A scientific process called desalination could help solve a looming water crisis.
With a higher demand for freshwater, a growing population will continue to pressure natural freshwater resources. Today, 1 in 9 people already lack access to safe water. If current water consumption trends persist, the demand for water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030.
Only 0.7% of Earth’s water is readily accessible as freshwater and 96.5% of it is saltwater. Through the process of desalination, scientists can turn saltwater into safe, drinking water. This process is either thermal-based (solar desalination) or membrane-based (reverse osmosis).
Why not implement desalination worldwide? There are environmental and economic challenges. For example, brine, the concentrated salt byproduct of desalination plants, is known to disrupt ocean ecosystems. But path to more sustainable alternatives exist.
If global water scarcity worsens, sustainable desalination plants can help provide fresh, potable water to vulnerable populations across the world.
Dig deeper → 2 min
The Sahara Desert can transform Africa into a solar energy superpower. Concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic power (PV) hold the answers to the energy revolution in the region.
- If all sunlight received by Northern Africa converted into solar energy, it could power all of Europe more than 1000 times over.
- Concentrated solar power (CSP) technology can use lenses and mirrors to store large amounts of solar heat.
- Tunisian transcontinental transmission of photovoltaic power (PV) and CSP prove this concept.
- PV is more reliable for decentralized plants to power rural regions in Africa.
Between the lines
- To better understand how a CSP plant works, check out the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert.
- Desert solar panels can improve climate conditions in the region.
- Compared to sand, panels reflect lower amounts of heat to space.
- The result: surface heating in the desert and cloud formation.
- Changing the desert’s heat budget may increase precipitation levels.
Questions to consider
- What companies would fund the project?
- Who would benefit from affordable solar electricity?
- How can you export energy to nations inside and outside of Africa?
Why it matters
- CSP can release energy overnight, creating a 24-hour source of energy.
- CSP has a high initial set-up cost but has long-term advantages over traditional forms of energy generation such as hydroelectricity.
Bottom line The developing world has a unique opportunity to learn harsh lessons from 20th century economic development principles. Using natural phenomena like the Sahara Desert or the Congo River, Africa can become the solar energy superpower of the future.
Hot take music festivals need sustainability now more than ever.
What’s the matter The music industry is an integral part of society, but it has some catching up to do in the world of sustainability. With constant traveling, waste production and energy demands, tours and festivals carry a heavy environmental impact.
By the numbers
- A UK study found that in 2015, five artists collectively generated 19,314 kilograms of CO2 emissions between April and September (the equivalent of 1 million people’s CO2 emission per year)
- Tours can go through 18,720 plastic bottles a year
Bottom line While touring and festivals may be environmentally harmful now, there are many potential solutions for eliminating single-use plastics, utilizing biodiesel in transportation, recycling batteries, sourcing merchandise made from organic materials, promoting carpooling to the event, and educating fans.
Dig deeper → 2 min
The global spread of the coronavirus has caused layoff after layoff in the United States, forcing over 40 million Americans to file for unemployment in less than three months. How can America put its citizens back to work while fighting climate change?
What to know
- FDR kickstarted the economy in the Great Depression by creating the Civilian Conservation Corps to restore America’s infrastructure while employing jobless workers – similar programs could help unemployed workers during COVID-19
- Other countries are already doing it – Pakistan has employed 63,000 people in its 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme
- Governments control more than 70% of energy investments globally, so they can steer recovery in a positive direction for the climate and their people
- With an additional $15 trillion in a global COVID-19 recovery plan, we can increase our global GDP by 2.4% and add tens of millions of jobs in energy and infrastructure
- Implementing a green stimulus is necessary to effectively combat climate change as we emerge from the grips of COVID-19
- Many communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus are also disproportionately affected by climate change, so we must target a dualistic recovery
→ Dig deeper 5 min
What’s the sitch? For all the innovations we have today, access to quality food is still a critical issue across the globe. Food disparity is driven by a number of factors, such as income inequality and local production levels.
Big picture The barriers that prevent many people from eating healthier are interconnected with race, inequality, and systemic biases embedded in our society. Race, education, careers, income, and housing all play a role in determining food access.
Why it matters Overcoming system inefficiencies like excessive subsidies for meat production helps to lower barriers to healthier foods but it will take a national and global effort to completely eradicate systemic inequalities.
Dig deeper → 1 min
“It is worse, much worse, than you think.” Welcome to Earth Day, 2020 edition. For future Friday, we are exploring the 2020s and beyond as it relates to the environmental movement.
Are we talking about coronavirus? No, we’re talking about climate change.
That quote comes from David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth.
Emissions today and tomorrow
As of April 22nd, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations stood at 415.60 parts per million. Given the tight correlation between atmospheric carbon concentrations and global temperatures, we can effectively use that magical number as a proxy for anthropogenic climate change.
Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations have continued to rise, prompting notable climate change. But most of that increase has occurred over the last half century. We caused this problem in a matter of only a few decades, so why couldn’t we fix it in that time too?
In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report indicating we only had 12 years to keep global temperature rise from surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal set out in the Paris Agreement. … Read the rest
Our Earth Day series started with the 1970s and rounds out as we make our way toward the most recent decade – the 2010s.
The remarkable rise of social media defined this decade. Our Facebook and Twitter profiles enable us to connect, share ideas, argue, and organize in ways that no one could have predicted.
The consequences have been both glorious and dangerous. The power of social media to reach the masses fueled transformative movements, like the Arab Spring and a wave of youth climate protests.
But the same platforms that have connected us have also polarized us, fueling the rise of left and right-wing populism and anti-establishment sentiment, exemplified by Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street on one side and Brexit and the Tea Party movement on the other.
These movements mirrored a populist electoral wave, with Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, and Boris Johnson among others occupying key positions in many of the world’s most influential governments.
Welcome to Earth Day, 2000s edition. The decade of 9/11, foreign wars, tech takeovers and financial ruin.
As we entered the 21st century, the world increasingly understood climate change. From natural disasters to failed diplomatic initiatives, we describe some of the most defining environmental developments of the 2000s below. It was yet another disappointing decade, book-ended by economic turmoil, but chock-full of discouraging occurrences that called into question our global commitment to addressing environmental degradation.
Next, check out our final review, a survey of environmental developments during the 2010s.
Table of Contents
2000: Paul Crutzen Anthropocene
In 2000, scientists convened for a conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Eventually, frustrated by repeated mentions of the term Holocene to refer to modern times, geologist Paul Crutzen exclaimed that humans have made a geological and ecological imprint sufficient to mark a separate epoch, which he deemed the Anthropocene.
Crutzen was not the first to use the term – limnologist Eugene F.