Can Technology Solve Climate Change?

This year, our planet will once again come together for Earth Day (April 22nd, 2017) to turn off our lights, visit our local farmers’ markets and recommit to recycle more this year. But this year, Earth Day feels a little more urgent. Climate change is an unprecedented threat to humanity’s collective survival and it is becoming increasingly obvious that we need to make some big changes in the way we interact with our planet. Is technology the solution we’ve been waiting for?

Environmental concerns and technology have a complicated relationship to say the least. After all, when James Watt invented the steam engine in 1781 he effectively launched the Industrial Revolution that has done so much to contribute to environmental degradation– but also economic prosperity for much of the world. Technological advances, such as the steam engine, have been major drivers of growth prompting the economist, Joseph Schumpeter, to declare that technological advances were the only way our economies move forward– he called this creative destruction.

We’ve come pretty far since 1781. Indeed, modern technology is indebted to James Watt for pushing innovation forward; the development of renewable energy sources and tools for knowledge sharing (i.e. the internet) is contingent upon modern civilization. By harnessing these kinds of technologies, many in the environmental movement are hoping we can begin to reduce the damage we’ve done by living in more sustainable ways.

Others are not so sure. After all, the discovery of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) has surely been a technological advance– but not an environmental advance. Fracking has increased worldwide emissions because it is much more resource intensive than traditional crude oil extraction methods.

All this polluting is what sparked the creation of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and various treaty agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol in 1992 and the Copenhagen Accord in 2009. Governments were to work together to decrease overall emissions; unfortunately, these agreements were widely viewed as a failure as most countries did not ratify the treaties (i.e. they did not translate the treaties into policy changes at home).

These collectives failures have prompted some scientists to pursue “geo-engineering” solutions that are to mitigate the effects of climate change using technology. Currently, the solutions sound like science fiction. They range from pumping sulfur into the stratosphere, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and simply putting mirrors in space. Nobel prize winner, Paul Crutzen, is the famous champion of “The Pinatubo Effect”. Crutzen argues that injecting sulfate particles into the sky would mimic the effect of large volcanic eruptions that work to cool the planet by acting as a reflective shield for incoming sun rays. The problem is, while it is true that these large volcanic eruptions do cool down the planet, they also cause side effects like massive droughts in other parts of the world.

The uncertainty of “geo-engineering” solutions lead most to focus on green technologies that are testable and available right now. For example, getting behind companies like Tesla, which promises to bring us affordable electric cars, and Silfab, which promises cheap renewable solar power. On an individual basis, ordinary folks have more access to information about these kind of alternatives via the internet– and they can use that information to push for policy changes.

Part of doing your part for the planet includes reducing waste– that means taking good care of electronics such as your computer to maximize their lifespan. Running regular FixMeStick scans will help to keep your computer running smoothly and last longer. Head over to our FixMeTip for our suggestions on how to lower your emissions– and your electricity bill– by using energy efficient electronics and adopting some best practices.

Comment below with your green solutions! Let’s start a discussion.