficient software engineering practices and green cloud infrastructure to reduce our climate impact. We’ll be writing more about this in an upcoming blog post.
We’ve also set up a “Green Team” that meets every other week to discuss and learn about climate change and other sustainability related topics. We want to educate ourselves about the issues, but also normalize talking about climate change with our colleagues and friends. According to the climate communications non-profit organization Climate Outreach, “Having conversations about climate change in our daily lives plays a huge role in creating social change. We take our cues about what’s important from what we hear our family, friends, colleagues and neighbors are talking about.”
2. Using our data science capabilities to accelerate climate solutions.
While changing our own practices is a start, we believe we can make a bigger contribution by applying our unique capabilities to the problem. We hope to develop data-driven products and services that can mitigate emissions and help vulnerable communities adapt to the already changing climate.
There are many ways that data science can accelerate climate solutions. The incredibly informative work of ClimateChange.AI, a global community of climate-concerned AI professionals, has been a helpful starting point. Of course, technology can only move the needle if it’s part of an ecosystem of political, economic, and social solutions. We are working with experts on different kinds of climate solutions to understand the work already being done and identify problems that data-driven technology can solve. Some of the areas we’re exploring include:
- renewable energy
- disaster risk reduction and management
- forest and coastal ecosystem conservation
- climate-resilient infrastructure
- carbon accounting
- climate-smart agriculture
- ESG analytics
If your organization is working on climate solutions and you have a problem that you think data science can help address, reach out to us at [email protected].
3. Learning in the Open
While there’s ample information about what large corporations should do to address climate change, we’ve found fewer resources aimed towards small and medium enterprises, especially in emerging economies. We hope to share learnings that could be useful to other organizations also trying to take action. In the same way that open source and open data help keep the tech ecosystem healthy, we also believe that being open about our sustainability journey can help us scale our collective impact.
We are going to write fortnightly blog posts about what we learn along the way, including:
- Explanatory data dives on the Philippines' top emissions sources (electricity, agriculture, transportation, waste, and industry) and sinks (forests and coastal ecosystems).
- Data stories related to climate impacts and adaptation solutions and challenges in the Philippines.
- Our first hand experiences and learnings in trying to build climate awareness and action within our team.
- Recommendations on our favorite climate-related information and data sources.
If you have ideas for data stories that you think we should do, let us know! And stay tuned in to our blog in the coming months for more updates on our sustainability initiatives.