“The Temperature’s Rising the Planet’s Fever is Climbing” – The Ominous Link Between People and Planetary Health
June 22, 2023
Medical Innovation and Environmental Technology Can Save “Patient” Planet Earth
Wildfires rage in Canada. New York City headlines shout that the blanket of hazardous smog secured the Big Apple’s ranking for a day as “poorest air quality in the world.” What’s the connection, some ask? It’s one planet, and what affects one eventually impacts all. Climate change poses numerous risks to people and the planet. We assume we are invincible as a species. But that bravado is an illusion.
While some deny the reality of climate change and challenge the connection between global warming and the wildfires, melting icecaps, rising seas and intense heat we experience, the impact is real. Need additional proof? Antarctica soon heads into winter and scientists predict record-low sea ice formations. As the report states: We are all “on thin ice!”
Scientists are worried. Governments are too. More and more companies recognize that their sustainability and economic well-being require shifting product lines and processes to carbon-neutral and carbon-negative approaches. Many will congregate in Dubai this November and December to explore possibilities to improve the environment at COP28. Others will select to stay home or attend alternative virtual gatherings such as the Real People’s Summit.
Ultimately, no person, government, or business can remain on the sidelines. Without a course change, we’ll all be in the same sinking boat – Planet Earth!
Four Looming Climate Dangers
Here are four inescapable environmental dangers we face as a global community and where big brains – organic and artificial — must be harnessed to resolve:
- Biodiversity Loss: Climate change devastates ecosystems and biodiversity. Pollution, overfishing, and rising temperatures influence habitat loss and change precipitation patterns resulting in species extinction at a pace nearly without precedent since the age of the dinosaurs. This disrupts the food chains and impacts ecosystem essentials, such as pollination and water purification.
- Extreme Weather: Climate change is linked to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, cyclones, floods, and torrential rains. These events cause extensive damage to infrastructure, displacement of populations, loss of lives, and disruption to economies and food systems. Sources range; however, it’s estimated that some 30 million people worldwide will be displaced in 2022, including 2.1 million in the Americas, due to extreme weather. Without intervention, massive weather-driven migration is just beginning.
- Rising Temperatures: The increase in global average temperatures contributes to heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires, which are becoming more frequent and intense, impacting ecosystems, agriculture, and human health. Rising temperatures contribute to melting glaciers and ice caps, leading to sea-level rise that threatens coastal communities. Global warming is not a myth.
- Water Scarcity: Changes in rainfall patterns and increased evaporation result in water scarcity in certain regions. This creates armed conflict over access, disrupts agriculture, and challenges sanitation and survival. Water consumption continues to increase, and the population facing water scarcity rose from 0.24 billion (14% of the global population) in the 1900s to 3.8 billion (58%) in the 2000s.
Bill Gates suggests that to prevent the worsening effects of climate change, we move toward zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every economic sector within 50 years — and the IPCC recommends that we do it in the next 10 years. Urgent action is required to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, transition to renewable energy sources, adapt to these changes and work toward building a more sustainable and resilient future.
Are Technology and Innovation the Keys to a Sustainable Future?
Acting on climate change is a huge undertaking and requires both behavioral and technological innovation to develop what is needed to reach net zero emissions. Rich countries may shy away from the massive amount of capital that must be invested before the world sees any payoffs. Gates and other innovative minds see this hurdle as an economic opportunity.
“The countries that build great zero-carbon companies and industries will be the ones that lead the global economy in the coming decades,” Gates writes in his bestseller How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. “Whoever makes big energy breakthroughs and shows they can work on a global scale, and be affordable, will find many willing customers in emerging economies.”
The environmental tech sector has experienced remarkable growth and innovation in recent years, driven by the clock-ticking need to address environmental challenges and promote sustainable development. This sector encompasses a range of technologies to reduce carbon emissions, conserve resources, and mitigate climate change impact.
Environmental tech has made significant advancements to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to a carbon-negative future. Several practical (and policy) breakthroughs reinforce what is possible. Big ideas produce noticeable results, including the fermentation of canola oil into sea-animal-threatening straws that provide the feel and user experience of traditional plastic and bio-based thermoplastic products made from 100% unsorted household waste that can be alternatives to plastics.
