Epic inventions fight climate crisis

Miniature sun: Fusion reactors create energy in the same way as our star. © Alamy

As Earth Day celebrates its 50th birthday, the climate crisis is a global environmental problem. But the new technology being developed to combat the emergency is something worth celebrating.

What’s happening

In the midst of a vast plain in British Columbia, there is a huge wall covered in 160 giant fans, 10 metres tall. It looks like modern art, but its inventors say it’s going to save the world: it’s a carbon vacuum. Like a tree photosynthesising, it removes CO2 from the air and uses it to make fuel.

Find out more

The carbon vacuum is just one of many new designs for reducing carbon in the atmosphere. One company is making carbon-free concrete out of steel waste, and cities around the world have built kinetic pavements, using energy from walkers to power street lamps.

Meanwhile, scientists in Europe and China hope to harness clean nuclear energy. If they are successful, nuclear fusion, inspired by the sun itself, could fuel millions of homes without any dangerous waste.

Others are focussing on the problem of plastic. Divers in Australia have developed a ‘sea bin’ that acts as a vacuum cleaner for rubbish in the ocean, and scientists in Oxford have created an enzyme that eats single-use plastic, making it recyclable.

Can technology save the planet?

Some say…

Yes. These new inventions show us that human ingenuity is limitless. Huge progress has been made already, for example with electric cars and sustainable energy, such as wind and solar power. Activists like Greta Thunberg are part of a young generation more aware and motivated to battle climate crisis with brilliant technology.

Others think…

Probably not. The United Nations said, this week, that we need “determination and unity” to fight the climate crisis. Technology alone cannot save Earth. It must be accompanied by our conscious decision to change. Unless governments unite to support environmental action and new technology, we will not stop the climate crisis – only slow it down.

You Decide

  1. Can individuals make a difference to the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Using this quiz, work out your household’s environmental footprint. Then try to think of one way you can reduce it, and try it out next week.

Some People Say...

“Many individuals are doing what they can. But real success can only come if there is a change in our societies.”

Sir David Attenborough

What do you think?

Word Watch

British Columbia
A province in western Canada.
Photosynthesising
The process by which plants produce oxygen and energy from carbon dioxide and sunlight.
Kinetic pavements
Kinetic energy is connected to movement. The movement of a foot walking over the pavement is turned into electricity powering lights.
Nuclear fusion
Current nuclear energy is produced by splitting atoms, while fusion forces them together to produce energy. These reactions occur naturally in the sun.
Enzyme
A biological substance that speeds up chemical reactions. Different enzymes encourage different reactions. This one breaks down plastic.
Ingenuity
Being clever, original, and inventive.
Sustainable
Able to be maintained at a certain level. Sustainable energy does not use up resources and can be used indefinitely.
United Nations
The UN for short, this organisation aims to maintain international peace and security.

Subjects

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