Planet Tech – Can Technology Save Us from Climate Change?

It is not a secret anymore that our climate is changing and it is definitely not a secret anymore that it is directly linked to the life humans are living on planet earth.

One day of this year’s (2017) Web Summit in Lisbon focussed on the latest technologies and inventions regarding clean tech, sustainability, energy efficiency, geo engineering, plastic recycling, environmental protection, and cleaning the oceans.

The major effects directly linked to climate change are:

  • Rise of temperature in our planet’s atmosphere and the ocean’s top level
  • Rise of sea level due to melting of ice caps and the expansion of warmer ocean water
  • Direct influence of the weather: hotter days, draughts, stronger hurricanes and heavy rains which result in floodings
  • Spreading of diseases linked to natural catastrophes
  • Ocean acidification due to increased carbon dioxide which has a major impact on corals, plankton and shellfish

These effects have a direct impact on human lives. They influence agriculture, transportation, air & water quality, forestry, health and much more.

During the Planet Tech Conference on Web Summit two major solutions were announced in order to handle the current destructive situation:

  1. Adaptation – We will adapt to the new climate changes in our everyday life.
  2. Mitigation – We will start changing the way we are treating our natural resources and our environment and our behaviour regarding lifestyle and consumerism nowadays.

Personally, I’m a big fan of mitigation.

I will present some of the possibilities companies such as Siemens, LanzaTech, Climeworks and Microsoft have discussed in debates with activists.

Microsoft is developing concepts of how we can use AI in order to “hack the future of our planet”. They have presented three approaches:

AI for land cover data
Microsoft AI for Earth Program’s Land Cover Classification Project will use deep learning algorithms to deliver a scalable Azure pipeline for turning high-resolution US government images into categorized land cover data at regional and national scales. (Robert Bernhard, Microsoft) The collected data can be used to define which part of the landscape is at risk and needs to be environmentally conserved.

The population is growing steadily and more food needs to be provided. Microsoft aims for data-driven farming using drones or micro sensors that collect data. In combination with the farmers knowledge, it enables them to lower costs and increase productivity. It is also encouraging farmers to engage in an environmental friendly agriculture.

Project Premonition
This project deals with increasing health issues due to climate changes. New or  already wiped out diseases like Zika are spreading again. Microsoft is using its technology to check mosquito blood in order to define which animal the blood is coming from and if it contains diseases that are even unknown. By using drones microsoft can detect mosquito hot spots and place robotic traps. By checking the wing movement these traps can define if it is an “interesting” mosquito and close the door in order to analyze it and check for known or unknown pathogens. The trap can run for 20 hours also in very humid conditions.

Siemens is now using AI in industrial facilities such as electric motors or energy distribution in order to reduce their energy footprint. The goal in using AI in gas turbines is to reduce the emission of toxic nitrogen oxides. Regarding wind turbines, this technology is used in order to change the position of the rotor according to the wind direction to increase wind farm’s yield.

Furthermore, Siemens is working on “Smart Cities”. This project works on solving the challenges of high air pollution due to rising traffic, housing shortages due to migration into the urban areas and natural catastrophes as a result of the climate change.

In the last four years cities already started to become smart by collecting data on traffic signaling for example free parking spaces, controlling traffic lights in order to avoid traffic jams or by applying the concept as car sharing to reduce CO2 emissions. Siemens therefore invented the “City Performance Tool” which analyses the building-, traffic-, and energy technology of a city. As a result, recommended changes for a city can be implemented.

In a discussion whether technology can prevent climate change, Freya Burton from Lanzatech and Christoph Gebald from Climeworks pointed out that regarding renewable energy and climate change prevention “everybody has to be looked after”. This means in their context that the pricing of new technology should be reasonable and convenient. There should also be a focus on educating people, why these technologies are so important for example by integrating them in the changing process. In order to grow awareness technology must be visible and should be a legal mandate. The technology of Climeworks captures CO2 and puts it underground to turn it into stone. This has been successfully tested in Iceland.

Lanzatech invented technologies that prevent the development of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in industrial processes. The company converts those into ethanol or even food by gas fermentation.

During the debates, how to reduce and recycle plastic one of the focal points was to raise awareness and educate people on new technologies. The cleaning of the ocean could provide a second income for fishermen. There are already projects around the globe where people collect plastic and turn it into currency or everyday necessities supported by companies such as “Plastic bank”.

Science can provide solutions by researching new technologies and plastic erosion. Progress has been made in transforming plastic into oil as done by Huayin Energy.

The Planet Tech day has given me new insights on what has been done and can be done by applying new technologies.

Nevertheless one of my personal opinions is that each individual can prevent climate change simply by changing his/her lifestyle and consumerism. We can refuse to buy plastic bottles & bags, not use straws, install energy saving light bulbs, sign up for car sharing or use bicycles and simply ask ourselves the question: “Do I really need to buy this?”

If you want to make a difference in your everyday life, here are some helpful links:

Further readings on climate change and its effects:

Also, watch this video: