Data Scientists in the Fight Against Climate Change

Written by Emilie Brunet on July 3, 2023

On June 25, 2023, Montreal, Canada ranked as having the poorest air quality in the world. As of June 21, Canada’s wildfires have already burned 5,958,026 hectares of forests. This is compared to the ten-year average of a mere 393,746 hectares. Canada is on track to have the worst wildfire season on record, and it’s only June. If you were in Montreal this past Sunday, you were warned by the city not to leave your house without a mask on, not to keep the windows open and to run an air purifier. On a scale of 1 to 10, the air quality in Montreal was at a 10+ : “Hazardous”.

It can be really hard to stay motivated and driven in a world that feels like it’s falling apart. In her highly relevant book, Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Change, Britt Wray outlines the importance of holding space for grief and hopelessness without it turning into inaction. She writes, “Rather than bury our heads in the sand and suppress our discomfort, we can harness and transform the distress we feel into meaningful actions and forms of connection."

In the face of the impending (and already here) climate disasters, Millennials and Gen-Z are struggling to find purpose in their careers when it feels like there’s no point any way. While I adamantly believe that capitalism won’t pull us out of the mess it put us into in the first place, possibly turning to careers that work in favour of the fight against climate change, instead of simmering in hopelessness might allow us to move our feelings of fear and grief towards action.

When being faced with the impending climate crisis, an underrated but important role is the collection, analysis, prediction and visualization of data. Data scientists are needed now more than ever.

Collecting and Understanding Data

There is so much research being done in and around climate change and its impending effects on the population. Data is consistently being collected around food shortages, flooding, marine biology, gas leaks, wildfires, etc. The first paragraph of this post alone highlights some key figures of data that is collected (air quality, hectares of forest burned, etc). Collecting, tracking and storing data is key for developing relevant policy change and saving lives of people affected by flooding, wildfires and heat waves. Collecting data is the first step in understanding patterns in order to create change.

Saving Lives through Predictive Models

In the article, “Machine Learning Use Cases for Climate Change”, author Ajitesh Kumar highlights fourteen use cases for machine learning, AI and deep learning applied to climate change including: predicting extreme precipitation, forest degradation, detecting climate-induced drought, predicting sea levels rising and more. Understanding and predicting how the climate is changing is paramount in the fight to save lives.

In identifying climate-vulnerable regions, Kumar states “By identifying regions which are most at risk, it is possible to better target resources and support.” These forms of predictive models, that data scientists provide, have real-world impact in helping to save lives, reallocate resources appropriately and get people to safety prior to their region becoming uninhabitable.

Predictive models aren’t only important for planning for safety in a crisis but it also plays a role in creating models for more sustainable communities in the future. In their article, The Applicability of Big Data in Climate Change Research: The Importance of System of Systems Thinking, the authors highlight how data science “… can be used to improve social and environmental sustainability in supply chains, augment the informational landscape of smart sustainable cities, and improve the allocation and utilization of natural resources as well as supply chain sustainability.”

The Importance of Data Visualization in Advocating for Change

Communication of data is just as important as the collection of it. Understanding the data is just the first step. Being able to demonstrate that data, presenting it in a way that is understandable and then utilizing that data for efforts to fight climate change is most important. Just because we know the world is burning, doesn’t mean we’re doing anything about knowing it.

But data scientists can use data visualization in order to demonstrate where we need to put our efforts and where our planet is going and then that data can be used to communicate and advocate for change. Proper visualization makes it easier to convey the information to non-scientists: including policy makers, activists, and even your frustrating climate-change denying cousin! It’s through data visualization that we can convey complex information around the climate crisis to a wider audience in a way that is significantly more understandable and accessible.

In the article, A new generation of data scientists could be our best weapon against climate change, the author Weiwei Pan states, “Efforts to fix climate change touch many areas of our lives, and data scientists can contribute to almost all of them.”

Yes, there’s no use denying that things are scary right now. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless. But there are tangible ways to get involved and fight for a better future. Sure, we’re a little bias. We’re a tech bootcamp and we hold stakes in the data science industry (okay, a lot bias). And honestly, there are so many ways that Millennials and Gen-Z can contribute and fight against climate change: protests, direct action and organizing are the most important. However, if you’re already considering a career in data science and now suddenly having an existential crisis about your future, your career and if you can help contribute to making the world a better place, then you don’t need to jump ship away from tech entirely — we need data scientists in the fight for our future and you can be a part of that.

About the author

Hey, I'm Emilie 👋🏻

I'm the People & Culture Manager at Journey Education. I have always had a passion for writing, organization and finding creative solutions. I aim to be personable, empathetic and compassionate and believe that kindness can go along way in both business and life.

Having worked and organized with anti-capitalist, feminist and queer organizations, I strongly believe that EVERYONE deserves, not just a living wage, but a thriving wage and that it should be the priority of every business to create an inclusive, caring and diverse work environment that doesn't just ensures the work happens, but allows people to be people while the work is happening!

My approach to everything I do reflects my training in trauma-informed practices, active listening and harm reduction as well as my interest in understand the way people work, behave and exist as their full human self. I want to create safer spaces for people to explore, create and excel in a supportive environment - whether that's in life or at work.