What is IBM (Really) Doing to Fight Climate Change?



We can’t turn a corner these days without seeing or hearing something about climate change. But if you sit most people down and talk to them about it, the conversation isn’t usually a very long one. One reason is that it’s a complicated topic and it takes some effort to understand the science. Another is that it is so highly politicized that many people avoid the conversation altogether. But I think the real reason is that it seems like such a dull topic.


It shouldn’t be.


But the way that climate change is usually communicated, either in the press, on TV or during debates, is far from engaging. All we usually hear are lots of numbers, usually related to something happening in the distant future and that makes it hard for us to engage with on a human level, because many of us don’t even know what’s going on next month! The human brain is not wired to connect emotionally (or urgently) with long term events.


I was lucky enough to spend some time with Tom Friedman recently. He’s a three time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes for the New York Times, and I wanted to try and understand his point of view on the climate crisis that he writes so eloquently about. He’s the top rated journalist in terms of engagement that the paper has ever had, so I thought he would know a thing or two about simplifying complexity and writing compelling stories.


I learned three very important things from that conversation.


Firstly, people don’t listen through their ears they listen through their stomachs! Tom explained that we make decisions with our hearts and justify them with our heads. If we speak to people’s gut instinct, they usually don’t want to understand every detail. Meaning that if you just speak to their ears, you can give people all the data in the world and still won’t care enough about it. But if you speak to their stomach, you connect with them on an emotional level.


Secondly, when asked about why he is such a successful writer, Tom explained that he only tells stories that deal with two core human emotions. Humiliation and dignity. Because it’s only when you address these emotional extremes that people are driven to care. And act.


And third. According to Tom, most of what is going on in the world right now is related to one of three important areas. Globalisation. Technology. Climate Change. Or in other words, the battle between chaos and order, the solutions that should help humans to live better lives, and the responsibility we have to look after the planet.


It was this holy trinity that knocked my socks off.


Globalisation. Technology. Climate Change.


For me, it points towards everything that IBM is doing to save the planet by operating at the intersection of globalization, technology and climate change.


So from now on, all my presentations are going to focus on these key areas.


Because just like the climate – something that people know but don’t understand – I work for a 108-year old startup which employs over 400,000 people that everybody knows, but hardly anyone seems to know what we do. Especially around climate change. We have invented a lot of cool stuff (we don’t do a great job of telling everyone about it) and we have done some amazing research with a team that includes 6 Nobel Laureates.


Turns out we’ve been doing a pretty good job around climate change.


Who knew?


I don’t mention all this to brag (maybe a tiny bit), but my hope is that it inspires you to look a little bit closer at what’s actually happening in the world, and what your business might be able to do about it.


So I wrote a white paper.


The problem was that it was over 6,000 words. (And people don’t like that many words).


Even the best papers are usually pretty dull.


So I made a 180-second GIF instead.


Now, you may just enjoy this little GIF and go on your way – but if you want to dig a little deeper, feel free to scroll down. I’ve posted a few cool videos and links to all the links to the projects we’ve been working on around climate change.

Feel free to message me if you’d like to find out more. Maybe you’d like to work with us. Or for us?


Because I believe that we can build a business, change the world and have fun.


Thanks for reading,




What The Scientists Are Telling Us

The hottest 20 years on record have all occurred within the last 22 and we’ve seen incredibly high temperatures around the world this summer. The UN expects that two-thirds of the global population may face water shortages only six years from now. The World Bank predicts that by 2050, there’s going to be 140 million climate refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia. And other estimates put that number at over one billion.


Mass migrations and resource scarcity increase the risk for violence, war and political instability. The UN just reported that we are pushing up to a million species to extinction, many within decades, and our emissions are still increasing, even after the Paris Agreement.


This is largely because global atmospheric carbon dioxide has passed 400 parts per million as a result of all the carbon that humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the last 140 years. To put that in perspective, humans have accelerated global warming so much in the last century that the last time this level occurred was over three million years ago, when both the average temperature and sea level were much higher than today.


The global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1°C since 1900. That means that the last century is now the warmest in the history of modern civilisation. This increase could reach 5°C by the end of this century and we already seeing the effects of this in the form of arctic fires, melting glaciers and extreme weather events which are affecting everything from farming and food production, to education, healthcare and commerce.


We are at a tipping point.


And despite slowing growth in carbon emissions, we will likely exceed 2°C of warming within two decades. The global average sea level has risen by about seven to eight inches since 1900 putting millions people in low lying coastal areas at risk. This rise has been accelerating – three inches in the last 25 years and it could be feet later in this century and according to 97% of 12,000 peer reviewed scientific papers, this is all linked directly to human activity from burning fossil fuels.


This is far more troubling than worrying about polar bears stranded on melting ice. The oceans are not just rising. They are warming, and becoming more acidic with lower levels of oxygen. That will have a negative impact on life in our oceans, which will impact the global food chain.


And despite knowing all this, we are still getting 80% of our energy from oil, coal and gas – even though many other more economically viable solutions are available.


This isn’t a technology problem.


This is a people problem.


The challenge is not to build clever technology that will help solve the climate crisis because we already have all the technology that we need. The challenge is for people to remove the obstacles – in business, commerce and government, to help us adopt the technologies fast.


Before it’s too late.



A Few Short Films About How IBM Is Fighting Climate Change



Feeding A Growing Population


Fighting Climate Change With Artificial Intelligence


Empowering Farmers to Adapt to a Changing Climate Using Drone Images & Visual Data Processing


Groundwater Extraction Pattern Analysis


Connecting Local Communities to Small Farms


Helping Farmers Manage Their Land To Produce Better Crop Yields


Harnessing the Power of Blockchain to Prevent More Food From Going To Waste


Super Charging Climate Change Research


Changing Our Relationship With Plastic


Helping To Eliminate Reliance Upon Fossil Fuels


Inspiring Developers To Solve The Climate Crisis


IBMs Support of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement


IBM x Environmental Leadership in Air Quality