Feature Story

Two technologies to give planet Earth some breathing room

by Blake Snow

Two technologies to give planet Earth some breathing room

The number of greenhouse gases we annually emit has been significantly reduced over the last decade, but we've still got a long way to go.

Every April for nearly 50 years, humanity has celebrated Earth Day. On this day and much of the month leading up to it, various events are held to raise awareness and show support for environmental protection, conservation, and restoration.

This year will be no different. But unfortunately for Mother Earth, we've so far come up short in developing sustainable solutions towards cleaning up our airborne pollution so she can breathe easy. Granted, the number of greenhouse gases we annually emit has been significantly reduced over the last decade, especially in developed countries. But we've still got a long way to go.

What can be done in the meantime? Instead of shrugging or waiting for sustainable technologies to deliver, UC Berkeley physicist and climate researcher Richard Muller advocates for two existing technologies, one of which is often misunderstood. They are as follows:

Nuclear energy

Although six decades old and despite one horrific failure in Chernobyl, nuclear is an exceptionally safe (and mostly clean) way to generate massive amounts of electricity. The problem is shaking its pesky apocalyptic reputation. "Nuclear radiation is the shark attack of environmental danger," reports Wired Magazine. "An awful way to go, but far less likely than, say, a car wreck." Of course, we still have to safely dispose of nuclear waste, and some experts question the amount of time it takes to recoup the high start-up costs of nuclear plants. But Muller and others agree it's better than dirty coal and more renewable than other types of energy.

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The Internet of conservation

To give Mother Nature even more breathing room, each of us should do our own part to conserve the finite resources we have. Smart thermostats like Nest, public transportation, and high mileage automobiles are a good start. But industry and agriculture emit far more pollutants than collective consumers do. Which is where sensor-thinking, internet of things, and big data solutions come in. When applied that way, we can make our industries smarter and cleaner as the next generation of geniuses work towards inventing batteries that effectively bottle the sun, removing carbon out of coal emissions, and plugging methane leaks from natural gas.

"Yes, (some of the above) still contribute to global warming," admits Muller. "But at a pace that is much reduced. We will handle global warming through mitigation and adaptation."


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