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Wednesday
Feb072018

Can Technology Solve Climate  Change?

Flickr | Slon PicsA famous philosopher once said ‘technology gives us power’ and the more power we have, the more can be accomplished. But is this power sufficient enough to solve the problem of Climate Change?

It is now considered by many environmentalists across the pond that the technology that has done the most to reduce U.S greenhouse gas emissions is fracking. For those of you that don’t know what fracking is, it’s the vertical drilling into the earth for the extraction of natural gas for energy. This doesn’t occur in the UK, but is a huge source of energy in the states, having created an energy revolution…despite being controversial globally. A few reasons why it is debated is due to environmental harm; fracking unlocks methane into the atmosphere which is a trigger for climatic changes. Also, there has been speculative links to earthquake activity, yet there is still no evidence of this. These negative environmental factors make it somewhat inexplicable for being so favoured!

Flickr | Dylan DonnellySo why has fracking reduced emissions in America?

This is simply because of the shift in energy sources from coal to natural gas, and supposedly lessening the impact of climate change. Further claims propose that it is more efficient than solar power as it reduces thirteen tonnes of carbon dioxide for every tonne that solar power reduces. This means that fracking could reduce co2 emissions much faster than renewables can, as it steers away from combustion, the main source of carbon emissions. However, this doesn’t stop the methane problem…so how is fracking even making a dent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Flickr | Agencia IDThe only way methane can be dealt with is through new geoengineering techniques. These techniques are in the introduction stage and could create a breakthrough for fracking! Such methods can trap methane and potentially halt the warming of the earth. Injecting fine sulphur particles into the atmosphere can reflect solar radiation and effectively cool the earth. Likewise, another innovation discussed is to spray clouds with salt particles which could increase the albedo of the earth, also reducing solar radiation. With such innovations, fracking can still happen, but the effects of it can be managed to alleviate climate change. This could create a new energy reality, unlocking natural gas resources, whilst still benefiting the environment.

Flickr | Willamette WeekZero-greenhouse energy generation  

Steering away from fracking, another technological innovation is fusion energy. Although nuclear power produces energy free of carbon emissions, we are yet to harness it in a way that is 100% safe and cost-effective. But with technological advancement, we may be closer to an answer. Fusion energy is said to produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, emitting only helium. It also requires less land than other renewable technologies, according to the Canadian company ‘General Fusion’. It is considered that fusion energy is inherently safe, with zero possibility of a meltdown scenario and has enough fuel to power the planet for hundreds of years! This energy source seems promising for the environment, but the possibility of a 100% transition to this is not realistic in the short term.

Is technology really enough to make a dent in carbon emissions?

Technology alone might not have the power after all. Despite a technology-driven revolution, such innovation requires human capital. The extraction process is costly, not only as a result of new technologies, but the cost of employment within the sector.  An ideal approach around climate change is to not primarily focus on technologies that reduce carbon emissions, but to avoid the detrimental effects of a warming planet. As advanced technologies are not always guaranteed, an approach that could be used parallel to technology is adapting to a slightly warming world. For example, small key changes in towns and city’s such as reflective paint in urban areas that can have a cooling effect or large scale reforestation such as China’s ‘Great Green Wall’ initiative; 66 billion trees have been planted to reduce desertificastion from the Gobi Desert as trees are carbon catchers. By combining adaption and new technology, there is a better chance to solve the climate change issue and more likely to achieve the carbon targets promised in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Flickr | Bureau of Land Management Oregon and WashingtonAs a closing remark, technological innovation has the scope to reduce climate change.  Although technology is expensive, high economy countries (USA, China, Japan and Germany) can afford such innovations, and it is evident from the new geoengineering techniques that we could enter a new energy reality and significantly minimise the triggers of climate change.

 

By Sophia-Harri Nicholaou - Online Journalism Intern

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