As the coronavirus spreads, some news outlets have breathlessly — and disingenuously — reported the positive impact the economic shutdown has had on the environment. With most professionals working from home, individuals’ cars have remained parked in their garages. Factories’ smoke stacks have slowed their sputtering. Flights have grounded.
These actions have put the United States on track for a 7 percent decrease in annual emissions, the greatest in the country’s history, according to Hypergiant, an Austin-based AI firm. The company has crunched data from the Energy Information Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere to project the short- and long-term impact the COVID-19 pandemic could have on our climate.
But Hypergiant CEO Ben Lamm wanted to put these reports in the correct context.
“People need to realize the impact COVID-19 has made on climate change is entirely temporary and not nearly significant enough to reverse the harm we’ve done to our Earth,” Lamm wrote in an email to Built In.
On May 1, the Austin-based AI company unveiled its “After COVID-19 Emissions Simulator,” ACES for short. The AI modeling tool allows people to experiment with and visualize the differences between sustained and temporary emissions reductions as they relate to the coronavirus and climate crisis. It also lets people see what happens if the economy immediately snaps back to pre-coronavirus operations.
“The tool was created in order to put widely circulated reports of COVID-19-related emissions reductions in the context of fundamental climate science,” Lamm wrote in an email to Built In. “[It’s] to equip people with an understanding of what does and doesn’t constitute progress in the fight to arrest the climate crisis.”
ACES uses predictive intelligence to show users how reductions in air traffic, meat in their diets, the inclusion of renewable energy in the government’s economic recovery packages and the continuation of people working from home will impact climate by 2050.
That is the year global leaders aim to reach carbon neutrality under the Paris Agreement, which the U.S. pulled out of in 2017. The agreement represents an understanding that, if countries fail to reach carbon neutrality over the next three decades, global temperatures will rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, creating a social, economic and environmental crisis.
Hypergiant plans to continue updating its tool until then.
“We can’t ignore the next crisis because of the one we are currently fighting,” Lamm said. “The climate crisis is one of the most important narratives of our time and technology companies need to work to create innovations that reverse the impact made on our environment through years of overuse and waste.”