Saving the Environment with the Help of Technology

The health of the environment has been a hot topic for decades, and with advancing technology we are now able to predict events more accurately, and further into the future.

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution, unsafe water supply, poor sanitation, and the effects of climate change are some of the biggest global killers, causing nearly 10% of premature deaths. By 2050 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have predicted that outdoor air pollution will  rise to 3.5 million deaths, becoming the top global cause of environment-related deaths.

Data has become key in a multitude of ways, across many industries, by monitoring the environment, gathering data, and analysing trends. The ability to collect such large amounts of data has allowed experts in this field to find meaningful trends and insights, helping them make educated predictions. In 2015, global insured losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters totalled $37 billion USD, far below the previous ten-year annual average of $62 billion. However, 198 out of 353 natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in the year of 2015 were caused by natural disasters alone; the highest number ever recorded.

Thanks to new technology we have been able to mitigate losses — of money, people, or land. Not only can environmental sensors predict events, but they have helped major cities all over the world monitor increasingly destructive activities due to the rise in demand for certain materials and land. Deforestation and crimes against wildlife have become rife, monitoring them is important, but what is being done to reduce them?

Agriculture

With the world’s population growing rapidly, food production will require an overall increase of  70% by 2050 to sustain a predicted increase of 2 billion people. Precision agriculture, also know as ‘Smart Farming’ focuses on streamlining the farming process with the aid of data collection, to help boost production and minimise waste. Up to 30% of harvests are lost before they even make it to the supermarkets; with data collection this can be significantly reduced. Farmers can make decisions using predictive weather modelling like IBM’s Deep Thunder, which claims to be hyperlocal down to 2km. Traditional methods of farming may soon change, with developments in genetically modified crops, and lab grown meat using tissue engineering techniques.

A study conducted by researchers at Oxford University found that 1000 kg of ‘cultured meat’ could produce up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45% less energy, 99% lower land use, and 96% lower water use than conventional methods of rearing animals for meat. Cultured meat has progressed leaps and bounds, however it will not be commercially produced until it is viable that demand can be satisfied. Obstacles including funding and a lack of regulation all over the world will also need to improve.

Deforestation

Deforestation is one of the biggest threats to our planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year, … equal to 48 football fields every minute.” The many causes include commercial agriculture, fires, logging, and mining. Deforestation causes between 12%-20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. To combat this, organisations like Google have teamed up with researchers at the University of Maryland, NASA, and the U.S. Geological Survey, to create a near-real time, interactive, high-resolution global deforestation map; the first of its kind. Without the Google Earth Engine this would not have been possible. The map is currently being used to help governing bodies create policies that will help minimise the amount, and the effects, of deforestation.

Researchers are also using drones to combat deforestation. BioCarbon Engineering, for example, is using unmanned aerial vehicles to collect data that allows them to map out — in high resolution and 3d — an area in need of restoring.They can then use this information to carry out planting and finally monitor those areas to ensure they stay healthy.

Endangered Species

According to the IUCN Red list criteria 16,928 species are listed as being threatened with extinction. ‘The Frozen Ark’ project are collecting, preserving, and storing DNA from endangered species with the help of GPS trackers.

Thermal imaging is being used around national park boundary areas in central Kenya to prevent criminal activities like poaching. A camera designed by the World Wildlife Fund can determine whether heat is coming from a human or from an animal. When a human is identified by the camera it sends an alert to park wardens, who can then respond quickly and (hopefully) stop poachers in time. Smart collars, (similar to smart technology mentioned in “The Latest Tech for You and Your Pet”), have also been introduced to wild animals, currently only as part of studies. It is hoped by UC Santa Cruz scientists that the collars will be able to give an insight into the needs and habits of animals and reduce the amount of human-animal conflict, which is currently a significant threat to the survival of species all over the world and to those individuals who populate areas of a higher risk.

E-Waste

With all the help and guidance technology has to offer the world it is important to also consider E-Waste, the waste technology itself produces, and how to reduce that effect on the environment. Projects such as Mainstream aim to create a ‘Circular Economy’ whereby waste “is restorative and regenerative by design and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” It is thought by the Environmental Protection Agency that only 27% of e-waste is recycled. To put this into perspective, if the 130 million cell phones disposed of each year in the US were recycled, enough energy to power 24,000 homes would be saved. To help do your part, and recycle your cell phone or other electronics, check out the links below!

Where can you recycle your electronics?