IBM and UF host climate change Hackathon

Maia Botek
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Saturday, October 30, 2021

The University of Florida is hosting a Hackathon in collaboration with IBM that began Sep. 13 until Nov. 29. Teams will present technology solutions to address one of six environmental challenges, including power consumption and agriculture.

Hundreds of students and United States residents are competing for a $100,000 prize pool and the opportunity to potentially revolutionize areas of environmental science.

The University of Florida is hosting a Hackathon in collaboration with IBM that began Sep. 13 until Nov. 29. Teams will present technology solutions to address one of six environmental challenges, including power consumption and agriculture.

“Celebrity judges” could potentially be present to judge the submissions, which range from software to apps, according to Lucas Bockstedt, senior project manager of the event’s logistic platform, BeMyApp. 

“This is one of our first Hackathons at this scale that is so directly focused on environmental issues,” Bockstedt said. “Especially when considering the very large prize pool.”

Unlike other Hackathons UF has hosted, this event has a longer timeline, wide range of project submissions and is open and promoted to students and individuals who might not normally participate, according to Sanethia Thomas, assistant professor in UF’s computer science department. 

“The whole idea is to pair people up-- those who may have extensive experience in computer science-- to maybe someone who doesn’t, or has never wrote a single line of code,” Thomas said. IBM offered participants $200 in cloud credits upon registration to access their online services.

Participants must compose teams of four to six people, which can either be selected voluntarily or assigned through BeMyApp. Teams can be made of students, coders, developers, designers, software engineers, members of agricultural industries, environmental scientists or any U.S. resident who is over 16.

Mark van Soestbergen, director of the environmental consulting firm Carbon Solutions, is one such participant of the challenge who has no previous experience coding but is responsible for creating real-life test environments for his team’s project. 

Van Soestbergen said that connecting the environmental science and computer science industries can be challenging, especially in regard to the processes, technology and terminology that each relies on. 

For example, van Soestbergen and his colleagues in the environmental science field, even farmers, rely on resources such as Microsoft Office, Word documents and email, whereas computer scientists use programming tools, coding and the app Slack for communication and data analysis.

“It’s like learning how to count to 10 as opposed to doing calculus,” van Soestbergen said, referring to the process of familiarizing the environmental science and agricultural world with new technology. “You’re changing somebody’s practice with the land.”

To minimize challenges in communication, BeMyApp, the third-party organization responsible for outreach, publicity, registration and receiving submissions, works with clients prior to events to narrow down language for target participant groups, according to Bockstedt.

BeMyApp has also helped in creating the three judging criteria used by IBM and UF including impact and innovation, challenge fit and feasibility and technical execution that will be used for project submissions. Projects must be submitted by Nov. 29 and teams are permitted to register until the night before.

The grand prize for the competition is $30,000 followed by $20,000 and $15,000 as well as $35,000 in additional prizes. Winners will be announced Dec. 6. 

 


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Maia Botek

Maia Botek is a third-year journalism major and Spanish minor student at the University of Florida who has grown up in South Florida throughout her entire life. As the daughter of a Jamaican father and part-Norwegian mother, an understanding of cultures, diversity and the world around her has always been an important facet in Maia's life which has resulted in a love of the environment, travel and education. She loves spending time outdoors and with friends, especially at the beach, which she loves. Maia is interested in utilizing journalism to educate others on the importance of the Earth's natural resources and ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Young Farmers Are Growing Food for Climate Action and Racial Justice

A version of this article originally appeared in the October issue of the Deep Dish, our monthly newsletter for members. Become a member today to receive the next issue. Edwards woke up most days terrified of what her future would look like as the climate crisis intensified. She also learned about the devastating rates of […] The post Young Farmers Are Growing Food for Climate Action and Racial Justice appeared first on Civil Eats.

