Earth Day – Investing in Our Planet
Walter Cronkite may have described it best. “A day set aside for nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival”. He was talking about Earth Day. Every year on April 22nd, people around the world join forces to raise awareness about environmental issues. This year’s Earth Day comes after the release of the latest IPCC report which highlights that the world is barrelling towards stronger, more frequent natural disasters fuelled by the climate crisis, with little time to reverse course. However, as this year’s theme of “Invest in Our Planet” attests to, there is still hope, and it takes the form of investment and deployment of innovative technology.
The idea of Earth Day came in 1969, after the Santa Barbara oil spill in the United States. More than 3 million gallons of oil was poured into the sea, killing upwards of 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals and sea lions. This environmental catastrophe mobilised activists and in response, they pushed for regulation, and environmental education and sowed the seeds for what was to become Earth Day.
In the years that followed, Earth Day inspired new laws around environmental practices with the aim to highlight the importance of conservation and bring about behavioural change to protect the environment. It was fitting that the Paris Agreement, which set out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, was signed on Earth Day 2016.
However, even with our rules and regulations, the planet is approaching a near irreversible climate catastrophe. The most recent IPCC report stated that we are quickly approaching the 1.5°C threshold and are expected to reach it within the next decade - the Earth has already heated 1.1 °C in the past 150 years. Although an extra 0.4 °C may seem inconsequential, this milestone will affect health, livelihoods, food security, water supplies, and human and economic growth but its environmental impact highlights the magnitude of such an increase.
For example, an increase of 1.5 °C will have the following effects:
70-90% of the coral reefs will die. Coral reefs are instrumental in oceanic biodiversity but more impressive than that, they generate half of Earth's oxygen and absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide generated from burning fossil fuels. At 2 °C, 99% of coral reefs will disappear.
Loss of species and extinction –6% of the insects, 8% of the plants and 4% of the vertebrates will see their population reduced by more than half.
“Once in a lifetime” storms will become increasingly frequent. Hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and extreme heatwaves will become much more common. Heatwaves are already 8.6 times more likely than before.
Icecaps melting will lead to flooded cities. As the icecaps melt at alarming rates, coastal cities are becoming more and more susceptible to rising ocean levels. 37% of the global population live in coastal communities and as the ocean levels rise, these communities will become displaced leading to environmental refugees and increased pressure on resources. In the past 16 years, Antarctica and Greenland have lost enough ice to fill Lake Michigan. That’s a volume of 4918km3.
These damning figures and the recent IPCC report is why this year, the theme around Earth Day is to “Invest in Our Planet”. A global greener economy is achievable, but breakthrough technology will be paramount. Commercially viable carbon capture technology (CC) is a prime example.
Take cement production - cement, as a resource, is second only to water in annual consumption. It is integral to our society but emits large quantities of carbon dioxide as a by-product of its manufacturing process and is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. CC technology is considered the most viable option to combat these emissions, with the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) stating that “Carbon capture can achieve 14 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed by 2050 and is viewed as the only practical way to achieve deep decarbonization in the industrial sector”. Despite this, widespread deployment of CO2 removal technology, in industries such as cement production, has been held back by sky-high energy requirements and costs.
However, this is now about to become an obstacle of the past. Innovations, such as MOF Technologies’ Nuada carbon capture system bypasses these energy and cost barriers, delivering a commercially viable solution for the industrial sector to decarbonise. It uses bespoke filters called MOFs (Metal-Organic Frameworks) which are designed to selectively capture CO2and can be regenerated using pressure instead of heat. This, in turn, slashes the energy costs associated with carbon capture by up to 80%, thus making CO2 removal a viable business option for highly polluting industries and enabling the move to low-emission operations.
This level of ingenuity is what is required when we invest in our planet. By creating green solutions that make financial sense for businesses, like the Nuada system, highly polluting but necessary industries will be able to decarbonise, curbing emissions and ultimately stemming the 1.5C increase.
Many industries, such as cement, recognise the need to change and are already investing heavily in the adoption of sustainable solutions. However, as individuals, we still have a role to play. Even the small personal actions we take can contribute massively to the preservation of our planet, whilst putting the pressure on corporations and governments that will demand change. For instance, in a survey amongst 18–25-year-olds, 50% reduced how much they buy whilst 45% stopped purchasing certain brands due to ethical or sustainability concerns. These economical drawbacks in turn put pressure on big businesses to adopt more environmentally minded practices where sustainability and ethical considerations are transparent throughout the value chain. Such is the power of the consumer, a category that we all fall into.
Now, more than ever, our planet needs us. Our current path is not sustainable and the longer we walk it, the closer we get to an uninhabitable planet. There is no miracle solution, it requires a collective effort but with changes in how we live our lives, how businesses operate, and with the help of innovative technology, there is hope. So, on this Earth Day, think about how we can best invest in our planet and together, we can build the framework for supporting the stable and sustainable future that we so desperately need. 💚
Find out more about the energy-efficient Nuada carbon capture system here.