Sustainability in the Era of AI

At our January meeting, we debated the impact of artificial intelligence on sustainability. We discussed the following points:

  • Energy – while companies such as Google have been able to use AI to reduce their energy usage at data centers, this AI has to cost energy to run. As AI becomes more widespread in other applications, raw energy usage could increase.
  • Consumption – as machine learning is used to target ads towards select audiences, this could cause an increase in material consumption. On the manufacturing side, predictive analysis can be used for process improvement, for example reducing water consumption by 10% for General Electric.
  • Cars – a popular application of machine learning is self-driving cars. On one hand, a computer driving would be more efficient, braking less and taking a more optimal route. On the other, the convenience of being able to nap while your car drives you across the country is an undeniable; people maybe be encouraged to take longer trips, increasing gasoline consumption overall.
  • Jobs – whether machines will create more jobs or eliminate them remains to be seen, workers may have to learn new skills in order to adapt to new technologies.

Artificial intelligence promises many benefits, but should be implemented with consideration for potential risks in order to ensure a sustainable future.

Linked below are some articles for further reading:

November Update

Quick update for the month of November! It’s been a busy month: we held our first general meeting, hosted a booth at the CHBE Open House to tell others about our club, and started on biodiesel production!

Pictures attached below.

ESW booth at the CHbe open house on November 18th.
Biodiesel production: students changing the oil filter.

General meeting on energy decarbonization.

Genetically Engineered Foods & Human Health

Thursday November 21st, 2-4 CIRS Building,

A Canadian Speaker’s Tour seeks to provide the Canadian public with an opportunity to discuss their concerns around GE foods from a scientific and regulatory perspective. The tour will feature a presentation by Dr. Thierry Vrain, a retired soil biologist and genetic engineer who, after a 30-year career with Agriculture Canada, no longer supports GE technology. Alarmed by the avalanche of scientific studies out of Europe raising many concerns about the long-term safety of GE foods, including the allergenic potential of GE plants containing rogue proteins and organ damage in rats fed GE foods over a few months, Dr. Vrain is intent on increasing public awareness about this growing issue and having the federal agencies in the US and Canada take notice. Dr. Shiv Chopra, a former Health Canada senior scientific advisor who blew the whistle on bovine growth hormone (rBGH), several additional hormones, antibiotics, and various other products endangering public health, will accompany Dr. Vrain for most of the tour. Dr. Chopra is a graduate of veterinary medicine. He holds an MSc and PhD in Microbiology and is a fellow of the World Health Organization. His book, Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower, is an international best seller. A world-renowned speaker, Dr. Chopra is featured in many nationally acclaimed documentaries.

Check out the facebook event:

Towards an Economy of Genuine Happiness: Creating flourishing communities of wellbeing

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM Multipurpose Room, Liu Institute for Global Issues, UBC

UBC Reads Sustainability presents, author of “The Economics of Happiness” and happiness economist Mark Anielski. Mark will explore what makes communities in both Canada and abroad flourish and experience the most happiness. His research and consulting work in Canada, China and Tahiti into what he calls Genuine Wealth, is providing individuals, businesses and communities with a practical roadmap for achieving a balanced life that optimizes wealth, health and happiness. Mark believes that wellbeing will become the new bottom line of business and communities, and that progress will be measured in terms of genuine happiness. Come explore with Mark how we can design and build vibrant communities with wellbeing in mind.

Register here:

“Understanding the hiatus in global warming” by Dr. Nathan Gillet

Friday, November 15, 1:30-2:30 pm, RCB 6152 (SFU)

While the past decade has been the warmest on record, the warming trend in global mean surface temperature over the past 20 years has been much smaller than the trend over the past 60 years. This ‘hiatus’ in global warming has been the topic of much public and scientific debate. While climate model simulations of the long-term warming trend are consistent with observations, the warming observed over the past 20 years is significantly less than that simulated in a range of current climate models. Recent work suggests that this discrepancy may be linked to a cooling observed in the eastern tropical Pacific which is not reproduced in any of the climate model simulations. Possible contributions of natural climate variability, changes in climate forcings and climate sensitivity to the discrepancy between simulated and observed trends will be discussed.

