The planet is in jeopardy. Humans are both causing and contending with deforestation, ocean acidification and climbing temperatures, to name a few of our less-than-benign legacies
Here are my picks for 5 technologies most likely to help save the Earth.
1. SAVING ENDANGERED WILDLIFE
Modern technology owes ecology an apology, environmental scientists have started focusing on remedying the ecological balance caused by human beings. An integral part of the ecosystem, technology now is being widely used in saving wildlife. Some of the measures taken worldwide in protecting the fauna are:
- Smart collars embedded with GPS, meters, and sensors to keep track of endangered species like rhinos and elephants
- Remote monitoring of wildlife sounds and noises to detect any predator harm or natural distress
- SIM-based collars for animals near human habitats to reduce animal-human conflicts
- Gene sequencing techniques to save endangered species from incurable diseases like cancer
- Conservation drones to track and monitor wild forest regions for any natural disasters like forest fires that can cause animals to be killed
- Predictive analytics for animals to gather information about every species on the planet and work comprehensively in protecting them
Power is the limiting factor holding back a lot of green technologies. Wind and solar, for example, are capable of generating vast amounts of electricity, but adoption of the technologies has been throttled by a major shortcoming: Sometimes it isn’t windy or sunny. Electric cars, similarly, are making huge strides, but until range increases and charging times diminish, fossil fuels are going to rule.
Existing battery technology won’t cut it. For one thing, it’s too expensive. According to the Clean Air Task Force, for California to meet ambitious goals of powering itself through renewable only, the state would need to spend $ 360 billion on energy storage systems. One company called Form Energy is developing what are known as aqueous aqueous sulphur-flow batteries that will cost somewhere between $1 to $10 per kilowatt-hour, compared with lithium’s $200 per kilowatt-hour cost. Storage times should increase, too, perhaps lasting months. Form’s solution could help California meet its energy targets before the middle of the century, providing a road map for the rest of the world.
3. ENVIRONMENTAL SENSORS
To heal the planet, we need to measure it. Distributed sensors are one of the unsung technologies allowing that to happen, and the continued spread of the networked sensor environment will be one of the undergirding technologies behind nearly every sustainability effort imaginable.
Want an example? Back in the 1980s, taller smokestacks helped reduce local air pollution on the east coast. The problem was the smokestacks were correlated to a higher rate of acid rain, which was leading to vast deforestation. How was the connection drawn? Early networked pollution sensors.
The technology, of course, has advanced since then. Networked sensors as small as a dime are already monitoring air and water quality, identifying pollutants, tracking acidification, and capturing real-time data on phenomena that are crucial to our social and economic wellbeing. Wearable air quality sensors are on their way, and localized sensor networks monitoring energy and water usage in buildings are cutting down on waste. The further proliferation of these sensors will dramatically impact the way we live.
4. CARBON CAPTURE
There’s too much carbon dioxide in the air, and it’s warming our planet. What if we could capture and sequester it?
That’s the premise of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), an emerging class of technologies that are primed to play an important role in the health of our planet in the decades ahead. According to the CCS Association, capture technologies allow the separation of carbon dioxide from gases produced in electricity generation and industrial processes by one of three methods: pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture, and oxyfuel combustion. The carbon is transported by pipeline and stored in rock formations far below ground.
5. FAKE MEAT
Dear carnivores, I have good news and bad news. First the bad: Meat production is absolutely atrocious for the planet. In 2017, more than 15,000 world scientists signed a Warning to Humanity calling for, among other things, drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of meat. One issue is land use. The production of beef relies on 164 square meters of grazing land per 100 grams of meat and is one of the major causes of deforestation in Central and South America, leading to unprecedented carbon release into the atmosphere. The Food and Agriculture Organization believes livestock accounts for about 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Animals also use huge amounts of freshwater while the contaminated runoff from industrial livestock operations pollutes local waterways.
The good news? Fake meat is finally good. Really good. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are delivering delicious alternatives to meat that stand as pretty decent substitutes for the real thing. As much as the technological achievement and advanced food science, the real triumph of these companies is that they’ve made fake meat culturally hip. You can now order meatless burgers at Burger King and get a meat-free taco at Del Taco