Awesome climate solutions that no one seems to be talking about – by Ha Tran Nguyen Phuong
Climate & Software. https://sherlockieee.netlify.app/
aka Why we should be hopeful about the future.
When we heard of climate change solutions, common things come up: Wind, solar and nuclear. Beyond Meat, Impossible Burgers and other meat alternatives. Electric cars. LED lights. Grow trees. But there are so many other solutions in the sphere that rarely get mentioned, and have substantial impacts on the planet. This article explores just a few that I found to be very promising and under-appreciated. Drawing mainly from Project Drawdown (an awesome organization that everyone should know about) combined with other influences such as Saul Griffith “Solving Climate Change with a Loan”, here’s a few criteria for the solutions:
- It is based on technology that already exists. While future technology is cool (think create energy like the sun, or make fuel from air), it is uncertain. From first-prototype to large-scale deployment (1% of a national market), energy technologies in the past requires 20–70 years. While other types of technology timescales might be shorter, we need to be certain that these things work. (that doesn’t mean R&D for new tech is not important, especially in the field of carbon capture and storage because they can reverse the carbon dioxide emission. But we also need to be realistic and not bet on those things)
- It has large influence on carbon emissions. Since the world’s current emission is nearly 40 Gigaton/year, a good solution must reduce at least 0.4 Gigaton of CO2/year. While that does not sound like a lot, it is 1% of the global emission on 1 single solution. And the solutions here all have the potential to surpass that requirement.
- It needs to be cost-efficient. We are not looking for solutions that might cost us in the long run (eg. refrigerant management). While these policies are important nonetheless, they will more likely require government policies to make it work, which limit the scope of action.
Based on the above criteria, here are 5 solutions that I think we need to discuss more in order to make decarbonization a reality:
Potential carbon sequestered: 40 Gigaton/year (Yes, the entire world’s emission. Read more below)
Potential profit: ~-480 billion dollars
Now, why did I lay out the ground rule of being cost-efficient and break them in the first solution with a negative number? This is because this solution is the inspiration for me to write this article in the first place.
Current carbon capture and storage (think sucking carbon from the air) cost a lot: $70-$80/tonne. Not to mention they often require expensive technology that will require massive scaling. In come enhanced weathering. The idea is, we find a mineral called olivine, crush it up, and lay it in the beaches around the world. The beaches will turn green as a result (like this one that already exist in Hawaii), and the sand would interact with water from waves and carbon dioxide in the air to form carbon-rich sediments that would be sent to the ocean floor, and stay there for millions of years. Naturally, this happen for thousand of years. With humans’ intervention, the whole cycle takes 1–2 years.
Here’s the catch: we already have abundant olivine in the world (it is the most abundant mineral in the upper mantle of the Earth). We only need 0.14% of Earth’s shore to offset global emission. More importantly, they cost a lot, lot less than any other carbon capture technology: when scaling up, it will cost roughly $12/tonne. That is a five-fold reduction in carbon storage price. And if we want to offset the entire world’s emission, we will need 480 billion dollars. That may sound like a lot, except it’s only 0.5% global GDP a year. The US currently spends 1.5 times more for military funding.
Why is this better than planting trees? Because 1. We will need a lot more lands for trees to capture the same amount of carbon. 11% of land use will be needed to sequester 2/3rd of current emission. 2. Trees do not sequester carbon dioxide infinitely. They release some carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere when decayed. This approach will sequester carbon dioxide indefinitely.
This solution is undertaken most notably by Project Vesta. They are still in the very early stage, but the technology is there. If this is successful, we will have a lot to be hopeful about.
Girls’ Education and Healthcare
Potential carbon sequestered: 2.8 Gigaton/year (85.4 Gigaton/ 2020–2050)
Potential profit: Not calculated, but potentially trillion of dollars
What does education and healthcare have to do with climate change? And why girls specifically?
A few things:
- Girls’ have lower access to education and healthcare globally compared to boys.
- Women are disproportionately affected by climate change.
- Girls’ access to education and healthcare are directly linked to upward economic mobility. Wealthier families have fewer and healthier children.
- Affordable and accessible family planning will allow women to choose when they want to get pregnant, thus resulting in lower birth rate and smaller population.
To sustain the world, we need a sustainable population. While population is no longer growing exponentially (a new report says it will only be 8.8 billion), this is largely driven by women’s education and attending the workforce, and having more freedom in choosing when they want to have a kid. We need to ensure this freedom extends to all girls around the world, not just in developed countries.
In addition to carbon reduction, this solution reduces inequality, increases countries’ growth (with more educated and healthy people in the workforce) and leads to happier lives. Who would have thought such a simple action can have so many positive second-order effects? 😉
Potential carbon sequestered: 0.27–0.7 Gigaton/year (8.27–21.31 Gigaton/ 2020–2050)
Potential profit: 1.71–4.35 trillion dollars
Bamboo are not just for pandas! They are used for a variety of different things: from the classical zero-waste cutlery sets, wall dividers commonly seen in Japanese movies, to different uses in construction, culinary, weaponry and so on. It has long been a respected symbol in Asian culture, and we have now recognized its climate change potential.
