Solar panels are green when finished, but their production makes pollutants for the ground. A CO2 vacuum would be cool, but is it feasible. Why aren’t we using methane for fuel? Has our quest for new green technology overshadowed sensible tech that can help the climate right now?
There’s a darker side to green energy. For all the wonderful things you hear about “going green” and “net-zero emissions,” things aren’t as simple as we would all like them to be.
This is a sad fact, but it isn’t all bad. A lot of technology balances out the costs (both monetary and environmentally) by providing us new solutions that can make things better in the long run.
Why contend with our pursuit of better tech when there are workable solutions available right now? Well, it’s a little complicated.
Climate smart technology definition
Climate smart technology and technology for climate change adaptation is the big buzz. The scope of these phrases covers a lot of ground, but most often we look at climate smart agriculture.
So what is it? The simple definition is technology that lowers costs, increases efficiency, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what does that mean in real terms?
Climate smart technologies examples include methane producers, solar panels, wind turbines, gray water recycling, and more. Each of these technologies and high-tech solutions comes with pros and cons. Let’s take a look at the agriculture industry.
Climate smart agriculture
In our quest for efficiency, we’ve developed monocrop agriculture. Instead of having a single farm that makes a variety of products with very little reliance on outside materials, monocrop agriculture produces one thing in high volume, shipping raw materials in and products out.
This is efficient, and it does produce a lot more for the same amount of fuel burned. Having animals or crops in mass quantity at one location means that every operation is streamlined, less fuel is burned, less power consumed per item quantity, and an overall happier Earth.
At least until pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and a plethera of other chemicals are introduced to push production to the extremes needed to keep up with demand.
Poltry farming exmple
Feed is trucked in from soy farms and grain fields, then fed to the chickens (who are many times kept in inhumane environments requiring medical inputs as well). The other end of the factory exports eggs, live chickens for processing, and litter (the official term for chicken poop).
Those products go to other industrial farms for various reasons, and trust me, you don’t want to know what happens to some of the poop. Or maybe you do, in which case you should check out this article from the University of Missouri Extension program.
This is all very efficient, it reduces costs, and despite all of the trucking it can actually reduce carbon offsets compared to the same number of chickens (or cattle, or any other market), but is it really worth it? That’s a question you’ll have to ask yourself as you learn more.
Is agricultural tech good or bad then?
While the above are examples of abuses of the system in place, agricultural tech can be great for the environment.
Green farmers raise their animals and crops with less inputs, which means less product and thus less money for the farmer overall. However, as technology gets smaller and smarter, it becomes easier to incorporate it on a small scale.
A small goat farm or bee yard might not need an industrial scale electric fence for less than a mile of fence line. A solar fence charger can power them up without the need to suck power from the grid.
There’s costs with everything, however. A pickup truck full of potatoes will never be as efficient in transporting goods as a big rig hauling several tons, not to mention trains and boats. Newer tech makes things better, but it takes a while to implement it across massive supply chains.
All in all, climate smart agriculture is getting better everyday, and it’s evolving into better tech for the planet as we continue to learn how our practices impact the environment.
How does technology affect climate change?
We’re all after solar farms, wind farms, and alternative energy solutions. The reduction of carbon emission that can be gained with these new technologies can’t be overstated.
New technology also allows for better monitoring of existing processes. IOT (Internet of Things) sensors can be placed just about anywhere and measure anything. They can even be added to your cool wrist watch to monitor not only your pulse, steps, and blood pressure, but also the air you are breathing.
All of that data gives us a better picture of our environment, but it doesn’t come without some cost.
We Won’t Get Rid of Plastic
Most of this stuff is housed in plastics. In this case, they are being used for their intended purpose, and it’s far better than using plastic for throw-away bottles, ambitious packaging, and other junk that fills a single-use role. But they are still produced mostly from fossil fuels, and a lot of dangerous chemicals are produced and needed in the production chain as well.
Solar Energy Woes
Solar panels require a lot of energy to make, and some very toxic chemicals to grow the photovoltaic crystals that make them work so well. They pay off their production costs on the energy front, but sadly most are manufactured in countries with less strict environmental oversight, and chemicals have been found in the past to be dumped into rivers and streams.
It would really be no surprise if many still were.
Wind Turbines Kill Birds
Like many pros and cons of power production, wind energy isn’t perfect.
It requires batteries, like solar and other power tech, which are difficult to produce cleanly. It also only works well in places where the wind is a constant bother. Not to mention the noise.
Still, when it comes to clean energy, there is hardly a sight more pleasing from a distance than a pretty white windmill in full swing.
Existing technology for climate change
Everything has pros and cons, even emerging technology, but there are definitely things that can be done with very positive upsides and little cost. The best part is that they seem to have no downside and only benefit the current infrastructure.
There are plenty of things that can be done right now:
- Arrest the use of plastics in packaging unless it is required. Plastics are durable and long lived. As such, they should be used in making permanent items, not disposable junk.
- Use solar when you can. Yes, there are side effects of manufacturing the panels, but the overall footprint is far less than other kinds of power production, and more demand will drive cleaner and more efficient production methods for solar factories.
- Use energy tech at home. The are numerous gadgets out there that can reduce your personal carbon footprint and make your life easier at the same time.
- Managed community gardens can supplement the local food supply, which means a few less trucks on the road hauling greens from one side of the country to the other and back.
- Converting methane producers into power plants. Silage factories compost massive amount of animal excrement, and all of it creates methane. Turn them into power plants.
- Change landfills into power production facilities for the same reason. Easy natural gas without drilling.
- Increase bio-diesel availability at gas stations. Diesel engine vehicles can run on it.
Methane emission reduction
Methane is up to 36 times more efficient at being a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide according to the EPA. However, by burning it, one molecule of methane becomes one molecule of carbon dioxide and two molecules of water. Just by burning it, its nefarious greenhouse activity is stifled.
It’s already being produced. You may have heard about cattle catching flack for that, but recent studies show that the oil and gas industry releases more methane than any other industry. According to weforum.org, that sector puts out 75 million tons per year.
By converting that to electricity, it could power the continent of Africa, twice. And here’s the rub. It’s EASY to do. Even if all of the excess was simply burned off on a flare boom, it would have a drastic positive effect on our climate nightmare.
Fertilizer can be made from the leftover waste products.
New tech vs. old technology
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t still look toward new technology. There are other emerging fields that could possibly 10x the little methane reduction schemes someday, and these should be followed to their logical conclusions.
Extra CO2 could feed new bacteria to that produce substitutes for flour, milk, eggs, and even fish! Plastics can be developed through chemical production of processes similar to bio-diesel.
Yea, we might need a little petroleum to kick-start the process, but once up and running, we have for the first time in history the ability to completely replace our old habits that are unfriendly to the environment.
And let’s not forget about all the existing low-tech solutions while chasing the high-tech green dream.
Technology for climate change: conclusion
Lots of emerging technology is out there or on the horizon, including sensors, monitoring, new satellites, solar and wind power, artificial carbon sequestration through microbes…the list goes on and on. And don’t forget all the science that drives our learning.
But while we are in our quest for new technology, let us also start using some of the stuff we have right now, which could itself provide a serious stepping stone to a cleaner, greener future.
Check out our resources library.