The Next Climate Tech Breakthrough May Have Already Happened, We Just Didn’t Notice- Earth Institute| Columbia University

15 Dec 2019

The president of the UN General Assembly says we have only 11 years to “prevent irreversible damage to our planet” from climate change. That’s a short deadline in which to prevent an existential crisis. The global community is desperate for solutions that prevent further environmental damage and help us adapt to life in a new climate.

To stay within the targeted limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, scientists insist that we need to reduce the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere, in addition to dropping new emissions to net-zero. The goal is to implement carbon dioxide removal strategies that capture carbon from the air and safely store it.

Existing CO2 removal technologies usually mimic natural biogeochemical processes that sequester carbon, or amplify the carbon-capturing qualities of the ocean, forests and sedimentary rocks. One method would fertilize phytoplankton in the ocean to increase the photosynthetic uptake of carbon. Another relies on crushing up carbon-absorbing rocks to increase their surface area, storage potential, and the rate of carbon removal.

Now, more than ever, there is a need for creative solutions, and these examples show that the next breakthroughs in sustainable development won’t come from Silicon Valley or scientific labs, but from Mother Nature.

The examples are as fascinating as they are absurd. The bullet trains in Japan reach nearly 200 mph thanks to the Kingfisher bird’s aerodynamic beak. Wind turbines are 20 percent more energy efficient when shaped like humpback whale fins, and termite mounds show architects how to improve building air conditioning systems. Industry giants like Seventh Generation are looking to beetles that spray poison to remake aerosol packaging. Swimsuits constructed like shark skin reduce drag so effectively that they were banned at the Olympics. Medical spaces are even applying the antimicrobial properties of shark skin to create sterile surfaces without producing antibacterial resistance.

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