For one, bamboo is a grass, which means they can grow faster and sequester more carbon dioxide from the air than any other trees. They can also thrive on degraded land that are inhospitable for many. Their structure also allow for lower rate of degradation compared to other plants, thus they could hold on to the carbon for a longer time. All of this makes bamboos one of the most effective ways to sequester carbon dioxide from the air in the fastest period of time, at least, on land.
Better Farming Practices
Potential carbon sequestered: 1.8–3.3 Gigaton/year
Potential profits: 3.6–6.6 trillion dollars
Admittedly, the title is a bit vague. And it also includes many different practices inside. But here’s the gist:
- We have been farming unsustainably since the Green Revolution. We have used too much fertilizer and pesticide, and while they increase yield in the short run, they also degrade the land and lower yield in the long run. Meanwhile, the mono crop culture (using an entire piece of land for only 1 type of products) while efficient, is highly vulnerable to diseases. The treatment of farmed animals are simply horrific.
- Agriculture accounts for 24% of global emissions. While most of it comes from animals (specifically beef, pork and lamb), some plants are also the culprits (did you know rice paddy fields release methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide?). Furthermore, farming plants can also be used to sequestered carbon dioxide.
- There are already ways for us to use less water, less fertilizer, less pesticides, WHILE increasing yield and decreasing our carbon dioxide emission. They also allow for better adaptation to our already changing climate. Some doesn’t even require initial cost — it’s completely free to implement. It’s a complete win-win.
What are some of these farming practices?
- Grow rice better: System of Rice Intensification increases yield by 50–100%, double farm incomes, and “is exceedingly doable for smallholder farmers” while decreasing methane production.
- Have trees while you grow livestock: Instead of grasslands, silvopasture reduce the need for feed, fertilizer, herbicides, increases soil fertility and create more resilient farmlands. It requires higher up-front cost, but has massive profit over time. Furthermore, pastures and trees together sequester 5–10 times more carbon than those that are treeless.
- Age-old conservation farming techniques: diverse crop, creating their own pesticides and fertilizers, and increase crop rotation, maintain crop cover all increase the carbon sequestered and the land more resilient.
- Grow more avocado and banana trees! Instead of annual crops (like rice and wheats, which is produced annually and cut down after they are harvested), if farmers grow more perennial crops that are trees with fruits harvested yearly, more carbon will be stored. These staple tree crops will also reduce soil erosion, fertilizer and pesticide needs, and more. There’s now more reason to eat avocados!
Potential carbon sequestered: Unknown
Potential profit: Not calculated
This is the part often missing from climate conversation: we need money to make this happen, loans in particular. Many of the best farming practices require upfront costs, which poor farmers cannot afford. Other requires financing to scale up production to meet with growing needs (bamboo production, enhanced weathering). And financing can create second and third-order effects (eg. a family with enough money will be more likely to enroll their daughters in schools). And many other solutions not mentioned here (eg. solar rooftops) require home investments.
Thus, we need better loans. Microfinances, for instance, provides loans to low-income people usually with no access to financial services, thus allowing them to have enough money to start a business, pay an unexpected cost, and so on. Other financial methods could work. For instance, SolarCity would install solar rooftops in households with no cost upfront, and would sell the energy back to the consumer at a lower rate than normal utility. We could extend that to a similar service for farming practices, for instance, where farmers would pay no upfront cost for implementing more sustainable solutions, instead pay in installment through part of the increased profit every year.
The point is, to make this change happen, we need a way to finance people better, and not just depend on rich people’s good will. Lucky for us, there are already myriads of potential solutions.
This article aims to achieve one thing: inspire hope. Knowing that there’s a future where not only is the climate crisis solved, but also enhances everything currently, is great. Knowing that we live in that future, and can make it happen, is inspiring. Whether this article makes your day a little bit brighter, helps you feel better eating bananas and avocados, or start out a project for more changes, it is a win for the planet.
Have thoughts? Things that I miss out? Let me know in the comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other cool things that don’t make the cut, mainly because their potential is less than 0.4 Gigaton, or have not been analyzed:
- Seaweed Farming: can capture up to 0.2 Gigaton/year, can create a more sustainable bio-fuel through shorter life cycle, can be fed to cows which cause them to release less methane. Super super cool, but the research I could found only report on direct carbon sequestration, not second or third-order effect (eg. reducing methane production in cows).
- Living Buildings: Buildings that are net-positive in energy (creates more energy than they use through renewables), water (only use onsite water through catching rainwater, reusing greywater, etc.), waste (eliminate materials that cause pollutions, resource depletion, etc.), with access to nature and is a place of equity and beauty.
- Ground-source heat pumps: Instead of using energy to expel hot air out of the room into the air, the heat pumps go to the ground, where temperature stays relatively constant all the time, and transfer the heat to or from the ground. This is much more energy-efficient than air-source heat pump.
- A project that tries to bring the wooly mammoth back to the 21st century to deal with Arctic permafrost.