A version of this article originally appeared in the October issue of the Deep Dish, our monthly newsletter for members. Become a member today to receive the next issue. As a teenager, Iriel Edwards couldn’t wait to get out of rural Louisiana. But while studying entomology at Cornell University in New York, her path began to change, curving unexpectedly back toward home. Edwards woke up most days terrified of what her future would look like as the climate crisis intensified. She also learned about the devastating rates of Black land loss and food insecurity in the rural South. She worked in a greenhouse on a project that investigated rice varieties brought from West Africa by enslaved people. Then one day in the library, she discovered Leah Penniman’s book, Farming While Black. “I had never even visualized that possibility for me before then,” she said. Now, she adds, “farming feels like a practical, tangible thing that somebody can do to make change here and now.” Edwards, 24, works for Jubilee Justice, where she manages a 5-acre farm in Alexandria, Louisiana, on land that was once a plantation. There, her team of Black farmers just wrapped up its third trial season of growing rice using a climate-friendly system called the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI. The organization’s mill will come online before the end of the year, enabling them to begin selling the grain. At the same time, she has started to grow vegetables on her own plot of land with a partner who grows mushrooms. “Farming feels like a practical, tangible thing that somebody can do to make change here and now.” According to the results of the National Young Farmers Coalition’s 2022 survey, many of Edwards’ peers share her motivations. Of the 4,300-plus farmers under age 40 who responded, 83 percent said that environmental conservation was one of their primary motivations for farming; meanwhile, 29 percent of all farmers, 54 percent of BIPOC farmers, and 74 percent of Black farmers surveyed ranked anti-racism work among their primary motivations. The survey also shows that little has improved for young farmers in the last five years, as a significant percentage of respondents reported facing the same challenges to success they identified back in 2017. They’re still struggling to access capital and to manage high healthcare, housing, and production costs. Student debt is still an issue but doesn’t rank as highly as before, likely because most people have paused their payments during the pandemic. And if President Biden’s plan for partial debt relief is implemented soon, many farmers are likely to benefit, said Carolina Mueller, the rancher and coalition manager who worked closely on the survey. However, the challenge once again topping the list is finding and affording land—and over the past five years, it has likely gotten worse, Mueller said. Early in the pandemic, wealthy buyers flooded rural areas, driving land values up. At the same time, foreign investors, billionaires, and corporations have also been buying up farmland at high rates. “It’s overwhelming how much of a challenge accessing land is for young farmers,” she said. “Young farmers are politically and socially driven . . . they want to solve the world’s issues and they have the energy to do it. [The government should] support people who are ready to do that work.” Edwards says land is fortunately still affordable in Central Louisiana. Even so, she is now one of 100 land advocacy fellows spread out all over the country advocating for local and national policies that will guarantee equitable access to land for the next generation of farmers. And she has witnessed the impact of Black land loss in her work with Jubilee Justice: In working with Black farmers, she has been made aware that, “there are not very many of us.” Like close to three-quarters of the farmers surveyed, Edwards has also witnessed the impacts of climate change as she plants and harvests. As older farmers age out and farming gets more difficult due to weather extremes, she said, supporting young farmers will become even more critical. “Young farmers are politically and socially driven, they’re environmentally conscious, they want to engage with their community, they want to solve the world’s issues—and they have the energy to do it,” Edwards said. “Instead of allowing for barriers to persist . . . [the government should] support people who are ready to do that work.” The post Young Farmers Are Growing Food for Climate Action and Racial Justice appeared first on Civil Eats.

Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa

Farmer Ndaula Liwela, from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in […] The post Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Farmer Ndaula Liwela, from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in dry conditions. It’s several weeks after she would normally have planted her crops, “but we stopped ploughing when we saw the clouds were not even starting to build”. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November 2022, where ‘the African COP’ hoped to mobilize the funds and actions needed for a climate-resilient Africa, but this means very little to Liwela, whose immediate concern is around how to feed her family in the face of an increasingly uncertain future. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF-US Her home in Namibia’s northernmost province lies within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), the five-country transboundary park formed to protect biodiversity while supporting people who live in the landscape. It is not far from the Zambezi River, but is water-scarce. Each year, Liwela supplements her livelihood by harvesting baobab and other wild fruits, but this year, even this wild pantry looks likely to let her down. Many parts of Africa are increasingly affected by the dry season growing hotter and rainy seasons arriving later. Extreme events such as drought are increasing in frequency and severity. “Liwela’s story is not unique. Over the last year, we have interviewed farmers, fishers, grass harvesters, and many others who rely on natural resources in this region. They have noted the impacts of changing weather patterns on their ability to sustain themselves. This leaves them vulnerable, not just to climate change impacts, but also to other shocks, like the COVID-19 pandemic,” says WWF Namibia’s Sigrid Nyambe. She has been working with communities in this region to gather data on climate change impacts on communities as part of WWF’s Climate Crowd program. This information informs pilot projects to help rural communities adapt to the changes they are experiencing while reducing pressure on biodiversity. The latest IPCC Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability shows that many climate risks are bigger than previously anticipated, particularly for vulnerable African countries. Many nations have included nature-based solutions as part of their national climate change adaptation plans, but need financial and technical support for action at a grassroots level. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF US Addressing the Forum on Finance for Nature-Based Solutions organised by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee of Finance, UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary Ovais Sarmad said: “We face a double crisis of climate change and nature. The two are inextricably linked. The mutual, intertwined destruction grows worse by the day. If nature and climate change are linked, it only stands to reason that nature-based solutions lie at the heart of addressing both.” Yet, according to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in a recent article for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “only about 133 billion dollars are channeled into nature-based solutions, and investments must triple by 2030 to meet the climate, the nature, and land-neutrality targets.” “In the last few years, we’ve seen two crises climate change and a global pandemic – intersect. Both impact the most vulnerable communities the hardest and affect how people interact with their natural resources,” says WWF director of climate, communities, and wildlife Nikhil Advani. For example, in Namibia, climate change and the pandemic both increased the unsustainable use of natural resources, says Advani, who also runs the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. This project was launched in 2021 to connect funders to communities involved in nature-based tourism across 11 countries in eastern and southern Africa, helping to identify the hardest-hit communities and enterprises and their most pressing needs. Over half of Namibians interviewed in 2021-2022 for the Climate Crowd project reported direct impacts on local wildlife, including high mortality rates and wildlife migration to other areas where water and food are more abundant. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported that crops had failed or produced very little in recent years, and 62% noted declines in livestock health. About three-quarters of respondents said that the wild fruits harvested seasonally are also declining. And as natural resources become increasingly difficult to find, more people and their livestock come into conflict with wildlife. “The data we’ve collected shows that we need to focus more on adaptation efforts that protect the people who are most vulnerable,” he said. Within KAZA, there are examples and opportunities for resilience-building through initiatives that are also climate adaptation strategies. These practical, nature-compatible pilot projects being implemented through Climate Crowd often draw on solutions shaped by a community’s own traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices. Beekeeping is an environmentally friendly and potentially lucrative complementary industry helping communities cope with unpredictable crop yields. Youth in these communities are frequently unemployed and lack access to income-generating activities as rain-fed agriculture declines. In Namibia, one such project involves training youths from Muyako, Omega 3, and Luitcikxom villages in Bwabwata National Park in beekeeping. David Mushavanga, a local bee farmer with over 16 years of experience, will implement the project in partnership with WWF Climate Crowd and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism. Other projects being implemented in Namibia will focus on increasing water security through rainwater harvesting and solar powered boreholes, climate-smart agriculture, installing clean cookstoves, and other alternative livelihoods such as craft making. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF US “Climate Crowd is a bottom-up, community-driven initiative. It’s important to support projects the community feels a sense of ownership over. These projects can help them build resilience to multiple shocks and stressors. Environmental emergencies such as climate change could cause social and economic damages far larger than those caused by COVID-19,” says Advani. Through Climate Crowd and the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform, WWF works with community-based natural resource management organizations in several other eastern and southern African countries to provide funding and technical support for solutions that protect natural ecosystems and benefit people while building resilience to future shocks and stressors. For example in Malawi, a recently funded project led by African Nature-Based Tourism Platform partner KAWICCODA, supports the scaling up of conservation-friendly alternative livelihood activities within the five-kilometre belt around Kasungu National Park. “Both the climate crisis and pandemics threaten the wellbeing of people and nature, which is why we urgently need to pilot projects that make people and nature more resilient. We can learn from these grassroots-led initiatives. And then we can scale them,” says Advani. ____________________ About Climate Crowd WWF’s Climate Crowd works with partners in more than 30 countries to collect data on how vulnerable communities are affected by changes in weather and climate and how they cope with them. The data is analysed and presented back to the communities, who then work alongside WWF and partners to develop and implement on-the-ground solutions. WWF also shares the data online for researchers, educators, and conservation and development practitioners. Explore the data at wwfclimatecrowd.org. About the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform To capture the complete picture of the impacts and to help Africa’s tourism sector recover and become more resilient, WWF and a host of global, national, and regional partners created the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. Established in 2021 with $1.9 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Platform is gathering data on the impacts on communities and SMEs from the COVID-19 crisis, facilitating learning and knowledge exchange, identifying funding opportunities, and developing funding proposals with communities and SMEs. The post Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

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