New AI Tech Could Slash Our Pollution Problem?

One traffic light at a time

Key Takeaways

  • Google is using AI to make traffic lights more efficient as part of an effort to decrease pollution.
  • The Google project is part of an accelerating trend of using AI to combat emissions and climate change. 
  • Google claims its solution causes a 10%-20% reduction in fuel consumption and delay time at intersections.
A cyclist biking past factories spewing out smoke from chimneys.

Frans Lemmens / Getty Images

When it comes to reducing emissions, technology could help small steps add up to produce big results. 

Google is working on a project that could use artificial intelligence (AI) to make traffic lights more efficient in a bid to decrease pollution. It’s part of a growing effort to harness the power of AI to fight climate change. 

"AI can help climate change through the energy sector by making the grid smarter," Yeganeh Hayeri, an environment and transportation expert at the Stevens Institute of Technology, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

The use of AI "can improve cargo transport, it can drastically change our supply chain models, it can help us with more energy-efficient building designs, etc. The list is long," Hayeri added. "AI provides us with tools that overall can make our complex systems more sustainable and effective."

One Light at a Time

Google said it is testing AI technology in Israel to optimize the efficiency of traffic lights. The company claims the solution causes a 10%-20% reduction in fuel consumption and delay time at intersections. 

Google has run pilots of the AI-based traffic signal optimizer technology at four locations in Israel, in collaboration with Haifa municipality and Israel National Roads Company. The company said it plans to pilot the program in other countries soon. 

Kate Brandt, Google's chief sustainability officer, said in a video presentation that the company worked on calculating traffic conditions and timing at intersections in cities across the world and then began training an AI model to optimize those inefficient intersections.

"Inefficient traffic lights are bad for the environment and bad for public health because idling cars mean wasted fuel and more street-level air pollution," she said. "This is an opportunity for AI to help create breakthrough change."

Climate Perceptions

Sometimes, fighting climate change is about countering misperceptions around the issue, experts say. uses AI-driven systems to combat climate misinformation. The company claims its technology can find climate change disinformation narratives running across social media platforms and notify organizations and governments. 

"Climate change disinformation spread by malicious actors taking the form of competitors, opposing nation-states, and even fringe groups is common and deeply integrated into the vast amount of news we as a population have access to in the 21st century," Wasim Khaled, the CEO of, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Heavy traffic on a ten-lane freeway.

Robert Landau / Getty Images

Last year, Blackbird.AI's technology detected a high volume of conversations around the notion of "climate change lockdowns" as a potential method the government could use to combat climate change.  Lockdown conversations first emerged after an article titled "Avoiding a Climate Lockdown" was published by a reputable media organization, Project Syndicate. 

"Though the article touched on hypothetical worst-case scenarios such as climate change lockdowns, the focus of the article was on how, if we can make changes now, we will avoid extreme measures and irreversible damage to our planet," Khaled said. 

AI is also helping better predict the effects of pollution and climate change. For example, researchers use the AI-driven Deep Emulator Network Search (DENSE) technique to improve a simulation around the way soot and aerosols reflect and absorb sunlight

AI systems are helping to improve the overall harvest quality and accuracy—known as precision agriculture. AI technology helps in detecting disease in plants, pests, and poor nutrition of farms. For example, the company aWhere uses AI to understand how pollution and climate change impact agricultural yields. 

"By understanding weather patterns, drought cycles, and seasonal flooding, aWhere can enable farmers to better prepare and mitigate the impact of extreme weather events," tech analyst Daniel Intolubbe-Chmil told Lifewire in an email interview. "However, the impact of these solutions doesn't stop at a farmer's yield, as food crises quickly become humanitarian crises."

Was this page helpful?