Climate change: the time to act is now

Author:Cecelia Thirlway
Position:Freelance writer
SUMMARY

Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex challenges of our time. Can humanity’s capacity for creativity and innovation really save the world?

 
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Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex challenges of our time.

To preserve our planet’s ecosystem, we must dramatically reduce our net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while continuing to sustain an expanding population.

That the problem is real is now mostly unchallenged: but how to tackle it remains a source of debate. Some believe we must learn simply to consume less. Others believe technological innovation alone can resolve the problem.

But can humanity’s capacity for creativity and innovation really save the world?

Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex challenges of our time. Can humanity’s capacity for creativity and innovation really save the world? (Photo: Courtesy of Climeworks)Improving our efficiency

Meeting emissions targets to limit global warming to 1.5°C is a significant challenge and “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems”, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC).

Innovation is always risky, and the complexity of the landscape makes these markets tricky to predict, so intellectual property (IP) remains a powerful business asset when it comes to addressing some of our biggest challenges.

Professor Steve Evans, Institute for Manufacturing, Cambridge University, United Kingdom.

As consumers, we can play our part in reducing carbon-intensive activity: turn our thermostats down, buy local food, fly less, walk and cycle more. But such behavioral change, especially on a global scale, takes time and relies on a complex interplay of factors.

Our own efforts can feel like a drop in the ocean. Even the most well-intentioned consumer finds it difficult to make the best choices in a complex and opaque system. And besides, not all of the world’s consumers have the luxury of interrogating their personal supply chain.

So how do we ensure our emissions decline as our consumption continues to rise? Is innovation the answer? Professor Steve Evans of the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University takes a nuanced view.

The Xeros Technology Group is helping the garment manufacturing and cleaning industries reduce water consumption and energy use in processes, such as dyeing and washing. (Photo: pixedeli / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

“I’m a bit worried that we’re so desperate to invent our way out of the problem, we’re not going to change the way we see the world. We’re just going to wait for renewable energy, for carbon capture, for people in laboratories to solve the problem rather than for CEOs, politicians and citizens to get involved.”

Evidence of human ingenuity at work in the fight against climate change abounds.

Professor Evans’ work involves identifying areas of waste to improve the efficiency – of resources, time, energy, materials – in manufacturing systems. Before a product such as a car ever reaches the buyer, the process of producing it has already had a significant environmental impact. His research shows there is huge scope to reduce that impact.

Did you know?

Every time you wash fleeces and other synthetic garments, up to 700,000 tiny plastic microfibers are released into the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans and are entering the food chain. The good news is that innovative filtration systems can stop this from happening.

“Many may think, logically, that we should be close to best possible efficiency,” says Professor Evans. “Remember, we’re talking about...

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