A series of frightening headlines has defined 2018. We have 12 years to drastically reduce emissions before catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable. The earth appears to be at a turning point, causing global systems to become "greenhouse", resulting in temperature rises of up to 5 degrees and sea-level rise of up to 200 meters. We kill animal and insect species in almost unprecedented speed.
There have also been a number of radical ideas this year that will help humanity find a way out of the mess. Some are new, others are the development of much older ideas are some controversial.
Nobody will single-handedly save the world, not even close. For that we need a fundamental change in our economy and our societies. But the emergence of these radical, innovative and sometimes fearsome ideas shows the increasing acceptance of the great challenges we face. Here we look at five of them.
Turning the Sun Down
In spring 2019, a group of Harvard University scientists will launch balloons into the atmosphere to blow up calcium carbonate particles. The goal: to see if they can lower the temperature of the earth.
It will be the first real test of a decade-old technology called solar geoengineering, previously limited to laboratory experiments. The basic idea is to seed the atmosphere with gases to block some of the sun's rays – by reflecting them into space – thus lowering the planet's temperature. The process mimics the effects of large volcanic eruptions in which released gases have caused global cooling.
Geoengineering is one of the most extreme weapons in the arsenal of ideas for reducing the effects of climate change. And it's an idea with the support of a group of people who are not known to take climate change seriously. But as we face the onslaught of catastrophic temperature rises, we see an increase of 4 ° C (7 ° F) in August, according to a government environmental statement, and the attractiveness of the technology is obvious.
This is not the case No one really knows how well it could work or what it might have after the launch. There are concerns that in some regions disturbance of the rain pattern or harvest of sunlight could occur. If we focus on geoengineering and then suddenly have to stop, temperatures could rise rapidly, extinguish species, and accelerate climate change, according to a January 2018 study.
As global temperatures continue to rise Some scientists say that we can not afford to write off the technology. "Not talking about geoengineering is the biggest mistake we can make now," said David Fahey, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nature .
Using Electricity to Recover Coral Reefs
Warming of the seas is bad news for corals. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which is considered one of the natural wonders of the world, was destroyed by temperature increases. In 2016 and again in 2017, it was hit by mass bleaching events that essentially boiled the reef and killed large parts of this colorful underwater world.
The death of coral all over the world is devastating for life in the sea in turn harms the people who rely on reef fish to feed themselves and their families. Besides, reefs are a big generator of tourism dollars for communities.
However, scientists are experimenting with the regrowth of corals using electricity. They place steel frames on parts of the reef that have been severely damaged during bleaching, and then electrify them, forming mineral deposits that help corals grow faster. This method is being tested in Indonesia and parts of the Great Barrier Reef damaged by the bleaching process.
Injured corals that have been moved into these structures grow up to 20 times faster and have a 50-fold better chance of survival, according to the BBC report.
The disadvantage? It's relatively expensive and teams need to figure out how to use clean energy instead of relying on fossil fuels. Although this method allows faster coral growth, another question is whether it can ever compete with the destruction rate. The growth of coral can take hundreds and hundreds of years.
The Plastic Eating Mutant Enzyme
In April, scientists announced that they had accidentally discovered a mutant enzyme that could "eat" plastic. It breaks down the polymers into P.E.T., a very common type of plastic commonly used in disposable beverage bottles.
Unlike many other recycling processes that degrade plastic, the material left behind after the enzyme's work can be recycled into high-quality, transparent plastic.
The story won a There is a lot of traction as it seems to offer a new solution to our plastic waste crisis. More than 16,000 plastic bottles are purchased worldwide, one million per minute. Most of them land in landfills or in the environment, where they take up to 400 years to biodegrade.
This accumulated plastic waste heavily pollutes our environment, stifling rivers and oceans, fills the stomachs of fish, birds and other animals and even ends up in our feces. Of the plastic waste produced between 1950 and 2015 only 9 percent were recycled .
Of course, the enzyme does not address the root of the problem: the reality that our consumption gets out of control. Louise Edge, a Greenpeace activist on the oceans, told HuffPost, "What we really need is system change, and one enzyme alone can not eliminate the complex and widespread legacy of existing plastic pollution."
However, the scientists are very enthusiastic about the possibilities and are looking for other enzymes that could break down more plastics. "This unexpected discovery suggests that there is still room to further improve these enzymes, allowing us to approach a recycling solution for the ever-expanding mountain of discarded plastics," said John McGeehan, a professor of biology at the University of Portsmouth, and a leader Scientists on the research.
Few creatures inspire as much squeamishness as cockroaches, synonymous with dirty states and disease. In China, however, they are experiencing a renaissance as a possible solution to the mountains of food waste produced each year.
They have been grown for their presumptive medicinal properties to help with stomach aches, colds, and other ailments, and are now used as living waste facilities. At a facility in Jinan, Shandong Province, eastern China, operated by Shandong Qiaobin, a billion-plant cockroach, 50 tonnes of food waste is delivered daily. The food arrives before dawn, reports Reuters and is fed through pipes into the cells of the cockroaches.
The system is circular. The cockroach excrement is used to make manure, and when the cockroaches die, they are processed into animal feed. "It's like turning waste into resources," said Li Hongyi, chairman of Shandong Qiaobin.
The company plans to build three more plants by the end of the year to process one-third of kitchen waste in Jinan City, which is home to 7 million people.
The catch? If the cockroaches flee the facility, they could destroy the local environment. In 2013 more than 1 million could be escaped from a farm after someone had destroyed the greenhouse they were in.
Lab Grown Meat
Our diets were scrutinized this year as one study after another indicated the desperate need of people in richer countries to drastically cut their meat consumption to prevent the world from slipping into dangerous climate change.
Now our diet could come literally under the microscope, while we focus on the first commercially available meat from the lab.
Agriculture has a huge impact on the environment as it requires large tracts of land and large amounts of resources such as water. Then there are the emissions – meat and dairy products account for 60 percent of agriculture's emissions. But people still like to eat meat.
A group of startups believe they have the answer: meat grows without having to breed and slaughter an animal. Known as, among other things, farmed meat, laboratory-grown meat and non-slaughtered meat, it is produced by feeding animal cells with nutrients, sugars and growth factors. Only one company based in San Francisco states that chicken grown in the laboratory will soon be on the market, and Memphis Meat, another company, says its chicken strips will be ready in 2019 and expensive. At the moment, a burger from the lab would put you back on $ 600. Of course, these costs are often a problem for early-stage technology, and companies are confident that prices can be drastically reduced. We also do not have enough information about the environmental impact of producing laboratory-grown meat and, above all, whether people can overcome the "ick" factor and actually eat it.
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