AI for Good: Energy, Water, Food

A series looking at how the energy, food and water sectors are using AI and machine learning to try to reduce consumption, cut costs and make the use of resources more efficient. It’s not kindness, it’s economics.

Medium ($)

How Artificial Intelligence Is Making Energy Smarter and Cleaner

Artificial intelligence is powering more and more of the things we interact with every day, from our gadgets to our cars. But it’s also playing a growing role in how society’s undergirding resources — energy, food, and water — are sourced, secured, and delivered. (Read the full story here.)

How AI Could Smarten Up Our Water System

It’s easy to take water for granted. Turn on the tap, and you’ll receive clean, life-giving water (with some very notable exceptions). But for a myriad of reasons, ranging from our changing climate to aging infrastructure to growing demands for water, all aspects of the water cycle — how it is collected, cleaned, distributed (and repeat) — are overdue for a technological makeover. (Read the full story here.)

Why Farmers Are Turning to AI to Boost Yields

Environmental author Wendell Berry might shudder at this comparison, but farmers are like data scientists. To make decisions, they ferret out meaning from a sea of data.

That data just happens to be related to environmental conditions like temperature, rainfall, salinity, nitrogen, pests, commodity prices, and other variables. (Read the full story here.)

The Wild West of Predator Control Is Hurting Humans and Pets

Idaho is the first Western state to take some action on dangerous cyanide traps, but it’s not enough

Outside Magazine

One day in mid-March, Canyon Mansfield took his three-year-old yellow lab, Casey, on a walk into open scrubland behind his house in Pocatello, Idaho. It was the boy’s happy place. About 400 yards from his house, Mansfield bent down to inspect what looked like a sprinkler head sticking out of the dirt. When he touched the goop smeared on top of it, a stream of powder shot out. Some of it landed on Mansfield’s face and jacket, but a brisk wind sent most of the powder toward his dog.

The dog’s eyes quickly glassed over, he struggled to breathe as his mouth filled with red foam, and he started having what the boy describes as a seizure. In a manner of minutes, Casey stopped breathing. A short time later, when Mansfield’s father, a physician, arrived and wanted to try to resuscitate the dog, the boy yelled, “No, I think it’s poison.”

He was right. Casey died from chemical asphyxiation after inhaling sodium cyanide powder from the device, a baited trap called an M-44 that kills thousands of coyotes and red foxes each year in an effort to prevent livestock predation.

Read the full story here.

Your Fleece Jacket Pollutes the Ocean. Here’s the Possible Fix.

A large Canadian gear retailer is working on a project to trace the microplastics that come off its apparel in the wash and prevent them from entering local waterways.

Outside Online

May 25, 2017

2016-09-22-Peter-Ross-CORI-Lab-For-Web-3492By now you’ve probably heard the news: your favorite fleece sheds hundreds of thousands of tiny synthetic fibers every time it’s washed. Those fibers often skirt through wastewater treatment plants and make their way into aquatic organisms that eat the floating fibers.That’s bad for the fish, because the fibers are vectors for toxins and can retard their growth, and it could be bad for people who eat the fish.

This shedding puts outdoor manufacturers in a bind: many want to protect the outdoors, but they also want to sell product. Consumers who love their warm fleece are also faced with a dilemma.

Some brands have taken steps to address the threat of microfibers, which are considered a type of microplastic pollution. In 2015, Patagonia asked university researchers to quantify how much fiber its products shed during laundry—the answer was a lot. And the Outdoor Industry Association has convened a working group to start examining microfiber pollution. But here’s the thing: rather than using money to develop a process that prevents the shedding, most brands are still focused on defining their culpability. Because there are other sources of microfiber pollution in the sea, such as fraying fishing ropes, these brands want to be able to know for certain how much they’re contributing before they move further.

That won’t be an easy task, but Mountain Equipment Co-op, an REI-like retailer headquartered in Vancouver, recently gave microplastics researchers at the Vancouver Aquarium a $37,545 grant to help scientists develop a tracking process. The yearlong project will be led by the aquarium’s ocean pollution research program director and senior scientist Peter Ross. The first step is to create a database of fibers from up to 50 different textiles commonly used in MEC’s house-brand apparel.

Read the full story here.

Home at Last: The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians Returns to the California Coast

Partnering with local agencies, The Trust for Public Land devised a plan that would return the land to the Kashia while allowing for an addition to the California Coast Trail.

Land+People (The Trust for Public Land’s magazine: Go to Page 30)

img_3900“Close your eyes,” instructs Reno Franklin. Chairman of the Kashia band of Pomo Indians, Franklin wears a long black Mohawk pulled into a loose ponytail to reveal a closely shaven skull. He’s addressing a crowd gathered to celebrate the creation of the new Kashia Coastal Reserve.

“Close your eyes,” he repeats. “Close your eyes…” As the audience complies, a smile plays across his face.

“Think back 200 years, when thousands—not hundreds, but thousands—of Kashia people walked on this land. Literally right where you’re standing. That is where we are.

Two hundred years ago, the Russians came. The ‘Undersea People.’ Why did we call them that? Look.” He gestures to the sweeping Pacific, stretching to the horizon behind him. “That view had stayed the same for thousands of years. Until a mast appeared, and then a boat. The Undersea People. From that day forward, everything changed for us.”

Read the full story here, it starts on page 30.

Guardian: The Latest Weapon in the Fight Against Illegal Fishing? Artificial Intelligence.

A $150,000 reward is up for grabs for any data scientist who can write code for facial recognition software that can pinpoint illegal catch on fishing boats.

