As humanity advances to ever greater levels of technological progress, we are confronted with the consequences of that progress with increasing regularity. Each year seems to break records as the hottest ever, while flood-causing storms and drought-causing heat are becoming commonplace.
It’s now harder than ever to deny the reality that our climate is changing at a frightening pace, and the evidence is overwhelming that this change is at least fast-tracked by human activity. As an industrious species, we’re burning fossil fuels at record rates, causing 37 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere every single year. That’s the equivalent of 101,000 Empire State Buildings worth of carbon dioxide!
Most of us know the science behind that equation: The more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the more the sun’s heat gets trapped on earth’s surface, and our climate adjusts to those rising temperatures, causing more intense evaporation creating larger storm systems, and parching our land causing more severe drought.
It is argued that humanity is fast running out of time. The need for intervention has never been greater.
But what are our options in the face of such an ominous outlook?
While public intellectual Steven Pinker agrees that Climate Change is civilisation’s most serious existential threat next to nuclear war, he is also convinced of mankind’s technological prowess to build effective solutions. Humanity’s rise has been due to our ability to fight against the elements of the cold, the dark, and long distances using technology. Now we can do the same with an element brought on by our own doing, a warmer climate.
Is Our Answer Big Tech?
While big tech admittedly has an enormous carbon footprint, estimated to be around 2 to 3% of all global emissions, it is seeking to undo much of the damage it has caused. Amazon has targeted 2040 as the year it will achieve net-zero carbon emissions, reaching 50% of that milestone by 2030. In addition to its carbon neutral goals, the e-commerce powerhouse aims to be run on entirely renewable energy by as soon as 2025.
Google has set 2030 as the year they operate 24/7 on carbon-free energy, and aims to replenish 120% of the water they consume, an important step in contributing to sustainable water security. Their largest competitor, Apple, has also identified 2030 as a key date in their fight against climate change, aiming for every Apple device sold to have a net-zero climate impact by that time.
Microsoft is pushing the limits of what is possible, stating that they plan to remove all the carbon they have been responsible for since their inception in 1975. The computer behemoth aims to achieve this considerable landmark by 2050, and on the way there will reach 100% renewable energy operation by 2025, and will become carbon negative by 2030.
Even if the titans of Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft do indeed achieve these admirable targets, will it be enough? Some experts believe their pioneering vision is key to rallying more of the tech industry into effective action.
In a recent protest in Glasgow, Scotland, climate activist Greta Thunberg said that the climate crisis had already been solved, the solutions just haven’t been implemented yet. She pointed to numerous proposals and fact-based solutions, claiming that humanity only needed to “wake up and change.”
The solutions are diverse, but provably effective. From groundbreaking carbon capture tech to electric air travel, and tokenised carbon credits to seaweed for cattle. Some of the most innovative work being done in the fight for our climate will surprise you.
Carbon Capture Tech
Capturing the carbon already released into earth’s atmosphere is one of the most important tasks we face in this fight. It’s common knowledge that vegetation removes carbon dioxide from the environment, synthesising it in energy production, and releasing oxygen. And with the math suggesting that there is more CO2 being released than there are plants to consume it, man-made carbon capture is one of our more promising solutions.
Net Zero Teeside is one of the world’s leading industrial clusters doing just that. NZT in Middlesbrough, UK have developed pioneering carbon capture technology, and are able to produce 860 MegaWatts of carbon negative electricity, with carbon captured at source, which is then transported to geological storage via pipeline several kilometers below the North Sea.
Electric Air Travel
Greta Thunberg and leading climate scientists believe that air travel is the worst possible form of transportation due to the amount of CO2 emitted and the way in which those emissions happen. Experts have warned that unless something drastic is done to transform air travel, the world’s economies will never achieve their environmental targets.
A key contributor to this transformation will likely be a move to electric air travel, with EasyJet identifying leading E-plane engineers Wright Electric as the most effective solution they’ve seen. The airline has invested heavily into the engineering firm, who have already conducted tests on a 1.5 megawatt electric motor. The plan is to introduce the hybrid aircraft into Europe’s second-busiest route by 2030, traversing the 500 km journey between London and Amsterdam.
Tokenised Carbon Credits
Scientists, economists and politicians alike have identified a carbon scoring system that incentivises corporations to radically reduce their carbon emissions. The Carbon Credit system allows market mechanisms to drive business processes to be less carbon intensive, and utilise tradable permits representing the right to emit a set amount of CO2. One carbon credit is equal to one tonne of CO2 or equivalent gasses, and companies that capture CO2 out of the Earth’s atmosphere can sell those credits, while companies that emit CO2 can purchase them – thereby ensuring a climate equilibrium in a given economy.
Experts believe that tokenising the Carbon Credit system via Web 3 technology is one of the most effective means to scale the mechanism. IBM’s Senior VP of blockchain was recently quoted as saying that the technology is imperative to creating effective marketplaces for this kind of solution. The EcoWatt project on Polygon is one such solution, with a real portfolio of green energy assets backing each of its one billion digital tokens. The company has built an ecosystem that tokenises the carbon credits of renewable energy, cleantech and reforestation projects, enabling global brands to become carbon neutral, and participate in climate action projects through NFTs.
Alternative Cattle Feed
It’s common knowledge that humanity’s affection for dairy and beef has contributed significantly to the climate disaster. The 996 million heads of cattle on earth today are responsible for a devastating 13% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. But a recent discovery could transform that equation into one of the most promising stories of the century.
On Prince Edward Island in Canada, farmer Joe Dorgan discovered that his organic seaweed is able to reduce cattle’s gaseous emissions by an astonishing 40%. Dorgan produces organic seaweed for numerous culinary and fertilizer applications, and knew the health benefits of his product. Based on a hunch, he added it to cattle feed and tested the animal’s emissions, confirming the results with the Dalhousie University in Canada’s Nova Scotia district.
The discovery has scientists stumbling for its application, with conservative estimates targeting a global reduction of CO2 emissions by a remarkable 5.2% based on the diet change alone.
Is It Enough?
While these technologies are still in their infancy, there is no doubt there is overwhelming promise in their ability to turn back the climate clock. Adding seaweed to the entire planet’s cattle food supply isn’t going to be a walk in the park, and neither is shifting the world’s corporations to trade on Web 3 digital asset platforms for carbon credits, but experts believe that incrementally they could contribute to shifting the tide.
A significant tidal shift is indeed needed in the fight against catastrophic climate disaster, and technologies of this nature are certainly hope inducing.
As Samuel Smiles so eloquently stated, “Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.”
And we can all agree, a miracle is most certainly needed here.