Talking tech since 2003

Within each part of the global climate crisis, technology plays a critical role, whether it’s better batteries for electric cars or meatless burgers. And broad-reaching plans like the Green New Deal incorporate technology as a critical component of its success. While it’s true we can’t innovate our way out of this problem; it’s also a fact that without technology we have limited solutions. In short, you can’t have an electric car owner without an electric car. Here are some ways technology is necessary for fighting climate change.

Technology can help fix trust issues

The race to combat global climate change requires unprecedented collaboration and involvement in every sector of the global economy. Energy, agriculture, manufacturing, financial, and tech all need to work together to fight the contributions humans are making towards the planet’s warming atmosphere, because science says it’s significant. But collaboration takes trust. If energy producers don’t trust others to cut carbon emissions, they’re not incentivized to do so themselves. Instead, they fear adoption will put them at a disadvantage in the marketplace.

Political solutions like “cap and trade” incentivize energy producers by creating a marketplace where companies are capped on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit. And they’re able to trade unused emission credits to other companies. Issuing carbon credits encourages innovation. Energy producers who emit less carbon can sell their unused credits to others at a profit. But like any marketplace, there is fraud, double-dealing, and “cooking the books” when it comes to counting credits. That de-legitimizes the entire system.

But blockchain technologies can help restore that trust by creating a record-keeping system for the carbon credit market that’s transparent and trustworthy. Blockchain was first introduced to the world of cryptocurrencies when Bitcoin hit the market. But companies and governments are beginning to adopt blockchain for climate change and nature conservation programs.

Blockchain works like a transparent public ledger that each stakeholder can view at any time. In a marketplace, it eliminates the need for a centralized authority (e.g., a bank). Why is this more trustworthy? Because central authorities make mistakes. They can be bribed or defrauded. There is always this uncertainty. But blockchain decentralizes the accounting structure, ensuring everyone’s record of transactions is the same. In short, everyone becomes a centralized source and accountable. In this open environment, fears of gaining a market advantage by gaming the system vanish. Applied globally, blockchain creates a neutral platform for international action —  a necessary part of meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

Tech makes energy efficiency possible

Fighting global warming will take new technologies that use less energy to deliver the same service. Smart homes are more popular than ever, especially with older millennials who have the financial security to get a mortgage. The Internet of Things is pushing more consumers — despite security concerns — to invest in connected homes. These smart homes offer the convenience of automation and the cost savings of energy management.

But smart homes are only part of the equation. Our electrical grids are getting smarter too, thanks to artificial intelligence and devices like smart meters. Their widespread adoption is indispensable to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart grids use computer technology and AI to improve communication, automation, and connectivity between the parts of an electrical system. One essential component to the smart grid is the smart meter. Unlike their analog predecessors, these digital power counters allow two-way communication between homes and utility companies. Both utility companies and customers can use this data to be more efficient.

Smart meters give customers real-time pricing info for the power they consume. Customers can use the data to decide when to shut down heavy power users like appliances during expensive peak hours. Or they can charge their electric vehicle when costs are lower. For example, electric car owners can charge at night when demand and costs are low, then use the car’s battery to run appliances during peak hours. 

By fluctuating their energy consumption based on price, customers also help the environment. The cost of energy depends on many variables. When electricity usage spikes, power companies use fossil fuels like coal and natural gas-powered plants to meet demand. That puts tons of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. But when demand is lower, sustainable energy sources like wind and solar are available. So, by giving customers more control over their energy use, it promotes the use of alternative energy sources and encourages efficiency. 

Carbon sequestration

Reduction in carbon emissions is only one part of the plan to deal with climate change. We also have to capture the excess that’s already there. Carbon sequestration or carbon capture technologies mimic the work of billions of tons of plants, trees, and oceans by removing carbon dioxide from the air. And much like a tree, these technologies are “negative carbon.” That is, they remove CO2 and store it. This is different from “carbon neutral” technology, which offsets carbon emissions by removing an amount equal to that emitted. 

Some carbon capture systems remove the greenhouse gas from carbon-emitting chimney stacks and flues before they can belch it into the atmosphere. But now private companies are investing in technology to capture CO2 directly from the air. Large capture farms consist of arrays of fans that filter out CO2 then condense it for storage. It will take some time and much investment to scale these carbon capture farms to workable sizes. But the promise of carbon capture is the ability to reverse greenhouse emissions and better climate control all around.

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