Business leaders thinking about how to harness tech to respond to climate change took the stage at the Collision conference in Toronto Wednesday, including a talk about how artificial intelligence can help hard-hit farmers adapt to extreme weather.

Max Evans, co-founder and chief technology officer of Climate AI, explained to the crowd at a panel how his company uses data science and AI to build high-resolution climate models.

The start-up also provides detailed data on extreme weather and sector-specific potential economic impacts to help businesses make informed decisions about their operations, he said, with more time to prepare for extreme events before they happen.

Agriculture is particularly impacted by extreme weather, Evans said, with some climate events having “100 per cent impact” on a farm’s operations. For example, harvests can be stranded due to limited water supplies or damaged by fires or floods. 

“Agriculture feels the pain in a particular way,” Evans said. “As a founder you’re always looking for those pain points, and that’s where they exist.”

With the world “well on our way” to scientist-predicted “tipping points” of global warming, Evans said there’s a need for businesses adapt to a changing climate and make choices based on the new climate reality, rather than historic patterns.

Businesses around the world have a need for predictive climate models, Evans said, and the impact of extreme weather was evident in the conference’s host city.

Speakers addressed the gathered crowds in Toronto as wildfire haze clouded the skies and Environment Canada issued an air quality alert due to the raging fires in northeastern Ontario and Quebec.

Climate change was one of several focus areas at Collision, with a dedicated stage for planet-related tech.

From that set of speakers, agriculture and food production was a theme of Wednesday’s talks, with speakers discussing climate impact on fisheries, using solar energy for farming and showcasing plant-based proteins that aim to reduce the market share of the high-emitting beef industry.

Canada’s innovation minister also spoke about the government’s goals to capitalize on the growing green tech industry.

Even Geoffrey Hinton, known as the “godfather of AI,” who left a job at Google this year to warn of the potential dangers of the rapidly advancing technology, noted during a Collision presentation that climate change is one area where artificial intelligence can be used for good.

Evans takes a “pragmatic view” of the need to adapt to the new reality and “climate-proof” weather-impacted industries. He still sees a need to take efforts to mitigate climate change, despite its increasingly catastrophic effects on people’s lives – including within AI itself, by looking for more energy-efficient computing models.

“The more people think about climate change, the more they can act on it,” he said.