Okay, so technology is sort of what got us into this environmental mess in first place. Following the industrial revolution, emissions, pollution and other eco-problems spiked. And our cars and electricity generation technologies are major causes of climate change.
But technology isn’t all bad — in fact, a new wave of environmental technologies might actually help save the planet from anthropogenic climate change and other crises.
While some argue we should use less technology to help restore our environment, others say we should double-down on our investments in environmental technology in the hopes that it eventually saves us. The ideal solution is likely somewhere in between.
While the following environmental technologies may not be the silver bullets that fix the climate, they could play a vital role in a broader effort.
Drones, which also have uses in many other areas, are one such environmental technology. They even have multiple uses within the environmental space.
Anti-poaching organizations such as the International Anti-Poaching Foundation use drones to monitor the areas where at-risk species live. These devices can detect poachers even under the cover of night with HD cameras, thermal imaging and other tools. Usually, the knowledge that they’re being watch is enough to scare poachers away.
Scientists, conservationists and other groups are using internet-connected sensors and other advanced devices to monitor the environment and reduce their impact on it. These devices can perform a wide range of tasks ranging from monitoring pollution levels to reducing energy use to detecting water leaks.
One particularly interesting technology is the Geo-spatial Measurement of Air Pollution (GMAP) system, which can test the air for pollutants at locations such oil and gas refineries and shipping terminals. This capability can help ensure that businesses are complying with environmental regulations and can enhance environmental impact transparency.
A vast portion of our greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels for electricity production, heating and transportation. The burgeoning renewable energy industry, including wind and solar, is beginning to change that.
According to the International Energy Agency, global renewable energy growth will be twice that of coal and natural gas combined in the next five years. Innovations in generation technologies, battery storage and other areas continue to make renewables more competitive with fossil fuels. Plus, the electrification of cars and other commodities means they have the potential to use renewable energy too.
The world has produced an estimated 8.3 billion tons of virgin plastic to date, and only about nine percent of it gets recycled. Much of the rest litters the natural environment or sits in landfills where they take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
To address this problem, researchers are experimenting with various types of biodegradable, plant-based “plastics.” We can make these bioplastics from potato starch, sugar cane and other natural materials.
Major corporations like Coca-Cola have even begun using plant-based plastics. While we may not have found a perfect solution to our plastic problem, we’re certainly making progress.
Another technology group worth mentioning, even if it seems less groundbreaking than drones or bioplastics, is the smartphone app. There is a range of apps designed to help consumers reduce their environmental impacts.
Examples include the Carbon Emissions Calculator app from the International Civil Aviation Organization, which estimates the emissions produced by your flying habits. Another is GoodGuide, which gives you information about products’ environmental impacts when you scan them in stores.
These apps, while they don’t help the environment directly, are a prime example of how tech makes it easier for everyday people to reduce their eco-footprint and increase their awareness.
With a combination of tech tools for consumers, conservationists, governments and businesses — and an earnest effort to reduce how much we use technologies that cause harm to the planet — perhaps we will start to see a healthier environment.
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