While we're at the peak of our civilisation, we cannot ignore the fact that the conditions in which our species has thrived is now under threat due to global warming. It's an ongoing issue. The Earth's global temperature is increasing as time goes on, weather patterns are getting ever more adverse, ecosystems are collapsing, never mind the million other things which are currently or due to be under threat unless we act.
The five ways we ourselves can save the world have come from Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. It is, "the first time ever, an international coalition of leading researchers, scientists and policymakers have come together to offer a set of realistic and practical solutions to climate change." It's important to realise that these five ways are just some basic ways in which we can all start to help make the world better.
Of course, far stronger actions can be made through vast social and legislative action, but it can be nice to incorporate little things to help push progress.
1) MATERIALS: First Reduce, Then Reuse, Then Recycle
Over the past century, waste production has multiplied tenfold, and experts expect it to double again by 2025. This is a by-product of an urbanising world which has a growing number of people with rising incomes coupled with rising consumption. Essentially, the availability of more and more resources means we're ridding ourselves of more and more waste.
Recycling household waste has an impact on greenhouse gases. Producing new products from recovered materials often saves energy, in addition to reducing resource extraction, minimising other pollutants, and creating jobs. Producing aluminium products from recycled aluminium, for example, spends 95% less energy than it would to create them from virgin materials
The process of diverting & recovering waste material is known as 'valorisation'. In paper production, for example, the fibres from paper can be reprocessed into recycled pulp.
There are some places in the world where the '3 Rs' have come to work fairly successfully. One western example would be San Francisco's recycling scheme which boasts an 80% waste diversion to recycling. It works by charging residents for waste which needs to be sent to landfills but collected recycling & compost for free. We can also see an alternative method in Sudan - the Dassanach people are still very much culturally intact people who showcase more creative ways to make use of what others dispose of (see the image below).
2) FOOD: "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants."
I could list to you the reasons why the whole quote by Michael Pollan could change your life, but the key here is 'mostly plants'. This solution to global warming opposes the meat-centric, highly-processed and often-excessive 'Western diet' which is broadly on the rise today.
This so-called Western diet demands a high-yield of livestock, and conservative estimates suggest that raising livestock to the degree in which we are today accounts for around 15% of global greenhouse gases emitted per year (some research argues that the number is closer to 50%). These numbers are dwarfed by emissions seen from the production of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.
A 2016 University of Oxford study looked into what would happen if the world saw a plant-based transition. The results were interesting. The paper saw that "business-as-usual emissions" would be reduced by as much as 70% if everyone went vegan, and 63% if everyone went veggie. I'm by no-way advocating that people make this transition, but considering the findings it does raise some questions. What would the effect be if we reduced overall meat consumption? Is the answer less about reduction, more about the source of the meat and how it's produced?
I believe that the answer isn't to go vegan or vegetarian. Though some people may enjoy it, I do believe that we have evolved to consume meat. However, alternatives are now available. Companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods may have the answer - they're working on developing and bringing to supermarket shelves a very promising alternative, plant-based meat.
There are others working on similar projects, but by taking it one step further... JUST are actually growing meat which is made in a lab. No animals are harmed in the production of it, the 'clean meat' is developed from animal stem cells and is already due to hit shelves by the end of this year! The production of clean meats requires up to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, land and water than conventionally-produced meat.
It's essentially meat, made from plants. Another concept which has been floating around for decades is 'insect protein', which now is being made widely available by companies such as C-Fu Foods and Eat Grub. Products are already available and this kind of product seems to be witnessing an increasing demand.
3) ENERGY: Rooftop as Resource
In 1884, experimentalist Charles Fritts discovered that a thin layer of selenium on a metal plate could produce a current of electricity when exposed to light. Over 130 years on solar panels on homes are becoming more apparent. Beyond replacing electricity generated from coal & natural gas in developed parts of the world, solar energy also gives up to a billion people access to electricity, replacing kerosene lamps and diesel generators.
The advantage of solar panels goes beyond the price - they generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or air pollution, with the infinite resource of sunlight as their sole input. Grid transmission is eliminated by solar panels as the source of the power is generated on the site of consumption.
An emerging arrangement for solar-panel owners is known as "net metering," which gives consumers the ability to sell back unused electricity back to service providers for it to go back into the grid. This making solar panels a more financially wise option to opt for.
