These solutions, taken together, could make a big impact.
Climate change has already touched human lives in the form of shifting natural disasters and weather patterns, and so far it seems that the worst is yet to come. But researchers and entrepreneurs are working on technology that could help, by improving the ways in which we interact with our natural environment. Often, this means producing less waste and pollution along the way. Here's a breakdown of what science promises to offer in 2020 and beyond.
Concrete, which comes from powdered cement, is the second most-consumed material on Earth, after water. Scientists are working on reducing the carbon footprint of cement production, which accounts for 6 percent of all greenhouse gases. New technology uses sand and bacteria to create a living concrete material that can multiply itself.
College of Engineering and Applied Science at Colorado University Boulder
Researchers published their discovery in a January study in the journal Matter. Here's how it works: Using sand and hydrogel — a polymer network that can hold a lot of water — the researchers created a structure for the bacteria to live and grow within. The structure retains the nutrients and water that the bacteria need to thrive and reproduce.
The structure of the material is similar in strength to traditional concrete, the researchers say — with a much lower impact on the environment.
There are still some caveats with the new tech. To reach maximum strength, the bricks need to dry out completely, but drying out the bacteria compromises its ability to live. So for now, the structure works best under specific humidity and storage conditions. As researchers learn more, they can control when the bacteria grow — and when they remain dormant — to maximize the function of the cement.
When he died in 2019, Luke Perry of 90210 fame had an unusual wish for his remains: He asked for a burial rooted in nature, by means of a mushroom suit. Perry's daughter Sophie explained on Instagram that her father discovered the eco-friendly burial method.
The mushroom suit was developed by California company Coeie, BBC reports. Human bodies can release toxic substances into the environment, like lead and mercury, as they decompose or are cremated, thanks to the embalming process. The mushroom's suits creators tell BBC that, using organic cotton and mushroom material, the suit "delivers nutrients from body to surrounding plant roots efficiently".
How we power our lives and society has already taken a big toll on the climate, in the form of powerful greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas. Looking ahead, renewable energy could go a long way toward reversing some of that damage — or at least curbing emissions so that nature can take its course. Solar energy gets a lot of talk, but wind is set to carve out its own path in the years ahead, especially with new gains for the “world’s most powerful offshore wind turbine."
The Haliade-X stands at 900 feet tall, as Inverse previously reported — each blade the length of a football field. John Lavelle, CEO of Offshore Wind at GE Renewable Energy, said in a statement that the turbine will compete against the traditional energy industry because it will "drive down the cost of wind energy and speed the adoption of clean, renewable energy.”
percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture
Warning after warning from the United Nations has insisted that one of the major actions humans can take to curb climate change is surprisingly simple: eat less meat.
But how to get around those persistent cravings? Plant-based meats might be the answer — think lab-grown meat, Beyond, or the infamously "bleeding" Impossible burger.
One study suggests that cutting out meat can have triple-win benefits, for health, the environment, and animal welfare. And it's not just about meat: Sugary and savory snacks, like cookies and chips, are also among the most carbon-intensive foods.
Technology gains can help scientists track animal populations, and better target conservation efforts. One nifty trick researchers are using to study whales? Drones.
Whales, a longstanding group of animals in need of protection, aren't the easiest to weigh. So Denmark researchers flew drones over the ocean to measure whales' body mass.
“Knowing the body mass of free-living whales opens up new avenues of research,” says lead study author Fredrik Christiansen, who published his team's findings in Methods in Ecology and Evolution in October 2019.