While human invention is a significant cause of the climate crisis, it could also be part of the solution. Here are five innovations - all in various stages of development - that offer a new way of tackling climate change.
Based on current trends, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste in the world. That’s 1.6 metric tons, for every person on the planet. This is because a staggering 91% of plastic is not recycled. Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, and only 12 percent has been incinerated. The sheer volume of waste has become unmanageable for many countries and therefore we are seeing increasing instances of leakage from global waste systems into the oceans, harming wildlife and threatening the safety of our water.
Tackling this issue is a team of researchers in Japan who inadvertently developed an enzyme that can break down plastic in a matter of days — far faster than the hundreds of years that plastic usually takes to decompose.
But PETase, as the modified enzyme is called, can’t get rid of plastic altogether, it can break plastic bottles down to their original elements, which can then be used to make recycled plastic. If this enzyme can be deployed on a mass scale, “we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment,” lead researcher, Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, UK, told the Guardian.
Wind power is a hugely underutilised resource. In fact, according to a report published in PNAS, a wind farm the size of Greenland built in the ocean could generate 18 terawatts (a trillion watts) of energy – the current global consumption level. If wind power can be harnessed at this level, it could replace fossil-fuel dependence — forever. This is because wind over the ocean is 70% stronger than wind over land and wind is replenishable at sea, unlike over land.
A of engineers are trying to achieve this level of wind power generation by building wind turbines that are over twice as large as the current biggest turbines. The SUMR wind project is building 50-megawatt turbines that are taller than the Eiffel Tower, each boasting 650-foot blades that function like palm tree fronds by adapting to and bending with the speed and direction of wind. The team are testing the design as a site in Colorado, but if successful, they claim that the mega turbines could reduce the cost of offshore wind power by 50 percent.
Trees provide a natural way of filtering air and water, storing greenhouse gas emissions, nourishing soil, providing food and shelter and nurturing ecosystems. Yet the global population of trees is in serious decline. According to the World Wildlife Fund, deforestation is responsible for the loss of 18.3 million acres of forest annually. With these trees gone, their life-sustaining benefits are also eroding. Although planting seeds to replace these lost trees is crucial, we are unable to match the pace of industrial deforestation.
BioCarbon, a UK-based company has a solution to keeping pace with deforestation. The company have developed a drone capable of spraying tree seeds throughout ravaged forests, rapidly speeding up the process of replanting. In fact, they claim they can plant 1 billion trees per year.
First of all mapping drones are used to determine the best planting strategy for a region. Once this has been established, planting drones are released, hovering six feet above the ground and firing tree seeds so fast that they get snugly implanted into the soil, allowing the best chance of them taking to the soil according to National Geographic.
“We are bridging this gap between ground-based technologies like tractors and aerial technologies such as helicopters,” explains BioCarbon Co-founder, Irina Fedorenko. “We have a title of tree-planting drone company, but we also do grasses, bushes, flowers, and a lot of fungi. It’s about restoring what is right for the environment, not just trees.”
A new UNESCO study estimates that of the 29 World Heritage reef areas, at least 25 of them will experience twice-per-decade severe bleaching events by 2040—a frequency that will “rapidly kill most corals present and prevent successful reproduction necessary for recovery of corals.” This means that most of world’s reefs will be gone by 2100 unless carbon emissions are reduced to prevent the ocean warming further.
Engineer Mo Ehsani has devised a way of keeping the reefs cool, providing relief to the coral and allowing it to recuperate. Using an underwater pipe that can pump cold water onto reefs, the system is able to cool the water around the reef down to prevent coral bleaching and protect their ecosystems. Whilst this solution does not prevent or address climate change, it serves to slow the decline of the world’s coral populations whilst action is taken to address global warming.
Climate change affects the survival of almost all ecosystems, including that of crops. Even mass produced, seemingly hardy crops such as coffee, chocolate, and corn stand to see a decline in yields due to the increased risk of drought, flooding, and pests caused by warming temperatures.
However, researchers are studying ways at enhancing the genetic properties of these crops, altering their building blocks to be able to better withstand the climate of the future. This genetic modification, could bolster crops against disruptions by providing genes that are pest-resistant, drought-resistant, or can withstand saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels.
The analysis found in Agriculture at a Crossroads, a landmark report issued by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development in 2009 found that although the potential of GMO crops is substantial, GMO crops are an unproven technology whose benefits remain highly uncertain.
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