The Guardian

gif_pactunatechchallengeFacial recognition software is most commonly known as a tool to help police identify a suspected criminal by using machine learning algorithms to analyze his or her face against a database of thousands or millions of other faces. The larger the database, with a greater variety of facial features, the smarter and more successful the software becomes – effectively learning from its mistakes to improve its accuracy.

Now, this type of artificial intelligence is starting to be used in fighting a specific but pervasive type of crime – illegal fishing. Rather than picking out faces, the software tracks the movement of fishing boats to root out illegal behavior. And soon, using a twist on facial recognition, it may be able to recognize when a boat’s haul includes endangered and protected fish.

Read the full story here.

 

 

 

Guardian: My (Imagined) Trip Off the Meatless Wagon

The Impossible Burger is making a big impression on foodies, chefs and vegetarians, but can it find its way onto the McDonald’s menu?

The Guardian

if-pattiesI hold the burger with both hands and bring it, somewhat trepidatiously, to my mouth. I commit myself to at least one bite. As I close my eyes and chew, some long dormant receptor in my mind comes alive and for a split second it’s 1986 again and I am eating a hamburger at a family cookout in Chicago.

This is the first time I’ve eaten meat in 30 years – except, this is not meat.

I open my eyes and remember that I am standing in a wine bar in San Francisco’s Soma neighborhood, surrounded by other reporters, all of us sampling our first Impossible Foods plant-based burger, which is making its West Coast debut. I’m far from the only person convinced that this mixture of potato and wheat, coconut fat, Japanese yam, vegetable broth, xanthan gum, sugars and amino acids and a key protein called leghemoglobin is a dead ringer for the dead animal version of a hamburger. Three renowned chefs – Chris Cosentino, Traci Des Jardins and Tal Ronnen – are also convinced, and are here to announce that they are bringing the Impossible Burger to some of their respective eateries in California. (Chef David Chang became the first in the country to serve it this summer at New York City’s Momofuku Nishi.)

Read the full story here.

Pacific Standard: The Pleasures — and Ecological Benefits — of River Snorkeling

In praise of river snorkeling, a pastime for fish obsessives that also reminds riparian activists what they’re protecting.

Pacific Standard

matt_pic_russ
Photo: Russ Ricketts

I’m like the reverse of a fish out of water — a floundering human in water, I think to myself and let out a nervous chuckle. This breaks the seal my mouth has formed around the snorkel’s mouthpiece, and as the frigid Cascadian water of Icicle Creek hits the back of my throat I start floundering more, coughing and thrashing around like a hooked fish.

Jesus, get a grip, continues my inner dialog. Show them you can handle yourself.

Them refers to Matt Collins and Russ Ricketts, my guides for my first foray into river snorkeling. And show them you can handle yourself is something I recall thinking often, back when I used to live in these wonderful central Washington mountains, where the three of us worked at a ski area. It felt important to prove myself: Up on the hill, after a storm had dumped unfathomable amounts of snow, I would struggle to keep the nose of my snowboard floating above the fray, always feeling like the slowest, weakest member of the crew. Usually, I was.

Read the full story here.

The Invisible Nightmare in Your Fleece

Washing a single polyester jacket can send 1,900 tiny synthetic micro-fibers into waterways, where they can soak up toxins and get eaten by fish. So what is the outdoor industry doing about it?

Outside Magazine
August 2015

illustration_microfibers
Illustration by Laszlo Kubinyi

Gregg Treinish is dismayed about what is coming out of his washing machine.

“What I’m seeing is shocking. Every couple of weeks, I clean out the filter and put the contents in a 32-ounce Ball jar,” says the founder of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), a nonprofit that trains outdoor enthusiasts to collect data for environmental researchers. After roughly two months, Treinish says, “the bottle is more than half-full of the crap that would have otherwise been shed right into the waterway.”

That crap is thousands of synthetic fibers shed from Treinish’s clothing during wash cycles (he captures them in an aftermarket filter), and the waterway is Montana’s Gallatin River. Treinish, whose organization receives financial support from a number of outdoor-gear companies, recently launched a campaign to track the flow of those fibers into fresh water. He plans to share that data with his funders.

What’s so bad about a few plastic threads? In 2011, British ecologist Mark Anthony Browne published a study describing the discovery of micron-scale synthetic fibers, mostly polyester and acrylic, in sediments along beaches the world over, with the highest concentrations appearing near wastewater-disposal sites. That strongly suggested that the micro-fibers came from apparel, a hunch he checked by filtering 1,900 fibers found in the waste-water from washing a single fleece jacket. A similar study at VU University Amsterdam in 2012 estimated that laundry wastewater is sending around two billion synthetic microfibers per second into Europe’s waters.

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California water witches see big business as the drought drags on

Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures.

The Guardian
September 15, 2014

Outside of a farmhouse on a 1,800-acre organic dairy farm near Oroville,California, Sharron Hope bends over a printout of a Google Earth map, holding a small jade Buddha pendant. The map shows a small section of the farm to the east, and Hope is hunting for water. As the pendant swings, she notes a subtle change in motion that, she says, indicates she has found some.

Is there any significance to the jade? No, she says, I just like it. Plus, she adds, “I figure Buddha’s gotta know.”Logo-Guardian

Hope is a water dowser, or someone who uses intuition, energy vibrations and divining rods or pendulums to mark the best spots for wells.

As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.

Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser, such as Hope.

Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.

“I’ve gotten far more calls this year from farmers looking for a water dowser than in most years,” says Sacramento-based Donna Alhers, who heads the Sierra Dowsers, a chapter of the American Society of Dowsers.

Water dowsers from around the state are also seeing a spike in demand. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people whose wells have run dry,” Hope says.

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