In the midst of this coronavirus outbreak, life will not stop. The monumental efforts being made to contain what is arguably one of the most economically destructive phenomena of the last 10 decades is a testament to human will power. As of early April, data from AFP showed mandatory or strongly advised confinements, curfews and quarantines in force in more than 90 countries with c. 3.9 billion people presently being made to “stay home” to prevent the spread of infection. While there are those who wish to resume life under BAU (Business as Usual) scenarios as quickly as possible, we should take this opportunity to reflect. What we cannot do is sit idly by (on resumption) while another force some 20–30 years away continues to reckon with the future of the human race. World leaders have, through this crisis, committed resources in the trillions of dollars, in the form of aid and assistance to tide over the financial shock which has been created by the pandemic. In most cases, these go against the very fabric of where they sit on the political spectrum. In some cases, science is itself coming under scrutiny to favor political recourse. Decisions like open borders versus closed borders, face masks with free movement versus forced isolation and distancing, and perhaps ultimately health risks versus economic risks have split actors on every political front and within every socio-economic group or movement.
Scientifically, however, at least as far as this disease is concerned, a collective optimism can stem from the eventual prospect of immunization. A practice that originally dates back hundreds of years, it should be worth noting that we have not arrived at this state of ability to respond overnight and surely as the Chief Scientific Adviser in the United Kingdom alluded to, in one of his daily briefings, a mere 20 years ago the process of creating such a vaccine would have taken decades. Given this remarkable acceleration of recent progress, how then on Climate can we sit by, given our drastically reducing window to act, and not significantly try to progress the science around mitigation. The very science that might ultimately save us from extinction. I use the term might here lightly as “anti-vaxxers” would have us believe otherwise on the subject of disease — just as climate change deniers often do on the subject of climate.
The science, therefore, that is driving technology behind sustainability becomes ever more relevant — whether it’s electric cars and the planning around their charging points — the roadmaps for which have been decades in development. Or using some form of machine learning or pattern recognition to more intelligently control supply and demand in a power network so that more renewable sources of generation are viable or perhaps using image recognition to predict where passenger traffic in a city is concentrated so electrical loads from street lights to air conditioning, heating to ventilation can be more intelligently controlled.
At ENIAN we are trying to facilitate the development and planning at the lowest level by using opensource data as the anchor. Perhaps what Wikipedia and the internet did for general knowledge — we will do for power networks and decentralized developers of generation. This has a cumulative force of facilitating a much larger and more monumental change. To use an analogy, what has spurred the surge in demand for the electric car is not the strides made by Tesla on design and specifications — but the massive prevalence of distributed charging infrastructure that makes owning an electric vehicle more viable. According to data from Nissan and the Energy Institute charging stations outnumbered petrol stations in the UK only this summer.
Using techniques that have been brought into the mainstream, like object recognition over maps and satellite photos, by the increased adoption of cloud computing, we are now able to give immense power to independent planners and developers. As computational power increases and gets adopted into ever many more devices, remote or otherwise. These technologies are thrust into the status quo, and we must move quickly to adopt them in our workflow, however distant they sometimes may seem to the current paradigm of technologically-laggard industries such as heavy engineering, design, and financial planning.
Not moving in such a direction could leave people asking why, like with Zoom, only now has the world realized that a lot of our day-to-day was inefficient and driven by historical norms, despite the science and investment having been realized decades ago. Just like the real economic benefit from, what may have seemed like a small radical investment into inoculation science, may only now about to be recognized.
Perhaps to appease the deniers, if nothing else, this kind of experimental science and paradigm-shifting behavior could one day provide us with the solution that’s needed in an already “climate changed” world