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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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See Through Carbon Competition – 1st Winner Announced

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First Competition winner of US$500,000 supercomputing giveaway for Global South sustainability aces interview

Congratulations, Dr. Samuel Adekunle

Dr. Samuel Adekunle, a Johannesburg-based Nigerian researcher in the built environment, has won the first share of our See Through Carbon Competition, with a prize fund of USD 500,000 worth of advanced computing technology to promote carbon drawdown in the world’s poorest countries.

He will immediately work with the donor, whose identity can now be revealed, to get the emissions data he and his team has been gathering in two of Africa’s biggest cities over the past 18 months ready for cloud computing.

Once the winner and the donor have determined the amount of compute required, the remainder will be announced and will remain available for further applications. This pilot Competition ends when the US$500,000 is exhausted, or April 10th 2023, whichever comes first.

Dr. Samuel Adekunle is a researcher in construction and the built environment at the University of Johannesburg. He was awarded a share of the computing prize, after convincing a panel of experts judging the competition of the merits of his project.

Highlights of his interview can be seen online on the See Through News YouTube Channel. Worth a watch, even if you’re not thinking of applying.

A Carbon Tale of Two African Cities

For the past 18 months, Dr. Adekunle has been monitoring emissions at two of Africa’s biggest airports, Lagos and Johannesburg, as well as downtown areas in both cities. His project proposes using the cloud computing on offer to analyse real-time data his team has gathered from an array of sensors deployed to monitor emissions patterns, in order to:

  • benchmark the current level of emissions at a granular scale
  • identify actionable ways of informing ordinary citizens how to change their behaviour to reduce emissions

Dr. Adekunle is very familiar with both airports. As a native of Lagos, Nigeria, who now studies at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, where he was awarded his Doctorate, he’s had an intimate personal experience of them over the past few years.

In his interview, which Competition organiser See Through News has made available online in the interests of transparency and to help other potential candidates with their applications, Dr. Samuel explained:

“Aside from creating a framework for carbon emissions for the Global South, there’s also the aspect of using nudges to make people and stakeholders aware of the impact of carbon, and make them also conscious and intentional in terms of their activities, so that they don’t do things that add to carbon emissions, and increase their carbon footprint.

For 18 months, Dr. Adekunle’s team has been collecting data from various emissions sensors placed around the airports, and in downtown areas. He’s passionate not just about learning lessons from this data, but also passing them on to ordinary citizens in his native and adopted homes. Or as he says,

Taking lessons from the ivory towers to the common man in the streets”.

The project fulfilled both aspects on the Competition organiser See Through News’s Goal of ‘Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active’ – the criteria by which submissions were being assessed. In his interview, Dr. Adekunle stressed the importance of education:

Most of the people on the streets don’t even know about it [carbon emissions]. So how do we even cascade this from our ‘ivory towers’? How do we bring it to the ordinary man on the street to say ‘you must be involved in what is affecting us all’?”

With Dr. Adekunle’s consent, See Through News has made his interview with the Expert Panel available online. An edited version can be found on the See Through News YouTube Channel, with the full version also available online.

The video shows Dr. Adekunle being questioned by Subject, Technical and Political Experts who assess different aspects of the shortlisted applications suitability for this unusual award.

Expert Panel Reactions

On behalf of the many volunteers who have transformed an unexpected pre-Christmas gift to a Global South winner in less than two months, See Through News founder and Panel Chair Robert Stern thanked Dr. Adenkunle for his prompt application, rapid response to requests for clarifications by the shortlist panel, and willingness to share his interview experience with others.

‘Samuel has demonstrated admirable altruistic spirit of transparency throughout, sharing the spirit of open source, collaborative transparency that See Through News seeks to foster. He makes no copyright claim for his research, and has agreed to the unusual step of sharing his interview recording online. As our first successful applicant, Samuel understands better than anyone the challenges involved in bringing such advanced technology to researchers who’ve not yet accessed it, so wants his own experience to be a case study to help others in their applications. As a pioneering researcher himself, Samuel knows the challenges, as well as the thrill, of trying something new. The panel is all delighted we can help him make the most of his impressive research. We look forward to the results, and discovering how they might rapidly be deployed to speed up carbon drawdown by helping the Inactive become Active.’

Global Sustainable Future Network, a non-profit alliance of early-career researchers in the Global South, partnered with See Through News to promote the Competition to its network, and shortlist applicants. In her assessment of Dr. Adekunle’s proposal, GSFN Founder Dr. Renuka Thakore, a carbon auditing expert, emphasised its bold spirit of enquiry:

“Samuel deserves this. As a researcher myself, looking at this project, we are not looking for ultimate answers here, We’re looking to understand what we can do, how we can improve, and how we can bring something to the table of the common people, as Samuel has described it, who can actively be engaged with this.”

Details of the Competition, and its extraordinary origins, can be found in a previous press release.

Competition Expert Panel Announced

Information on the Expert Panelists can be found elsewhere on the See Through News website. Details will be updated as we add new experts in a broad range of expertises, but all are volunteering their time.

The initial line-up includes:

  • Jonathan Watts, Global Environment Editor of The Guardian
  • Dr. Renuka Thakore, Carbon Auditing expert and founder of the Global Sustainable Futures Network
  • Guy Watson, founder of Riverford Organic Vegetables
  • Dr. Michael Uschold, leading ontological taxonomist and expert in knowledge representation.
  • Dr. Joe Jack Williams, carbon auditing expert in the construction industry and AI PhD supervisor
  • Dr. Susan Lechelt, human-computer interaction expert at Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics
  • Robert Barnard-Weston, veteran sustainability consultant and eco-entrepreneur
  • Tom Beese, serial advanced computing entrepreneur
  • Robert Stern, founder of See Through News

The panel provides feedback to applications shortlisted by Competition partner the Global Sustainable Futures Network. In the interests of transparency and education, all shortlisted applications, together with the Experts’ feedback, will be published on the See Through News website. The Panel aims to assess each shortlisted application with feedback from at least one expert from each of the following three categories:

  • Technical Experts, who assess an Application’s computing requirements
  • Subject Experts, with specialist knowledge to assess feasibility and methodology
  • Political Experts, who assess applications against the See Through News Goal, and how quickly the research results might start measurably reducing real world carbon

Applications are still open, as there’s likely to be a large amount of compute still available, even after Dr. Adekunle’s data is processed.

Before applying, the organisers recommend that applicants carefully read the following points – all accessible on this website.

Anonymous Competition Donor Revealed

Not wanting unearned publicity, the donor of the half million dollar’s-worth of computing, wanted to reamin anonymous until a winner was found. Following this announcement of the first Competition winner, the donor has now reluctantly removed its mask.

Keen readers of our deep dive article on the Internet’s dirty carbon secret, AI, Climate Change and Monkeys Climbing Trees, would not have found it a hard puzzle to solve. Emerging from the phone box Clark Kent entered is cloud computing management platform Yellow Dog.

CEO Tom Beese, one of the Expert Panel’s Technical Experts, said:

Now there is a first winner, we are delighted.  From the first moment of hearing what See Through News was setting out to do to increase the awareness and empowerment all of us in reducing carbon, we thought this an important initiative to support if we could.  And now, we think that Samuel Adekunle’s research could be a brilliant example of that initiative in action.  We congratulate him highly on his win and look forward very much to working with him. While we are becoming visible in our support of the SeeThrough Carbon initiative now that there is a first winner, the story is really about See Through Carbon and the winner, not us.  That is why we were very happy to be in the background throughout.