Climate Consultants

A Silicon Valley startup tells economic developers it can make 50-year predictions of the impact of climate change on available sites.

It was only a matter of time, but climate change has spawned a new genre of economic development specialists. We’ll call them climate consultants. They’re coming soon to an environmental impact assessment near you.

climate changeOne of the biggest challenges facing the world’s scientists is achieving a consensus on the set of factors that should be used to model the global climate in order to make reasonably accurate predictions about how the climate is going to change in coming years. We’ll save you the effort of a deep dive into the latest research papers and cut to the chase: the world’s leading experts on this subject aren’t even close to a consensus regarding modeling methods.

A paper recently published in the science journal Nature by two researchers from the Carnegie Institute for Science offers a concise description of this conundrum: “There are dozens of prominent global climate models and they all project different amounts of global warming for a given change in greenhouse gas concentrations, primarily because there is not a consensus on how to best model some key aspects of the climate system,” Carnegie’s Patrick Brown explained.

Current raw climate models are predicting that global temperatures may increase anywhere in the range of 5.8 and 10.6 degrees F. (3.2 to 5.9 degrees C.) over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. (Prof. Brown, by the way, believes the upper end of the range is most likely; a consensus of climate scientists believes a rise of more than 3 degrees C. will have catastrophic effects).

But hey, just because the leading climatologists in the world are struggling mightily to solve the most complex algorithm ever attempted—cracking the global climate code—that won’t stop some entrepreneurs from trying to sell you an app for that.

Which brings us to San Mateo, CA, where a Silicon Valley startup backed by $10 million in VC moolah has unveiled “a transformative cloud-based technology platform” that “enables decision makers to confidently predict and manage risk caused by severe weather and medium- to long-term climate change at a hyper-local level.”

They call themselves Jupiter and their proprietary ClimateScore™ Intelligence Platform is said to be able to ingest petabytes of data from millions of ground-based and orbital sensors. ClimateScore “makes physics-based and AI-powered decisions” that provide “sophisticated, dynamic, hyper-local data analysis at street-by-street or individual building resolution, including the most accurate weather and climate predictions,” the startup says.

The next sentence in Jupiter’s hype deserves to stand all by itself: “Predictions range from two hours to fifty years in the future.”

[We’ll pause here to note that Al Roker usually can predict what the weather’s going to be like in two hours without deploying artificial intelligence, but also says he had no idea what was going on behind Matt Lauer’s locked door for 10 years.]

If ClimateScore sounds a bit too generic for you, Jupiter wants you to know that this month it launched its new FloodScore™ and HeatScore™ services to better predict and manage risks related to weather and temperature changes, sea-level rise and storm intensification associated with climate change.

“Too many industries and decision makers are currently relying on outdated risk models, which statistically extrapolate from historical events rather than using the latest models developed by the global atmospheric and ocean science communities,” said Rich Sorkin, CEO and Co-founder of Jupiter, in a release announcing the new services.

“Jupiter’s technology is built to address the growing need to understand and quantify risk using the latest science and data. It applies the newest technologies, such as automated machine learning, to the vast array of available data sources, including commercial satellites, aircraft, drone, and various sensors on land and in water,” Sorkin added.

According to the startup’s release, Jupiter’s award-winning group of full-time domain experts includes the aptly named climatologist Dr. Betsy Weatherhead, who provided statistical expertise to the Nobel-prize-winning work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and who was also lead author of the first international assessment of Arctic climate change; and the world-renowned urban oceanographer Dr. Alan Blumberg, whose group built the short-term flood prediction system used on a daily basis by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and New Jersey Transit to protect their critical assets.

Jupiter “advisors” are said to include U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change and Chief Negotiator of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement Todd Stern, and former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Neal Wolin, who also was President of The Hartford’s property and casualty companies.

Jupiter says it already is working closely with property developers, critical infrastructure, the public sector and insurance companies. They didn’t mention media, as in the feature about Jupiter that popped up in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times.

According to the Times, a South Carolina developer looking for land to build new warehouses and logistics centers in the flood-prone Charleston area has turned to Jupiter for help. The developer, Xebec Realty, volunteered to be a pilot project for the startup’s technology and asked Jupiter to calculate the odds that its candidate sites might be underwater in 10 or 20 years (Charleston, SC sits at sea level).

And the answer is? Don’t bother reading the rest of the Times‘ article to find out because they don’t tell you. The article is filled with high-level commentary from climate experts on the current state of climate modeling, interspersed with Jupiter’s casual assertions that it has taken data analysis to a new and unprecedented level (think Beyond Mars and past the Asteroid Belt).

Our prediction is that it will take between two hours and 50 years for Xebec to get its answer. Meanwhile, Dr. Blumberg will have to explain to rail passengers in Passaic, NJ why NJ Transit’s 8:45 a.m. Boonton Line train failed to show up on time due to an unexpected puddle in Clifton that shorted out a signal.