The Drawdown analysis sees that use of domestic solar panels can grown from it's current 0.4% penetration to 7% penetration by 2050. This growth could avoid 24.6 gigatonnes of emissions, as well as saving households up to £2.45 trillion over the next three decades.
Solar water is a lesser known technology. For as long as people have bathed, they have sought ways to beath bathwater. American inventor Clarence Kemp, in 1891, invented the world's first commercial solar water heater.
There's a reason why solar water heating is thought as "one of the most effective technologies to convert solar energy into thermal energy." We use hot water for showers, laundry, and washing dishes, which all consume a quarter of residential energy use worldwide and 12% for commercial buildings. Solar water systems could reduce fuel consumption for these by 50 - 70%.
If solar water heating grows from 5.5% of the addressable market to 25%, the technology can deliver emissions reductions of 6.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and save households £558 billion in energy costs by 2050.
4) BUILDINGS: Insulate
Heat always moves from warmer areas to cooler areas until a temperature equilibrium is reached. During summer, hot are infiltrates indoor spaces, causing air conditioners to work overtime. During winter, warm air seeps out, finding its way to unheated attics and basements, up chimneys, and through gaps around windows and doors, so heating systems are left to work harder.
What makes insulation effective is its capacity for thermal resistances: how effectively it resists hear flow through conduction, convection, and radiation. Insulation is one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to make buildings more energy efficient. Besides the savings on energy consumption, it also presents lower charges on energy bills as well as keeping out moisture and improving air quality.
Fibreglass is the most common type of insulation, being widley available in both clanket-like batts or loose fill. Plastic fibres can also be made into similar products. Mineral wool alternatives, made from basalt or burnt furnace slag, are out there. Polystyrene insulation can come in the form of rigid boards or sprayable foams. There are also natural forms which are sourced from help, sheeps wool, and straw. What makes insulation something to consider is that can be incorporated into both new-builds or retrofitted.
Retrofitting buildings with insulation is a cost-effective solution for reducing energy required for heating and cooling. If 54% of existing residential and commercial buildings install insulation, 8.3 gigatonnes of emissions can be avoided. This has the potential of producing 'life-time savings' in excess of over £3 trillion, worldwide.
5) LAND USE: "a Plant that Human Beings have Cultivated for more than a Thousand Uses"
Bamboo is not a plant that needs encouragement. You can sit my timber bamboo in springtime and watch it grow at one an hour. Bamboo reaches its full height in one season. Once cut, bamboo re-sprouts and grows again. It can thrive on inhospitable degraded lands. Managed bamboo is cultivated on over 57 million acres worldwide.
Bamboo rapidly sequesters carbon in biomass and soil, taking it out of the air faster than almost any other plant. Remember that bamboo is just a grass, but has the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile strength of steel. It is used in almost every aspect of buildings from frame to floor to shingles, as well as food, paper, furniture, bicycles, boats, baskets, fabric, charcoal, biofuels, animal feed, and even plumbing.
The plant has the ability to replace high-emissions materials such as cotton, plastics, steel, aluminium, and concrete. As a replacement for pulp used for paper, bamboo can produce six times as much pulp as a conventional pine plantation.
Bamboo has traditionally been a very useful tool in Asia. We're also see it come to the west with websites such as Bamboo Import Europe who offers customers anything from chopping boards to cycling helmets. There's also an increase in availability in particular industries. One industry which may benefit highly from an ongoing transition may be the construction business. Firms such as Amphibia specialise in creating building materials made of bamboo for commercial use. Popularising bamboo product, granted the transition will be slow, could see a shift in what production emissions look like in the future.
Focusing commercial bamboo use on degraded lands also poses another benefit. Land with steep slopes or significant erosion won't be a challenge for bamboo as it is extremely resilient. Bamboo is planted on 77 million acres today. Drawdown assumes that an additional 37 million acres could be occupied by bamboo on degraded or abandoned lands. An initial investment of £17.3 billion could potentially be met with a 30-year return of £190.5 billion.
As you could probably tell, I do think there are some easy ways for everybody to take part. This is one of those issues where whichever team you're in does not matter. We all live on this planet and we should all be diligent enough to at least identify the problem.
I'm not saying that we should all go march on the streets and protest until we're all solar dependent vegans sitting in a well insulated bamboo palace. I think that it would not only be good for us as individuals, be it financially or health-wise, but collectively too. Very little harm can come from minimising (and hopefully reversing) the current state of man-made climate change.