The climate crisis has led to a lot of doomism (guilty as charged), so it’s important to remember the positive changes happening, the progress that is being made (no matter how small) and to have optimism for a better future. Here’s a list of weird and wonderful ways people have developed to help combat climate change.
There have been some insane out-of-the-box designs and inventions to help combat the melting of ice caps, but one concept from Indonesian designers is the most adventurous yet—an ice-making submarine.
In a recent design competition held by the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA), the concept won second place for its bold idea to “refreeze the arctic.” The proposed submarine would dip beneath the ocean’s surface in order to fill the large hexagon-shaped well on its body. When the submarine resurfaces, the salt in the water would be removed via the vessel’s desalination system. Then, the water would be frozen onboard with a “giant freezing machine”—whatever that means—and would float away once the submarine submerges to repeat the process. Not sure this is actually feasible but it’s a cool idea.
So we all know by now that animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. If you don’t, you’ve got a lot of reading to do. Now, there seems to be a solution to that big methane problem—you know, cow farts—and it might surprise you, seaweed. Researchers who studied this, introduced seaweed into the feed of cattle and monitored the results over a period of five months found that the cows produced 82 per cent less methane. Maybe we should all get more seaweed into our diet…
Green pensions could be the “most powerful weapon” to combat the climate crisis, so what are they? If you’re a working adult you probably have a pension plan—your employer usually signs you onto one when starting your employment. However, you can decide to switch your plan to a different provider at any time. A green pension plan aims to only include companies that are having a positive impact on the environment and are sustainable.
Switching to green pensions or an ethical pension plan could be the biggest shift you could make as a consumer. According to Make My Money Matter, “greening your pension is more effective at cutting your carbon than stopping flying, eating less meat or buying an electric car.” The platform warns that your current plan could be used to fund deforestation, climate damage and tobacco. Finding a plan that invests in environmental, social and governance (ESG) makes sure that your money isn’t being used to destroy the planet.
David Macdonald, founder of The Path—an ethical financial advisory service that specialises in positive impact investing—told The Financial Times that “our research indicates that moving a £100,000 pension pot with a traditional portfolio with oil and gas companies to a positive impact portfolio is the equivalent of taking five or six cars off the road a year.” So what are you waiting for? Make the switch, I’m going to!
Littered beaches have unfortunately become a norm, but now there seems to be another robotic solution—the BeachBot. The robot is designed to clean up beaches by collecting small litter like cigarette butts. The design—which is still a prototype—has a clever AI algorithm that utilises image recognition and can already identify cigarette butts. The BeachBot “picks up a cigarette that is recognised with sufficient certainty and throws it into its waste bin.” If for some reason, the robot cannot determine the litter then actual people are called in to help. Who knows? You might see a Wall-E looking robot rolling around on your next beach trip. Help it out, don’t litter.
Okay you’ve probably already heard of seed bombs but they are still worth mentioning. Firstly, not to worry, they’re the friendliest explosion you’ll ever have in a bomb. Seed bombs are little balls composed of compost, seeds, nutrients and clay that could well be the solution to replanting our trees. In a video uploaded to sustainable information page Waste-Ed, they cite “this is what planting up to one billion trees per year looks like.”
In a style of planting called ‘guerrilla gardening’ thousands of seed bombs are dropped from the sky using planes or helicopters as a means to quickly repopulate the vegetation that has been destroyed. Using these bombs could be an efficient way of combating the ever-increasing number of trees cut down and could be the key in fighting climate change. You know what you have to do. Go get some seed bombs and help the world grow.
Painting streets white could help fight climate change, but how? Purdue University scientists in Indiana, US, have developed an ultra-white paint that they say could help combat global warming. Painting walls and roofs white to deflect heat from the sun has been done for centuries—I mean take a look at Santorini. However, Purdue states regular white paint can often get warmer; instead, its proposed ultra-white paint reflects up to 98.1 per cent of sunlight.
This makes it even more effective than an air conditioner. It does this through its chemical compound barium sulfate—which is made up of variously sized particles that work to “scatter” the sun’s rays and create an immediate cooling effect. Painting roads with this could potentially significantly reduce the heat absorbed into the earth. Some cities like Los Angeles have already begun painting their streets white to counter the heatwave. So, do you think this could work?
