Leveraging Data Science and AI to Address Climate Change and Energy Equity: Earth Day 2023

The Rockefeller Foundation, in partnership with DataKind, released two reports today: Data Science for Water Justice and US Energy Equity. As we approach the 53rd anniversary of Earth Day, the accelerating pace of climate change, coupled with fears of dwindling natural resources, have impacted nearly every person on the planet. While the intensity of, and attention to, these issues has ramped up in recent years, these are far from new or unknown problems. But what’s new is that a growing body of research is approaching these resource issues with an equity lens, and has identified new interventions using data science and AI, most of which have not yet been implemented. 

Longtime Partners Drive Innovation in Climate Change and Energy Equity

As we approach Earth Day 2023, the need for greater focus on equity and data science in addressing climate change and energy access has never been more urgent. Climate change has accelerated the hydrological cycle and energy access challenges globally, disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities who are least able to adapt or move away from these impacts. 

The Rockefeller Foundation, in partnership with DataKind, has released two reports, Data Science for Water Justice and US Energy Equity, that highlight the potential of data science and equity approaches in mitigating the impacts of climate change and tackling energy equity issues. 

“DataKind is well-positioned to expose biases in the field of water and energy access, and we are proud to support their continued work building data science solutions to these major environmental crises,” said Michelle Leonard, Director of Data Science at The Rockefeller Foundation. 

These reports are the latest product of DataKind and The Rockefeller Foundation’s partnership, which began in 2015 with support for DataKind’s operations and scaling, and grew to a collaboration on climate, environment, and healthcare projects. In the years since, The Rockefeller Foundation has been an essential partner in DataKind’s push to create models of replicability and scalability that can be used across various fields and topics.

Data Science for Water Justice

The first report, Data Science for Water Justice, focuses on the Colorado River Basin (CRB) as a case study of water justice challenges exacerbated by climate change. The CRB is a crucial water resource supporting millions of people, including indigenous tribes and Latino communities, but has been in drought since 2000 due to increased water withdrawals for housing and agriculture, as well as climate change.

DataKind recommends several interventions for the CRB that utilize data science and equity approaches, including expanding the Colorado River Simulation System (CRSS) to enable water accounting for fairer redistribution, developing household monitoring systems for real-time problem identification and response, agricultural innovations for Indigenous crop management, and creating models to study and plan for various scenarios.

Data Science for Energy Equity

The second report, US Energy Equity, analyzes the intersection of the US energy landscape with community needs and identifies opportunities for data science and AI to deliver policy impacts. Low-income households in the US spent nearly 35% of their household income on gas and utilities in 2022, up nearly 10% from 2020. The recently passed Federal Inflation Reduction Act provides some relief, but long-term solutions require a major shift in priorities and infrastructure.

Data science tools such as EJScreen, a comprehensive collection of environmental equity data built by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the LEAD tool (Low Income Energy Affordability), which combines census and energy data to examine energy burden, can be used to improve data and metrics for addressing energy equity. Keeping these tools and datasets current and adaptable to shifting energy needs can enable the production of dynamic and predictive models such as Urban Heat Maps, which can aid in identifying energy needs and opportunities for savings.

Next Steps

The use of data science and equity approaches can transform how we measure and manage environmental issues, but it’s crucial that communities and government agencies closest to the problem have access to and understand how to use these tools. By prioritizing equity and leveraging the power of data science and AI, we can make significant strides in mitigating the impacts of climate change and addressing energy equity challenges. 

Stay tuned for an RFBreakthrough panel on April 25, 2023 moderated by The Rockefeller Foundation’s Carly Lanning with DataKind’s Caitlin Augustin as a panelist. They’ll discuss key takeaways from the report, how this data can be used to inform energy justice work on the ground, and what it actually looks like in action. Make sure to follow DataKind on social (Twitter and LinkedIn) for more information.

As we observe Earth Day 2023, let us renew our commitment to these important issues and work towards a more just and sustainable future for all.

Header image courtesy of iStock/Dedraw Studio.

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