It is possible to mitigate climate change and achieve a sustainable and carbon-negative future through advancements in carbon capture, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, energy storage, and circular economy practices. Continued investment, research, and implementation of these technologies are essential for transitioning to a low-carbon economy and a healthier planet that will benefit future generations.
Medicine and Environmental Science Can Draw on Shared Expertise
The biomedical industry offers a case study addressing these environmental challenges and accelerating innovation. Augmented intelligence used to expedite drug development and high-risk patients can be applied to regions facing climate challenges. Hospital systems on the frontlines of climate change see the respiratory effects of pollution through increased emergency room traffic become “red alert” research centers, rallying policymakers and C-Suite leaders to drive social systems and stronger governance. The ties between medicine and the environment – the enduring relationship between people and the planet – are unbreakable.
Here are 10 environmental tech innovations that we will learn more and more about that can stem climate change tides:
- Agricultural Advances: Agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable agriculture technologies can reduce its impact. Precision farming – like precision medicine enhances carbon storage, reduces emissions, and promotes sustainable food production.
- Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS): BECCS combines biomass energy production with carbon capture and storage. Biomass plants absorb CO2 during growth, which can result in net-negative emissions when combined with CCS.
- Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): CCS technologies capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. The captured CO2 is then stored deep underground, reducing its impact on the climate.
- Carbon Mineralization: Carbon mineralization converts carbon dioxide into stable minerals through chemical reactions. This process permanently stores CO2 while generating materials, such as carbonates, that can be used in construction or other industries.
- Direct Air Capture (DAC): DAC systems pull carbon dioxide from the air and store or utilize it in various applications. These technologies can remove CO2 at large scales, contributing to carbon-negative strategies.
- Energy Storage: Advancements in energy storage technologies, such as high-capacity batteries and innovative grid systems, enable the effective integration of renewable energy sources. Breakthroughs in battery technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, have significantly improved energy storage capacity and efficiency. Efficient energy storage enhances the stability and reliability of renewable energy, promoting carbon-negative strategies.
- Enhanced Weathering: Enhanced weathering accelerates natural mineralization processes by exposing minerals to CO2-rich environments. The technique has numerous pros and cons and the question remains how can we remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere over long timescales without damaging the environmental ecosystem?
- Green Building Technologies: The construction and operation of buildings account for a significant portion of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Green building technologies have emerged as a crucial innovation area, like energy-efficient insulation materials, smart heating and cooling systems, and advanced lighting solutions that have contributed to developing sustainable and eco-friendly buildings.
- Renewable Energy Technologies: One of the most prominent areas of innovation within the environmental tech sector is renewable energy technologies. Advancements in solar, wind, and hydropower systems are revolutionizing energy generation and utilization.
- Smart Grids and Energy Management Systems: Smart grids enable efficient distribution and utilization of electricity by integrating renewable energy sources and implementing advanced monitoring and management systems. Smart grids allow two-way communication between electricity providers and consumers, optimizing energy usage, reducing waste, and promoting the integration of renewable energy sources. These technologies maximize energy consumption, reduce emissions, and enhance the resilience of power networks.
The rapid development of the environmental tech sector embedded in companies big and small will be instrumental in addressing our planetary health challenges and advancing human sustainability. Key innovations in renewable energy, energy storage, intelligent grid systems, green-building technologies, and waste management are revolutionizing numerous industries and paving the way for a healthier and greener future. Tremendous determination will be needed from policymakers, C-Suite industry, and NGO leaders to accelerate growth in the environmental tech sector. We don’t lack innovative ideas – we lack commitment and collaboration.
Some political leaders will continue to debunk climate change, even going as far as prohibiting their State’s pension fund from making investment decisions that consider climate change. At some point, arguing with deniers about the causes of climate change becomes reductive. We must deal with the realities right before our eyes and consider the dangerous ramifications of doing nothing. Like health conditions, avoiding signs and symptoms doesn’t make an illness disappear. It worsens over time. Our planet is suffering from the illness of climate change. We must begin its path to recovery.