What’s in our climate change fighting toolbox?
Stopping climate change may seem like a big undertaking, but we already have plenty of tools to help combat it. Here are just a few innovations already in the works.
Artificial intelligence. AI is one of the best ways to measure and track resource usage. And it has an endless number of other uses, such as analytics to predict extreme weather events, helping organizations anticipate risks or automating electricity grids to streamline electricity flow. AI software can also help optimize a building’s heating and cooling systems, thus reducing its carbon footprint. It can also help with precision agriculture to reduce the use of fertilizers or pesticides, enabling more sustainable farming methods.
Mushroom highway. Deep in the soil and unseen by the naked eye, a global network of fungi is busy delivering nutrients to plants – the fungi mycelium network removes carbon from plants in exchange for phosphorus and nitrogen. Unfortunately, fertilizers, pesticides and urbanization are destroying this natural cycle. Scientists are mapping the fungal network to understand how it can help in the fight against climate change – such as using it in urban green roof projects or incorporating it into organic farming methods.
Plastic-eating enzymes. Back in 2016, a group of scientists accidentally discovered the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis, found to have a hearty appetite for plastic water bottles. This prompted scientists to figure out how to modify it to gobble up more types of plastic, and faster. While plastic-eating enzymes aren’t yet a mainstream method of plastic waste disposal, we might hear more about them in the coming years. In the meantime, the best way to help reduce the global plastic problem is to limit our use of plastics in daily life.
Ocean garbage gobbler. If you’ve never heard of the Ocean Cleanup then you’ll want to read this. A simple idea created by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, this contraption looks almost like a giant Pac-Man that eats anything in its wake. It consists of two trawlers pulling a giant net that traps trash in a giant container while filtering out water and living organisms. The Ocean Cleanup is currently working its way through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, with plans to tackle other polluted bodies of water.
Durable wind turbines. In the nineties, NASA was researching how to power a sustainable ecological system on Mars. Wind turbines were found to be a viable option since the red planet is prone to massive windstorms. Using the South Pole as the closest Mars-like environment, NASA developed technology for a wind turbine that wouldn’t freeze in extreme cold temperatures and could withstand harsh conditions for a long time. Thanks to this technology, wind turbines are being used to power cold and remote areas here on Earth where they would not otherwise have been operable.
Reusing CO2 to make beer. The fermentation process is what creates the alcohol in beer, but it also creates carbon dioxide, which is needed later to carbonate the brew. Large breweries have systems in place to capture and store the CO2 released during fermentation. However, microbreweries can’t afford these larger systems and have no choice but to release gas from the fermentation process and buy CO2 from a vendor. Technology developed by NASA for Mars expeditions is being modified to help microbreweries put the bubbles into their beer without having to waste and then buy CO2.
The kids are on it
When it comes to saving the planet, young people are often front and centre. Greta Thunberg might come to mind, but youth from all over the world are not only speaking up about climate change but trying to do something about it. Here are a few creative ideas:
Eat that plastic. Disposal of plastic has been a major hurdle ever since its invention – not all plastics can be recycled, much of it is contaminated and all of it takes hundreds of years to break down. But a couple of young Canadians have started a biotech company, called Decomp, that brings a unique solution to the problem. The company employs bioreactors to grow plastic-eating microbes that break down plastics in a matter of weeks, instead of hundreds of years in a landfill, including contaminated and non-recyclable plastics.
Save the bees. Honeybees, which are so important for maintaining the environment, face dwindling populations caused by things like infestations and droughts. To the rescue is an innovative group of youth from Mexico who have invented a device that supports bee populations and protects apiaries. The device helps prevent ant infestations, provides water during dry seasons and assists in growing flora for pollination.
Salty farms. A youth-led start-up from Scotland, Seawater Solutions, is taking charge on a number of different initiatives related to sustainable agriculture. From using seawater instead of freshwater in farming, to stabilizing coastlines and creating clean waterways, to helping rural and coastal communities turn underused land into wetland ecosystems, this group is teaching others how to farm using the natural resources available in their unique regions.