Findings leverage AI and data science to offer justice-focused solutions to harm that water and energy use systems cause low income and BIPOC communities in the U.S.
NEW YORK | April 18, 2023 ― DataKind, a nonprofit tackling the world’s toughest challenges using data science and AI to improve the reach, scale, and capacity of social impact organizations, released two new comprehensive landscape analyses and proposed data-driven solutions for addressing the escalating water and energy crises causing disproportionate and devastating harms to low-income and BIPOC communities. The analyses, developed with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, offers solutions to combat the growing drought with a particular focus on the Colorado River Basin; as well as solutions to mitigate the high price and low accessibility of electricity.
“On both water and energy, there is a widespread belief that a crisis is inevitable and there’s nothing we can do, but in fact, there are many interventions that have been identified and have yet to be implemented,” said Lauren Woodman, CEO of DataKind. “Data Science has already provided new opportunities in this regard and has the potential to transform how we measure and manage environmental issues, but only if the communities and government agencies closest to the problem have access to and understand how to use these tools.”
Climate change is threatening the hydrological cycles across the world, increasing the likelihood of extreme events, droughts, and dramatically altering ecosystems. Simultaneously, deficient, and faltering infrastructure — with disproportionate blows to low-income households — is exacerbating inequitable access to energy. These landscape analyses, “Data Science for Water Justice” and “US Energy Equity,” address these challenges head-on with learnings that can be applied nationally and internationally.
“Data Science for Water Justice” offers globally relevant insights through a case study of the Colorado River Basin (CRB), a social-ecological system and crucial water resource that supports over 40 million people across seven U.S. states, 30 indigenous Tribes, and nearly one-third of the entire U.S. Latino population. While the CRB is currently the biggest water crisis in the U.S., there are highly useful implications, as nearly half of the world’s population face water scarcity for at least part of the year.
Based on their analysis, DataKind recommends several possible data-backed interventions for the CRB:
- Expand the Colorado River Simulation System (CRSS) to enable water accounting, allowing a much clearer understanding of how water is currently distributed and how it can be redistributed equitably.
- Develop a household monitoring platform for water use and quality to help identify and respond to problems in real time.
- Use fallow land monitoring to support agricultural innovations and develop support applications for Indigenous crop management to use water more efficiently.
- Create models to study and proactively plan for various scenarios that impact tribal water rights.
“U.S. Energy Equity” identifies opportunities for data science and AI to deliver effective policy recommendations given the current energy landscape and real community needs. While the recent federal Inflation Reduction Act provides potential relief to households in the lowest income quarter — those who reportedly spent ~35% of their household income on gas and utilities, up ~10% from 2020 — the following recommendations will expedite progress on energy access.
- Leverage EJScreen, a tool built by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the government’s most comprehensive collection of environmental equity data.
- Implement the Low Income Energy Affordability tool, which combines census and energy data to allow users to examine the energy burden across multiple factors, providing a much clearer picture of energy needs and opportunities for savings.
- Regularly maintain these tools and datasets as energy needs shift, allowing the U.S. to produce dynamic and predictive models such as Urban Heat Maps.
“DataKind is well-positioned to expose biases in the field of water and energy access, and we are proud to support their continued work building data science solutions to these major environmental crises,” said Michelle Leonard, Director of Data Science at The Rockefeller Foundation.
These reports are the latest product of DataKind and The Rockefeller Foundation’s partnership, which began in 2015 with support for DataKind’s operations and scaling, and grew to a collaboration on climate, environment, and healthcare projects. In the years since, The Rockefeller Foundation has been an essential partner in DataKind’s push to create models of replicability and scalability that can be used across various fields and topics.
From hackathon-style events to years-long capacity-building engagements, DataKind builds new tools to address old and intractable problems, bringing emerging data scientists into the Data-for-Good movement by showing them how valuable their skills can be. DataKind is a global organization based in the U.S., with chapters in San Francisco; Washington, DC; the United Kingdom; Bengaluru (Bangalore), India; Singapore; and Nairobi. With a vibrant network of more than 30,000 supporters and volunteers around the world, DataKind is able to engage on a wide variety of issues, continually bringing the benefits of data science to new communities.
Follow DataKind on Twitter, Facebook, and Github @DataKind.
About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation that enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal and sustainable. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to health care and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.
Media Relations Senior Associate
The Rockefeller Foundation