Some New Approaches to Sustainability

How to Save Earth: Here’s 7 Ways  Humanity Can Solve Its Challenges

How to Save Earth

Learn how to save Earth with these seven keys to surviving and thriving, and solving the many challenges we face as a species and as a planet.

How can humanity navigate its way through the current global crisis to safely reach a future Utopia? If you want to learn how to save Earth and turn the fate of the planet around, read on.

In October, The Guardian reported on a group of experts that were struggling to learn how to save earth:

A disparate group of experts from around the world will meet for the first time on Thursday for talks on what must rank as one of the most momentous decisions in human history.

The question confronting the scientists and other specialists is straightforward enough, even if the solution is far from simple. Is it time to call an end to the epoch we live in and declare the dawn of a new time period: one defined by humanity’s imprint on the planet?

It will probably be a while before the group reaches a consensus of whether or not we are living in such an epoch defined by “humanity’s imprint on the planet.” In the meantime, it is not very difficult to look around and see that a global crisis abounds: temperatures are rising (along with sea levels), global economies remain dependent on fossil fuels, perpetual war seems like it’s here to stay, civil liberties are being stripped away by mass surveillance, and social justice is being weighed against a brutal police state. We need to define a better humanity before the planet can be defined by humanity’s impact upon it.

If there is any hope of global change, it must first begin within the individual, and then the local community. Gandhi’s classic aphorism still holds true: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Want to learn how to save Earth? That’s where to start.

Below are seven ways to learn how to save Earth, radical and positive strategies that can guide humanity through the current global crisis.

1. Earthships

Earthships are sustainable homes built from recycled materials like tires and plastic bottles, designed with thermal heating and cooling, and featuring green house food sources.

2. Permaculture

In the words of one of the founders of permaculture, Bill Mollison, “[It] is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”


3. 3D Printing

Advances in 3D printing already show great promises in space travel and regenerative medicine. The huge potential of 3D printing to revolutionize medicine continues to reveal itself, as two exciting new research projects show.

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Sciences joined forces with leading 3D bioprinting company Organova to develop 3D printed tissues for transplant research. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wollongong and ARC Centre for Excellence for Electromaterials Sceince (ACES) at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia have teamed up to utilize 3D bioprinting to study the human brain, with the hope of curing brain disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, as well as repairing head injuries.

The number of donors for vital tissue and organ transplants continues to decrease worldwide, and yet the demand for transplants increases. 3D bioprinting, also known as tissue engineering, offers a solution to the longstanding and growing issue of the lack of donors needed for transplants. It could also shorten the amount of time that patients have to wait for organ and tissue transplants.

“This field may provide a unique and new opportunity where we can print 3D organs that can supplement or replace the shortage of organs out there worldwide,” said Dr. John Geibel, vice chair and director of surgical research at Yale School of Medicine.

Neuroscience could potentially see big breakthroughs thanks to 3D printing as well. A brain disorder such as schizophrenia remains difficult to understand and treat due to its inability to be studied through animal research, as the condition is unique to humans. But that might change thanks to the research being undertaken by ACES in Melbourne, Australia. 3D printing potentially lead to cures for a host of other neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, and also aid doctors in treating sever brain injuries. It could also provide transferable tissue that could be implanted into a human brain.

“We are at a very exciting time in stem cell and regenerative medicine research and technology development,” said ACES stem cell expert Associate Professor Jeremy Crook.

“With the opportunity and realisation that natural and synthetic biomaterials can be used to support and control cell and tissue engineering, I believe we can better model healthy and disease biology for understanding disease processes, drug development, and tissue replacement therapy.”

While 3D bioprinting has not yet been demonstrated on a real and measurable scale, the field is rapidly advancing. In a very short period of time we might see organ “assist” programs in which a bioprinted organ could temporarily replace a failing organ while the patient waits for a full transplant. Eventually, tissue constructs might even be used to restore tissues or organs damaged by injury, disease or even normal aging.

“We are at a very exciting time in stem cell and regenerative medicine research and technology development,” Crook said.


4. Graphene

(This section was contributed by Kevin Gamble.)

Could graphene—a super-thin substance only a single atom thick that is stronger than diamond, bendable, and usable for computer screens and solar power—revolutionize the world’s energy future? Two new discoveries suggest that might be the case.

Graphene is an allotrope of pure carbon, arranged in a honeycomb-like lattice structure, resulting in a sheet material a single atom thick. Hailed by many as a “wonder material,” and a likely successor to silicon, graphene is being set up to be the next technological milestone, especially in the fields of energy and electronics. The first potential breakthrough has shown that graphene is extremely efficient in the conversion of light into electricity, far more efficient than our current crop of solar cell technologies. The second breakthrough highlights a new graphene-based energy storage technique, which could completely transform the way we store energy and charge electronic devices (including our EV’s).

