Towards a Greener Planet

An insight into how renewable sources can be utilized for a greener future.

Suraj Chathlingath, Writer

Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava


Earth is dying, and it’s us, the 7.6 billion population of humans responsible for this alarming situation. Over two-thirds of the earth’s wildlife has disappeared since 1970 due to human activity. Climate change has forced the melting of Arctic ice. Cities and industries are pumping out pollutants and gases on a scale huge enough to threaten the very existence of life. In the early 19th century, the industrial revolution paved the way for modern technology, which in turn provided tools to sustain a huge population. The consequence of this was a paradigm shift in human lifestyle from the old ways to a new interconnected and urbanized world. This catered for a rise in the human population, however, the subsequent need for raw materials is depleting the earth dry of her resources. Undoubtedly, the role of technology only ever worsened the situation, and climate change, deforestation, and ocean acidification are but a few of its malignant legacies. It’s not an understatement that technology demands resources to function but it shouldn’t always strip the essentials from mother earth. Our science has evolved to a point where we can harness the power of renewables like the sun, oceans, and earth’s geothermal basin to power our cities and tools. Although it is a common belief that technology serves only the consumers and corporations, it can also translate to be a tool to create an effective system to protect our environment. Technologies with the likes of renewable and sustainable materials can indeed make the difference.


Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat we are facing right now. Greenhouse emissions have caused a huge shift in earth’s weather patterns, and have completely impacted our climate system, resulting in an unprecedented level of global warming. To undo our mistake, we have to find renewable alternatives to our non-renewable energy sources.

Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat we are facing right now. Greenhouse emissions have caused a huge shift in earth’s weather patterns, and have completely impacted our climate system, resulting in an unprecedented level of global warming. To undo our mistake, we have to find renewable alternatives to our non-renewable energy sources. Replacing carbon-based fossil fuels in automobiles is a major step in this process, and visible change is there with the bulk introduction of electric vehicles (EV) into the market by various companies in recent years. The rise of ‘Tesla’ alone, from having revenue of just 15 million in 2008 to a whopping 24.6 billion in 2019 can verify this. Adopting E-Vehicles can considerably reduce the vehicular carbon footprint which poses serious trouble for most cities around the world, drowning with record levels of pollution. Power generation is yet another sector where renewable methods can be utilized for good. Solar plants like the 580-megawatt capacity Noor Complex Solar Power Plant in Morocco are expected to provide electricity to over a million people in North Africa. Shakti Sthala or Pavagada solar project, located in Karnataka, India, with a total capacity of 2000MW is set to power over 750,000 households. Such mega solar plants can not only make the host country energy sufficient but can also reduce hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions annually, like the Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park in India saving over 700,000 tonnes of Carbon dioxide emissions since its opening in 2017. Dr. Gerhard Knies, an expert on sustainable energy once made an assessment of how much energy comes from the sun to the earth and said “it was about 15,000 times as much as humanity was using, so it was not a question of the source, it was a question of the technology,” giving away our massive scope for solar power generation. Along with solar energy, other renewable forms can also be utilized for power generation. Wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal basins are all potential candidates for the replacement of conventional non-renewable power generation. Although there are many wind farms around the world, climatic and geographic limitations are the reasons for its non-induction in most places. Still, using suitable renewable methods according to varied geography can easily quench our energy needs. An expert has also proposed to cover the Sahara desert with solar panels. This would radically enable it to produce enough electricity to power the entire world while also doubling the rainfall in the region. It seems infeasible but it certainly sheds light on our massive potential with earth’s renewable sources. Along with renewable energy, sustainable materials are also essential for the idea of green earth - mostly renewable and carbon-neutral.


Ever heard of graphene? This material could likely be the future of humanity, with many predicting this “wonder material” to be next in line to bronze, iron, steel, and silicon as the building block for humanitarian evolution. It is stronger than steel, lighter than paper, and more conductive than copper, thereby mesmerizing the scientific community into a dreamy realm of indestructible smartphones, weather-resistant solar panels, and ‘daily prophet’ style newspapers. Along with this, there are a wide variety of technologies developed lately in hopes of making a more sustainable world. Solar glass is a promising tech, which can function as a regular transparent window while having a unique property to capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. Imagine one on every skyscraper window and how much clean energy one building can generate.


For our plastic problem, plant-based plastics that biodegrade are one solution, as they could be the renewable replacement for our plastic needs. Since 2014, an Indonesian company called Avani Eco has been trying this idea by making bioplastic out of cassava.

For our plastic problem, plant-based plastics that biodegrade are one solution, as they could be the renewable replacement for our plastic needs. Since 2014, an Indonesian company called Avani Eco has been trying this idea by making bioplastic out of cassava. While sustainable agricultural practices (like the water recharging techniques and permaculture) ensure clean food, clean air, and clean water to our society, sustainable alternatives for building materials, like self-healing concrete and hemp concrete are to make sure that we stay green. Aerogel is another material that can hold a significant position for our future world. Although aerogel is the lightest material on the planet, it is extremely strong for its weight and can support up to 4000 times its weight. They are one of the best conductors of electricity, yet when made with different materials would be the best insulator known to man. With an insulating property that is 37 times more than the current insulating material fiberglass, aerogel is considered as the future of insulating materials.


Although a signatory since its beginning, the United States under Donald Trump announced their intention to withdraw from the agreement later. This is indeed a concerning action while considering this is done by a superpower like the US, which is second only to China in emissions per capita.

The Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed in 2016 by 186 countries agreed to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, climate change mitigation, and climate change adaptation. Although a signatory since its beginning, the United States under Donald Trump announced their intention to withdraw from the agreement later. This is indeed a concerning action while considering this is done by a superpower like the US, which is second only to China in emissions per capita. The current presidential candidate Joe Biden has announced to pledge back to the Paris Agreement if he is elected to office in the upcoming US presidential elections - a glimpse of hope in the fight to safeguard humanity’s future. Billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, through SpaceX and Blue Origin, have already shown the world that they are joining the space race. There are talks of colonizing mars and establishing a lunar colony. Scientists believe terraforming to be the key to sustain a human population in these uninhabitable rocks. Racing to space is not a bad thing, but we should leave earth intact to come back for a home. If we can terraform another planet to have earth-like properties, we certainly can save earth from losing itself.



References:

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  2. (2020). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement#Withdrawal_from_Agreement

  3. Rogers M. (2019). McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/sustainability-blog/these-9-technological-innovations-will-shape-the-sustainability-agenda-in-2019#

  4. (2020). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphene

  5. Quinlan H. (2020). How Stuff Works. Retrieved from: https://science.howstuffworks.com/aerogel.htm

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  7. (2020). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change

  8. Nichols G. (2019). ZDNET. Retrieved from: https://www.zdnet.com/article/10-technologies-most-likely-to-help-save-planet-earth/


Suraj is a Mechanical Engineer from Kerala. He takes a keen interest in Politics and technology. His Instagram handle is @suraj_cnair.

Email: surajc333@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suraj-chathlingath-b02026120/






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