How to tackle a problem like climate change? In Drawdown, a team of over 200 academics, scientists, policymakers, business leaders and activists propose 100 practical solutions. From living buildings to smart highways, here are five of the most ambitious ideas to save our planet.
How do you create a building that makes the world better? That’s the focal question behind the Living Building Challenge (LBC). LBC’s approach has seven classifications – Place, Water, Energy, Health and Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. Together, they outline what a living building is and does.
Living buildings should produce food and utilise rainwater for example while incorporating components of the natural environment and avoiding toxic, dangerous materials. With regards to greenhouse gas emissions, living buildings make their highest contribution by generating more energy than they use.
Direct air capture (DAC) takes its inspiration from photosynthesis. DAC machines act like a two-in-one chemical filter and sponge. As the air flows over a solid or liquid substance, the carbon dioxide binds with chemicals that are selectively ‘sticky’, and ineffective on other gases. Once those captured chemicals become fully saturated, molecules of carbon dioxide can be separated in purified form.
DAC has the potential to capture the planet’s most abundant greenhouse gas. Besides, sequestered carbon dioxide can find broad applications, ranging from improvement for greenhouses to synthetic transportation fuels to plastic, cement, and carbon fibre.
An initiative called The Ray is attempting to transform a stretch of road into a positive social and environmental force: the world’s first sustainable, ‘smart’ motorway. This relies on and is built around electric vehicles and clean energy: infrastructure for solar-powered car charging, a solar photovoltaic (PV) farm along with it, and a PV road surface. Wattway is an example road surface that can produce solar electricity whilst improving tyre grip and surface durability.
Can we move transport beyond aeroplanes, trains, and cars? Elon Musk envisions humans and cargo travelling through low-pressure tubes in levitating pods. Otherwise known as the Hyperloop. The promise of the Hyperloop is two-fold: speed; up to 1200 Km/h, and efficiency; lowering energy consumption by 90 to 95%. Both are achieved by eliminating the friction of wheels and resistance of air.
Plants need nitrogen to grow. Today, many farmers supplement their fields with synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. While crop yields may rise, making such fertilisers is energy-intensive. Unused nitrogen also migrates into waterways, producing an excessive growth of algae and marine ‘dead zones’.
Enhancing the soil microbiome—the microbes that live in the soil—is a better way of nourishing plants. In a thimble of soil, there can be up to 10 billion microbial inhabitants. Legumes, such as alfalfa and peanuts, have a symbiotic relationship with select bacteria, passing carbon to them in exchange for nitrogen.
Most crops lack this capacity, which is the reason researchers are looking to harness microbes that can work more extensively. Sometimes, farmers may quit nitrogen fertilisers and use nitrogen-fixing bacteria instead.
This is just a small selection of some of the boldest practical solutions to save our planet. Hopefully, it will serve as inspiration for you to consider what can you do to address the climate change problem!