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AI – It’s not just about ‘deep fakes’ and technology taking over our jobs

Stella Odhiambo

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What I got from our chat with climate activist Ed Gillespie on AI's potential impact on climate action in the Global South, his key concerns, and other fascinating things.

Having been at the forefront of advocating for environmental protection and sustainable practices, it’s no wonder Ed Gillespie finds himself speaking on AI and climate change in one of our Live Conversations. He starts off the bat by validating our topmost fear concerning this rapidly evolving technology (which has been around for a surprisingly long time):

“Yes, AI is going to make some jobs redundant – but not everyone will be put out of work”.

He puts a slightly positive spin on it by adding, “there will likely be an emergence of different kinds of jobs though”, and like many inventions before it, perhaps that’s where the innovation and hope lie.

Harnessing AI for global transformation

But what does all this have to do with climate change mitigation? According to Gillespie, the transformative potential is enormous.

Some strides have already been made when it comes to using AI and machine learning to address climate change action.

He gives the example of how AI and machine learning have been used to map the entire UK solar grid and align it with weather forecasting and satellite imagery to accurately predict the energy generation from solar panels in real time. This helps integrate renewables into the electricity grid more effectively and allows for better management of energy supply.

And it’s not just with energy. Our infrastructure, farming methods, transportation, how our industrial processes work, and how we maximise our efficiency, all stand to benefit.

For economies heavily reliant on agriculture, Gillespie explores AI’s potential for precision monitoring and sustainable land management. AI insights can help identify carbon sources and sinks, rewarding farmers for adopting more sustainable agricultural practices.

More potential uses of AI in climate change efforts mentioned include:

  • Assisting in energy systems and filling data gaps in environments where limited data is available (like in the Global South).
  • Developing climate strategies for governments and businesses.
  • Using of advanced data analysis for improved climate modelling and localised responses to climate challenges.
  • Harnessing sustainable practices that benefit both the environment and the agricultural sector.

While acknowledging some scepticism due to past unfulfilled promises, Gillespie emphasises the importance of using AI responsibly and in the best interests of people.

Inclusivity and accessibility for the Global South

A significant portion of our conversation centres on the Global South and its unique challenges in climate action.

We in the Global South face infrastructure limitations, digital skills gaps, and limited access to advanced technologies. I’m interested in Ed’s thoughts on how AI can be harnessed in a way that is inclusive and accessible to support climate action efforts in a country such as Kenya whose economy heavily relies on agriculture (and like many African countries, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change).

He suggests that a great opportunity for the Global South would be the potential for utilising AI and machine learning to fill data gaps in low-resource environments.

A recurring theme in Gillespie’s insights is the significance of human wisdom complementing AI intelligence. He believes that local communities in the Global South can leverage the advantages of AI while filtering them through their own lived experiences and cultural knowledge, leading to better decision-making and practices.

“The more inclusive and accessible AI solutions are to support climate action in these regions, the more effectively they will work."

Concerns and overcoming Cultural Biases

Recent advancements, and AI’s rapidly changing nature, give Gillespie pause as much as they give him hope. Add to that the limitations and biases of AI language models.

There is also the question of energy. The energy used to train AI models would have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, essentially doing more harm than good.

Countering the potential negative impacts will require posing the right questions to the right people and as always, employing ethical use of the technology.

“AI should be interacted with thoughtfully, acknowledging both its potential benefits and risks.”

Gillespie also raises concerns about cultural biases unintentionally embedded in AI models, sourced from data gathered from the internet.

To deploy AI responsibly, he emphasises the importance of resisting these biases and ensuring that AI applications respect the values and perspectives of diverse communities such as those in the Global South.


There seems to be no doubt that AI holds vast potential for current and future climate action efforts around the world. Gillespie’s valuable perspective on how this transformative technology can be harnessed responsibly in the Global South, will ring true all over the world.

By combining AI’s capabilities with a strong ethical foundation, we can ensure that AI technologies positively contribute to addressing climate challenges in the Global South and beyond.

Ed Gillespie, a prominent speaker, writer, poet, podcaster, and futurist, has been a climate activist since before we all knew quite how terrified we should be. He also founded Futera, one of the world’s first sustainability communications agencies.

His podcast, ‘Jon Richardson & The Futurenauts‘ is regularly one of the most popular (and funniest) science podcasts.

If you’re curious or concerned about the negative impacts of AI, Ed recommends watching “The AI Dilemma“.

Stay informed and cautious!

Read more of our blogs on Climate here: Wasafiri Climate & Nature blogs.

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