In a time when climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources are a main topic of discussion, visions of a cleaner future aided by environmental innovation give us hope. As technology becomes ever more advanced, its adverse effects on our planet are lessoned while its potential for positive impact increases. This win-win situation is helping us to shape our planet for the better. Here are eight ways technology is currently helping the environment:
1. We use Less Energy to do Things
Since we began using electricity to power our cities, our electrical appliances have slowly but surely become more and more efficient. These incremental changes in how we power our day-to-day lives have a dramatic domino effect in the long run. But replacing a single light bulb or upgrading an outdated washing machine, we can help to offset our overconsumption of electricity.
For example, a modern LED light is around 60% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and has a lifespan that’s 50 times longer. Now, we don’t need to make and constantly discard more lights. By reducing waste, using fewer resources and less energy, LED bulbs are a small but important part of tackling our environmental troubles.
On the other hand, appliances account for 13% of household electricity consumption. Most people fill their homes with everything from electric doorbells to robotic vacuum cleaners. Although we’re using more appliances than ever before, we’re consuming less electricity than homeowners of previous decades.
Modern washing machines use 25% less electricity and 75% less water than those used 20 years ago. A+++ rated refrigerators are a whopping 80% more energy efficient than older models. TVs, dryers, kettles and other traditionally power-hungry appliances are also on the list. Overall, we consume less power every year as our technology advances.
2. Energy Production is Becoming Cleaner
Although our world is becoming more energy-dependent as life becomes digitized, our ways of producing energy are becoming cleaner. Of course, there’s one major reason why: renewable energy systems. As we learn to harness the power of the sun, wind and water, our dependence on power sources that are exhaustible and produce pollution is reduced year by year. Renewable energies made up 25% of total global energy production in 2017 and this number is predicted to be bumped up to 85% by the year 2050.
However, traditional “dirty” energy production has become cleaner as well. For example, we’ve managed to reduce water, air and land pollution by cleaning up toxic coal power production plants. Although coal power production has increased by 75% since 1975, we’ve still reduced coal pollutants, like Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, by around 85%. Our coal plants are miles cleaner and producing far more power than they did just a few years ago and this number is set to get even better with each year.
Nuclear reactors also produce less waste now. With the advances we’ve made in the field, nuclear energy can almost be considered fully “clean” because of its incredible efficiency. New technologies that use radioactive waste (the byproduct of nuclear energy production) to produce electricity have also recently been proposed.
With incredible technologies such as nuclear fusion on the horizon, it’s no surprise that we predict a cleaner, brighter future. We would only need a handful of nuclear fusion reactors to potentially power entire continents. And while nuclear fusion would be an incredible accomplishment, it’s not the be-all-end-all. Many other new sources of energy production are being researched and developed and it’s only a matter of time until humanity cracks the code on limitless, clean power production.
3. Clean Energy Systems are More Effective
Renewable energy production allows us to rely less on fossil fuels and other types of pollutants. Technological advances in clean energy systems are one of the biggest reasons why they have become a more efficient and economically viable option for individuals and corporations alike. For example, solar power production is now 73% cheaper than it was in 2006.
Over the past few decades, there’s been a steady increase in solar cell efficiency. In 1960, the maximum efficiency we could achieve from solar cells was 16%. Recently, a group of scientists in the US announced they were able to achieve 44.5% efficiency. Solar cells have also become smaller and paper thin, requiring fewer materials and opening up a world of application possibilities.
Other renewable resources are being developed through technology as well. Massive developments in wind and hydro energy have been made, allowing for us to harvest energy in all sorts of climates and geographical locations. In the future, tidal and wave energy may be a game changer and could power entire cities with little cost or effort.
4. Food Production is Becoming More Eco-friendly
Our ways of farming are becoming less harmful to the environment as we begin to understand how our actions affect surrounding ecosystems. Farms using modern agricultural methods can produce as much as 10 times more crops from the same amount of land when compared with past methods.
Genetically modified crops are able to improve yields dramatically, and as we better understand how to get the most out of our crops, we need less land to produce the same amount of food. This means more natural habitats go undisturbed and are spared being cleared to make way for agricultural production.
The food we eat is set to change in the future too. Meat grown in labs is something that may elicit a few raised eyebrows, but it is predicted to become a valuable source of cleaner, greener protein for humans. This technology cuts out the need for valuable land space and water to farm food for our animals and is predicted to be more nutritious than traditionally farmed animal meat.
