Innovating a Path Out of the Climate Emergency
The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily reduced greenhouse gas emissions by keeping everyone at home, but global temperatures continued to rise and 2020 tied 2016 as the single hottest year on record. The World Meteorological Organization says there’s a 20% chance that by 2024 the average global temperature will surpass pre-industrial era levels by 1.5 degrees Celsius – the threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
In response, researchers are developing new technologies that could help us avert catastrophe and build a more livable world.
To mitigate sources of excessive carbon emissions, we need to find them. Emerging methods for doing so include:
- Applying machine learning to data from satellites and sensors to identify emissions hotspots
- Using artificial intelligence (AI) to model supply chains and choose the least carbon-emitting equipment
Changing our carbon-intensive ways
Shifting to lower-carbon energy sources is key to slowing climate change. That may look like biofuel made from seaweed or solar-collecting clothing or capturing the kinetic energy of rain, ocean waves, and the frequent starts and stops of skyscraper elevators.
Software code could be trimmed down to use less power. Plastics could be free of petroleum and made of material that captures carbon dioxide (C02) when it’s produced.
Buildings could have carbon fiber walls that store energy, elevators with regenerative brakes, or windows made from transparent wood that’s five times more thermally efficient than glass.
We could equip our homes and offices with AI-driven smart devices that track and optimize power use in real time.
Healing the harm
To reverse human-caused climate change, we have to remove what we’ve already emitted. Ways we might do that include:
- Genetically altering crops to have deeper, sturdier roots that take longer to decompose and therefore keep carbon in the ground for years.
- Using biochar technology to turn agricultural waste into a charcoal-like fertilizer that’s nutrient-rich and retains CO2 for up to 100 years.
- Transforming industrial exhaust into synthetic limestone for making concrete.
- Using a common volcanic mineral called olivine to filter CO2 out of rainwater and break it down into compounds that marine organisms digest into their shells and skeletons. When those organisms settle onto the ocean floor, they eventually accrete into layers of rock and remain undisturbed for millions of years.