Therapy is no place for a lie, so I had better begin with truth. The new year will demand that the media output is accordingly hopeful. The first theme of this inexpert climate therapy column was supposed to be “hope”. New year, old problems but with a chipper twist of enthusiasm for wrenching out our bad habits and saving the planet. In 2019 you will be met with a screen full of tips for wellness and newness. Few column inches will be consecrated to the fact that last year you did not solve the environmental challenges humanity faces. Few media outlets will remind you in the first fortnight of 2019 about the problems we didn’t leave behind in 2018.
I tried to start the new year on a positive note like the rest of them but I’ve a drone in my bonnet. The week before Christmas some pesky, “brainless” (The Sun), “eco-warrior lone-wolf” (The Sun again), “fat idiot” (WTF, Jeremy Clarkson) was zipping around the fringes of Gatwick airport. My family was scheduled to fly out and join me in Norway for Christmas, so we collectively held our breath for the lone-wolf to stop driving through the sky (drone, not Santa) in time for Christmas.
While the cat and mouse palaver unfolded, I happened to be on the phone to Liam Geary Baulch, an Action Coordinator at Extinction Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion is an activist organisation which practices non-violent civil disobedience to protest inefficient government action against climate change. Geary Baulch is an artist and activist who focuses his research on the mental health of activists and climate scientists. He was pleased to talk to me about the feelings that climate change brings up but which we push deep down and have allowed to fester beneath our social conscience for decades.
Climate scientists and activists have written in the press for a number of years about their climate change related distress, and yet little has been done in the way of a public therapy session. Geary Baulch and I talked about the trauma of losing our planet’s biodiversity. We discussed hope and how to mobilise the public through emotive campaigns. I wondered if it was fair to condemn one group of people for deploying emotionally charged public speech and praise the other when it suits my agenda.
And then I asked, “it’s not you guys behind the drones is it?” A selfish question to a person already carrying the weight of emotional labour for another. Geary Baulch graciously corrected me, letting me know that Extinction Rebellion puts their name to their actions. Extinction Rebellion did have reporters ring in that day with the same question, though. Doing something is more hopeful than sitting ducks. A tale of hope and action is attractive.
People find Extinction Rebellion’s emotive language and approach to climate action comforting. Geary Baulch explains that the Extinction Rebellion talks across the country have created crucial support systems for members of the public who need to talk about their emotional responses to climate fear. “That human, emotional level of dealing with this is how we have grown. Whenever we’re doing actions physically on the ground, with people on the streets, that’s when our reach expands massively. I think there is something inspiring about it.”
On April 15 of 2019, Extinction Rebellion will stage their International Rebellion Week. I hope this year the media will make more space to cheer on a growing number of climate activists demanding systemic changes against climate inaction.
Phone call with climate activist over. Try to write about hope. Drink a beer and take a nap because it’s December 20 and no one else is replying to emails. Most of my writing takes on shape in the moment between wakefulness and napfulness anyway.
The image of the drone followed me into my lull. Was an “eco-warrior” out there making a stand against people like my family who were pumping carbon into the air to join me for a Christian festival of pretending? Still now the drone mystery has not been settled, but people were excited at the prospect of someone taking radical action against polluting infrastructures. It is like an arty b-list film where the plot is never resolved and instead it is the unfolding of the protagonist’s self-awareness which takes centre-stage.
I could not write about hope without addressing the reality that I have not changed my consumer habits enough this year. I still take planes, buy plastic, recycle sloppily, eat meat and fund H&M’s natural resource depletion. I feel the familiar dredge of guilt rather than a wave of fresh hope.
Guilt can root itself so deeply in ourselves and our relations that we barely notice it is there, and this prevents the actions for change that we urgently need to take. We are caught in our own systems and things and systems of things. Is it unreasonable to expect us to identify that beneath the noise, we feel desperately guilty about our environmental inertia? Lots of us are not doing enough, aside from refusing a plastic straw in our gin and tonic, to prevent the climate catastrophe rearing up on us.
We feel guilty before we achieve change. Guilty for not quitting, or starting, something we should. We do feel calmer once we start our homework, our tax return or begin an overdue, difficult conversation. Until we talk about our collective and individual culpability we cannot begin to dig up the insidious guilt that steels us against progress. We should begin the new year backwards, by addressing the old lies we tell ourselves: that it will be ok, that science will solve it and that the human disposition for pretence has nothing to do with solving the climate crisis.
Humans made this mess, some humans more than others. A human approach to understanding the emotional complexity of inaction is worth a run. My top 2019 tip: a novel public resolution to solve a sticky problem is all the newness we need this year.