Man-made meat can be tailored to our specific nutritional needs and can cut out the harmful compounds. This Frankenstein meat is predicted to become our primary source of meat intake in the future as it becomes cleaner and cheaper than traditional farming or ranching. While it may take some getting used to, we will be able to free huge swathes of land for habitat restoration.
5. Recycling is Reducing Waste and Pollution
As recycling technology develops, we can more effectively recycle and reuse more of our waste. In the future, humans may be able to create a 100% closed loop system by recycling the majority of the materials we use. This would be one of the most significant advancements for the planet as the lifecycle of something as simple as a water bottle can lead to resource depletion, industrial waste, air and water pollution, habitat erosion, animal extinction and more.
The advancements in the recycling industry has a multi-layered effect. As the technology further develops, it becomes cheaper and more convenient which results in it becoming more economically viable to recycle instead of producing more. Overall, recycling will slowly use less energy and will produce fewer emissions.
Things that we can’t currently recycle may also be effectively recycled in the future. Sectors such as chemical recycling are predicted to become massively successful in the future of industry. ‘Chemical digestion’ is something that will allow humans to reduce waste back down to its original state to be used again in more effective ways.
6. Cities are Becoming Less Polluted
Cities are often looked at as central hubs for pollution and energy consumption, but this idea is slowly becoming less true. An entire division of technology is purely dedicated to reducing pollutants from our daily activities. Toward the end of the last century, this technology has helped prevent an incredible amount of harm to our planet.
For example, inventions such as the catalytic converter, which is found in most cars, have prevented billions of tons of toxic pollutants from entering the atmosphere. Similar industrial systems, such as filters and other converters, have also helped reduce pollutants. These advancements have effectively cleaned the air for urban dwellers.
Our waterways, like city rivers or bays, are also becoming more protected from contamination through advanced detection systems. Simple inventions, such as garbage nets that catch plastic coming out of storm drains and autonomous robots that collect floating plastic, allow us to contain the waste we produce in cities.
In the future, cities are set to become even greener. For example, we will be able to produce a lot of our own power through advanced solar cell technology that can be applied to surfaces like windows and buildings. Shifting from gas-powered to electric vehicles will remove a huge percentage of the emissions emanating from cities all around the world.
7. We are Becoming More Aware of our Effect on the Planet
With every year that passes, people become more aware of how much our existence harms the planet we live on. Technology is a massive part of this equation. As people have greater access to information, more people can realize their impact and find ways to combat it.
Technological advances have also helped us predict and prevent damage on a broad scale. For example, we can now monitor our effect on air quality and can track how the chemicals we produce in our cities and factories influence it. We also were able to halt the incredibly destructive power of CFCs (a gas used in several products such as air conditioners and refrigerators) that caused untold damage to the ozone layer over the course of the last century.
The hole created by CFCs in the ozone was only discovered due to the invention of the Dobson Ozone Spectrophotometer, which allowed us to understand the full extent of damage these gases were having. The subsequent banning of CFCs has allowed the hole in the ozone to begin healing and it is set to shrink down to the size it was during the 1980’s. It is hailed as one of the greatest environmental protection success stories to date.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another advancement that could transform our perspective of the environment. It could help us to better understand the long-term effects of our actions through simulations and predictions. If we are able to learn from our mistakes before we even make them, we will dramatically reduce our environmental impact.
8. We can Share More Knowledge and Understanding
As our ability to communicate with each other becomes ever more advanced and effective through innovations like instant messaging, social media, and apps, we become more knowledgeable. Basically, we are now able to crowdsource our environmental understanding and can spread awareness of important issues with people beyond our immediate families and friends.
Besides sharing information, we can also share physical goods and services that help the environment. Instead of buying something you will only need for one day, you can borrow it from someone you know. This reduces your reliance on throw-away goods and helps to conserve valuable resources. In just the same way, sharing a taxi to a location with two other people can cut down the amount of emissions you would have caused by 66%.
Apps are at the forefront of these environmental changes, making us ever more efficient with how we spend our resources. For instance, Uber’s ridesharing options have reduced our need for owning and fueling individual cars. Airbnb has helped us to use space more effectively in cities and towns. Netflix and Spotify have eliminated millions of tons of plastic production and waste associated with DVDs and CDs. And Kindle has saved entire forests from being chopped down for paper.
In the future, we are set to become even better at sharing every new idea that is put into practice. Imagine a world where you are instantly connected with someone who wants the thing you were going to throw away and it’s transported there by someone who was already driving to their location anyway. It’s simple actions such as these that have the potential to create a cleaner, more efficient world. Through technology, and each other, we can have the power to transform the planet.