“Right now the human race is at a turning point,” voices Marvin Pemberton, local climate justice educator. As climate-related extreme weather events continue to shock our world, innovators are rapidly developing new technology to combat climate change. Here are a few revolutionary designs that could help reduce carbon emissions and lay the groundwork for a sustainable future.
As you merge onto Portland’s Morrison Bridge, a large, boxy building covered in 50 potted trees might catch your eye. This unique architectural style is called a vertical forest. Vertical forests are a sustainable model for urban infrastructure, specifically residential buildings. They absorb CO2 and dust particles that contaminate densely populated urban areas, regulate the temperature of both the interior and exterior of the building, and contribute to metropolitan reforestation. Although plants in vertical forests require more water and fertilizer than traditional horizontal forests due to greater exposure to the elements, automatic drip/drainage systems can reduce maintenance duties. By staggering the overhanging balconies that house vegetation, vertical forests can accommodate the added weight without compromising the architectural integrity of the building.
Bioplastics, unlike traditional plastics, are made of raw materials such as starch, sugar, or cellulose. Bioplastics break down completely via a natural process and therefore possess a small carbon footprint. Due to their environmentally friendly attributes, the production capacity of bioplastics is predicted to grow by 15% from 2019 to 2024. Unfortunately, bioplastics are about 2-3 times more expensive than the major conventional oil-based plastics such as PE, polyethene, or PET, polyethylene terephthalate. But as the bioplastics industry continues to expand and manufacturing plants are upgraded, this gapping cost difference will shrink dramatically.
Offshore Wind Power:
Offshore wind power is the generation of electricity through wind farms in bodies of water, usually at sea. In the summer of 2021, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill to commence planning for offshore wind facilities along the state’s coast. Similar efforts have been sanctioned by the Biden Administration across the country as a part of a larger national effort to switch to renewable energy. Offshore wind farms have many advantages over their terrestrial counterparts; the higher wind speeds of coastal areas generate more electricity and do not require expansive undeveloped plots of land. This infrastructure can cause harm to fragile marine ecosystems, including habitat displacement, exposure to electromagnetic fields, and underwater noise. However, offshore wind farms can also act as preservation areas because fishing and bottom trawling are prohibited around the structures, which protects biodiversity within those safety zones.
Despite efforts to adopt renewable fuels, fossil fuels remain our primary source of energy on a global scale. These fuels, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, may be cost effective but they emit carbon dioxide gas into the air, which contributes to climate change. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Besides reforestation (converting previously forested land to forest), one of the most effective ways to sequester carbon is through improved agricultural practices. For example, minimizing soil erosion through ameliorated tilling practices, using more efficient fertilizer to prevent the leaching of excess nitrates, and restoring degraded land.
Beef and other red meats, common staples in many American diets, have some of the largest carbon footprints in food production. To reduce these environmental costs, many have chosen to adopt plant-based diets; however, this lifestyle is not feasible nor accessible for many folks. Lab-grown meat, also referred to as clean meat, may be the solution. The process begins by nonviolently harvesting a microscopic muscle sample from an animal, such as a cow or pig. Cells are then collected from the sample, multiplied, and transformed into primitive fibers that bulk up to form muscle tissue. Major companies and prominent philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, have donated to the lab-grown meat field. Although these financial contributions are promising, the public remains largely skeptical of the concept.
Our future will be determined by the innovation of today. We must adapt our lifestyles to be compatible with our changing climate. We must push corporations to prioritize the survival of humanity. “We can not continue to sell our precious planet for profit,” declares Pemberton. “We have all the necessary technology, we just need the will to change.”