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The Anywhere Economy Series
March 18, 2019
COVID Social Responsibility
April 27, 2020

Climate Change and the use of Artificial Intelligence amidst COVID-19

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken the world into captivity. Since its origination in China in December 2019, the contagious respiratory disease has seen its dire effects reach all continents. This has resulted in what may be considered to be a ‘global shutdown’. In the midst of so much chaos in the global health sector and significant plummets on the stock market, we are once again reminded of the uncertainties in life. 

In this article, I will delve into the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the global economy and how this bleak period may be an opportunity for institutions and policy-makers to reevaluate their focus and policy objectives. 

Climate Change and Sustainable Development Policing

Whilst it has been quite gloomy lately, it seems as though this viral outbreak may have done a better job of drastically cutting down on pollution. According to striking imaging done by NASA, the Nitrogen Dioxide Concentration levels in China were 10% to 30% lower than average from January to February due to the drastic quarantining measures enforced.

Image Credits: NASA

NASA’s Earth Observatory pollution satellites show “significant decreases” in air pollution over China since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Although there may still be some ignorance of the reality of global warming, it is occurring at alarming rates. Scientists have reiterated that in order to keep global average temperatures from rising above 1.5 °C global emissions need to be reduced by half in the next decade. 

However, unlike in this viral epidemic, no one is taking extensive measures comparable to social distancing or forgoing flying to avoid disastrous climate change. While we may acknowledge that the Coronavirus and climate change are distinct kinds of policy problems, there is inadequate brouhaha for immediate action in combating global warming. A greater job can be done to integrate environmental concerns into the general economic policy.

Green Policy for a carbon-free future 

A lot of governments are bustling to come up with ways to control and ultimately eradicate the coronavirus. Whilst that is very much essential for people’s well-being this is also an opportune time to accelerate climate enthusiasm and initiate sustainable incentive packages directed to cleaner energy technologies. The International Energy Agency Director Fatih Birol wrote in a web post that,” We should not allow today’s crisis to compromise our efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable challenge.” An example for governments and trade zones to emulate is that of the EU, the European Green Deal – an initiative to stimulate the efficient and sustainable use of resources, with the goal to eliminate the trade bloc’s carbon footprint by 2050.

Dr. Fatih more so mentions that large scale investments to boost development and integration of clean energy technologies ought to be a fundamental measure being implemented by governments’. This should result in killing two birds with one stone by simultaneously stimulating economies and driving clean energy transitions. But with the sharp drop in oil prices in the last few weeks, is there much incentive in governments continuing the pursuit of renewable energy? Whilst the right answer may be that there should still be much incentive in making the world healthier, this may not be deemed economically viable. If anything, some experts fear that there may be a greater dependence on fossil fuel globally due to the trillions of dollars being rolled out to circumvent the extreme effects that the coronavirus poses. 

A grave peril awaits that post-pandemic governments will forgo long term ambitions in order to benefit from short term gains. This will result in laxer environmental and policing guidelines in order to revive economies, and ultimately the progressive use of fossil fuels. However, a complete left turn can be made, where we acknowledge this situation as a chance to custom restore economies with the future that we want in mind. 

It will now come down to the level of integrity and responsibility. Will governments simply neglect further investments in improving energy efficiencies in order to resuscitate their economies at the expense of reaching sustainable development goals? Or the responsibility will be carried forward to ensure a greener future, regardless of this momentary epidemic setback.

Impact of AI on the COVID-19 Epidemic 

Artificial Intelligence has been quite central in efficiently identifying COVID-19 carriers with the use of AI-enabled screening using thermal and 3D laser cameras. In a more apparent case, artificial intelligence has been put to task to delve into the huge amounts of available research on the coronavirus in an effort to help medical and public health experts. The hope is that AI will accelerate insights into the novel coronavirus by finding more subtle connections across more data.  

Image credit: @Getty Images

Whilst there is still a lot of skepticism from people regarding data and civil liberty concerns as in the case of China, the artificial technologies continue to present a lot of benefits in the industrial sector and in our daily lives. It may be daunting to see how facial recognition agents are using coronavirus to further the idea that contactless biometric systems at building entrances are safer than finger-printer scanners. As true as it may be – disease spread can result from human-to-surface contact – this is seen by some as a mere agenda to normalize citizen surveillance.  

AI can help make speedy progress in finding a cure to the novel coronavirus. As this virus spreads at an alarming rate, time is of the uttermost essence. Machine learning algorithms tend to be the most effective means of spotting correlations of masses of data characterizing viruses. A group of scientists is making use of a deep learning-based drug-target interaction model to find drugs already commercially available that could be used to treat COVID-19. 

The benefits that can be derived from ethically accelerating the progress of AI and other such technologies and embracing its applicability in some of the most vulnerable places on this planet are endless and should be well conveyed. We, therefore, ought to advise the general public about the phenomenon of AI along with the benefits that can be derived from it, de-alienate them from the technology that already prevails in daily life.

Rise of Remote Working 

With strict social distancing measures being the norm of today, working from home has certainly become a more practical solution for academic and organizational activity. Organizations have been forced to rapidly change their work-force arrangements with those who can adopt tools to work from home in order to continue progress in the company. This has been quite a challenge as many companies struggle to bring synergy in a virtual workforce without having sufficiently given training on accessing work files and installing proper security measures. 

Image Credits: Andrew Neel

We should, however, not confuse working from home with remote working. The remote work environment is different. It’s not being confined to a specific workplace but exercising the freedom of flexibility and working from anywhere when you choose. Working from home in most cases implies that one regularly works from a home-based office. As in the case of today, many employees have HAD to work from home because office buildings and public facilities have been closed down (at least temporarily). 

The companies that have found themselves ahead of the game, though, and are thriving on virtual work include Aha!, GitLab, Toggl, CleverTech, and Collage.com, amongst others. These companies have managed to create an ecosystem of support and flexibility while providing their workers with the tools required to be productive and meet demands. 

Considering that not every company can afford to have their entire work-force virtual, this may be an opportune time for those that can adapt remote working measures on a permanent basis. According to a recent analysis done by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, there was an increase of 159% in remote work and it continues to grow.

Remote work growth for the past 5, 10, and 12 years

The benefits do not only fall on the employees but as well the employers. Remote work saves companies on some fixed costs such as facility rentals, internet costs, and a 13% increase in productivity according to an experiment by Nicholas Bloom. 

It is very crucial for companies that allow employees to flexible work arrangements outside the office to implement stringent measures regarding cybersecurity, and effective team communication, project management, time management, and file-sharing tools to streamline company efforts to success.

A bright future post-COVID-19? 

After all this havoc and the global economy returns to normalcy we as individuals, companies, and policy-making institutions will have to deal with repercussions of the decisions we make throughout and after this pestilential period. We owe it to ourselves to carry out sincere stewardship for this world we’ve been birthed on. The result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution will represent the wise choice of many alternatives. 

Choice, not chance, determines our destiny – Aristotle