Dr. Nathan Gillett is a Research Scientist at Environment Canada’s Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria, BC. Prior to joining Environment Canada he was a Reader at the Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK. Dr. Gillett has served as Lead Author for the recently released Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and as a Lead Author for the WMO/UNEP Ozone Assessment, due to be released in 2014. He holds a PhD from the University of Oxford (2001).
Location Map of the Robert Brown Hall (RCB) building

International Service Learning Opportunities

Looking for a way to gain hands-on experience working with sustainability related initiatives in a community-based setting?   There are a number of Reading Week (Feb. 2014) opportunities that can help you do just that!

Sustainability & Solidarity is an International Service Learning opportunity that allows students to work and learn alongside a community organization in rural Mexico that works on agricultural and ecological initiatives such as dry toilet installation into neighboring communities where access to sanitation facilities is limited.  Learning sessions about the factors and issues surrounding this project are integrated throughout the week.

Sustainability and  Coastal Conservation is an International Service Learning opportunity to work with a NGO along the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica.  This project is to work with ASVO is to make the station as self-sustainable as possible, in order to reduce impacts on the local habitat and provide a model for nearby communities and international volunteers. You will contribute to this goal by helping to build a greenhouse on the site to assist in reducing the need to bring in outside sources of food to the site and increase the diversity of plant species (vegetables) available for local consumption.

Ecosystems and Ecology is an International Service Learning opportunity to work with a NGO along the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica.  This project is to work with ASVO is to make the station as self-sustainable as possible, in order to reduce impacts on the local habitat and provide a model for nearby communities and international volunteers. You will contribute to this goal by helping to construct a water filtration system that will harvest both rain and salt water to provide volunteers and the surrounding community with a sustainable source of clean drinking water. You should expect hands-on work, manual labour, and the need to problem-solve in the field.

Interested students are invited to attend an info session to learn more.  Join us on Wednesday, Nov. 13th at 7pm in Place Vanier Upper Atrium.  Applications can be submitted online and are due Nov. 17th.

Interested students are invited to come to drop-in advising hours or email questions to

No Impact Man

CHBE Room 202, Thursday, November 14th. Hosted by CHBE Sustainability Club. Popcorn Provided

Colin Beavan and his family embark on a year-long project to reduce their net carbon footprint by using no electricity, producing no trash and giving back to the world. No Impact Man presents the severe lifestyle changes that come with altering their entire existence.

Is BC’s Proposed Natural Gas Development Sustainable?

CIRS Building, November 28th. Panel Discussion: 4-5:30 pm, Open House: 4-7:00 pm. To register for the event, (it’s free!) and make sure that you get a seat, go to:

Exploring the Economic and Environmental Impacts. What natural gas projects are being considered in BC? Can BC achieve our 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets while developing natural gas? How is the global market for natural gas changing and what does that mean for BC [exports]? Join us for a panel discussion and an open house about BC’s natural gas strategy on Nov 28, 2013 at 4pm.

The event is free, but priority seating will be given to those who get their ticket through Eventbrite and arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the start time. Seating will be open to anyone 10 minutes before the event.

This event will be filmed and photographed. The audience may be included in the video and/or pictures taken. The video and/or pictures may be put online publicly but will never be sold in any manner.

If you wish to avoid being filmed or photographed please speak with the coordinators at the event. Best efforts will be made to accommodate you, but some recording may be unavoidable.

Featuring three expert panelists:

Jeremy Moorhouse, Clean Energy Canada
• Senior Analyst with Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada
• Co-author of “The Cleanest LNG in the World?” report about BC’s proposed liquefied natural gas industry
• SFU Resource and Environmental Management Masters Student in the Energy and Materials Research Group
• Former Technical and Policy Analyst at the Pembina Institute (2005 to 2011)

Dr. Kathryn Harrison, UBC
• UBC Professor in the Department of Political Science
• Expert in environmental public policy relating to climate change
• Currently researching the comparative politics of carbon pricing
• Co-editor of “Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change” (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010)

Dr. Hadi Dowlatabadi, UBC
• UBC Professor at the Institute for Resources Environment & Sustainability and Liu Institute for Global Issues
• Currently researching technical, social, economic and environmental aspects of technology and public policy with a focus on energy systems
• Contributor to the IPCC and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
• Co-founder of Offsetters and HydroRun Technologies Inc.