Graphene’s ability to convert light into electricity is far more efficient than originally thought. It appears that it is capable of producing multiple electrons from a single photon, thus potentially leading to solar cells far more efficient than any material we currently have.

Frank Koppens, who headed up the study, notes:

“In most materials, one absorbed photon generates one electron, but in the case of graphene, we have seen that one absorbed photon is able to produce many excited electrons, and therefore generate larger electrical signals.”

“It was known that graphene is able to absorb a very large spectrum of light colors. However now we know that once the material has absorbed light, the energy conversion efficiency is very high. Our next challenge will be to find ways of extracting the electrical current and enhance the absorption of graphene. Then we will be able to design graphene devices that detect light more efficiently and could potentially even lead to more efficient solar cells.”

PV cells have traditionally been made with silicon. While an extremely abundant resource, purifying silicon and forming it into crystals and then cutting it into sheets for solar cells is an energy and time intensive process. PV cell efficiencies using silicon have topped out at around 25% for the most widely used solar cells, while the most advanced multi-junction cells have reached only 44% efficiency. Graphene has the potential to dramatically change the PV market, through the development of highly efficient, malleable, and easily mass-producible solar cells.

This week also saw UCLA researchers Ric Kamen and Maher El-Kady announce their recent work with graphene. Using off-the-shelf commercial DVD-burners, the team has developed a simple yet profound method for producing graphene sheets. As if their methods for fabrication were not novel enough, yielding the potential to efficiently mass produce graphene sheets, it’s their “accidental discovery” which is most exciting.

By embedding electrodes into their graphene discs, El-Kady and Kaner found that the energy storage capabilities far exceeded their expectations. They speculate that if their work pans out as they hope, it may be possible to apply these super capacitors towards charging electronic devices in record time, such as getting a full charge on a Smartphone in seconds, and—more importantly—fully re-charging batteries on Electric Vehicles (EV’s) within a minute. This discovery alone could help towards solving some of the problems associated with EV’s, particularly slow-charge times, and the lack of a charge-station infrastructure. Better yet, since they are made out of pure carbon, they could be composted when they are spent.

While this new research on graphene looks to be extremely promising, it will still take some time before it will be able to be mass-produced at an affordable rate. Nevertheless, it is work like this that could do wonders for enhancing the world’s energy capabilities, moving us towards a more sustainable future.

While quick charging times is certainly helpful for everyday stress, and could help advance the spread of EVs, it is the PV applications which the world stands to benefit the most from. With the development of cheap, malleable (yet extremely strong) and transportable PV cells we could radically change our energy infrastructure, moving ever closer to a de-centralized, distributed power, where any surface, including your own body, could become a source of power generation. That’s all the more reason to increase funding into this research, and related technologies.


5. Sustainable Energy

Sustainable energy resources like wind and solar have the potential to virtually replace our dependency on fossil fuels. They can also provide developing nations with energy autonomy.

6. The Psychedelic Experience

Entheogenic substances have been known to indigenous cultures for millennia to induce mystic states and deprogram the nervous system from social maladies, and Western science has been arriving at the same findings for a number of decades.

7. Multi-Planetary Civilization

As we learn how to save Earth and heal the ills of our planet on both the local and global scales, the next step to ensure the survival of the species will be multi-planetary civilization. If we don’t figure out how to save Earth, at least we’ll have backups.

So, how to save Earth? This is only the beginning. In the words of Barbara Marx Hubbard, “The future first begins in imagination, then in will, then in reality.” We hope this guide has inspired you and shown you how to save Earth, because we need all the help we can get!


Growth of Green Power

Don’t Look Now, But Investors Are Putting Billions Into Clean Power

Crude oil prices dropped last week to under $30 a barrel for the first time since 2003. Interestingly, that was the year SUV sales peaked in the United States. A dramatic fall in oil prices, along with smaller drops in the prices of natural gas and coal, should likewise be bad news for investments in renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Yet exactly the opposite has been happening.

In late November, just as the global climate change conference began in Paris, Bill Gates announced a multi-billion-dollar initiative to help developed and developing countries more than double their research and development budget for clean energy. In interviews given around that time, Gates said he hoped to attract even more funding for clean energy initiatives from governments and philanthropists around the world.

In fact, billionaires around the globe are investing heavily in solar and wind energy. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, have solar panels installed at Google headquarters and are deeply involved in researching clean energy, as is headline-grabbing billionaire Richard Branson. Some, like Shi Zhengrong, have even made their billions in the clean energy sector. Suntech Power, founded by Shi Zhengrong, is the largest manufacturer of photovoltaic cells in the world.Though some venture capital investors became skittish about clean-tech investments after the “clean-tech bubble” of 2008, many other investors with longer timelines and less desire for immediate returns have begun to pour billions into solar and wind energy. Unlike the Gates and Bransons of the world, these investors are not making their investments for purely philanthropic reasons, but because they smell real financial gain. CleanTech Syndicate, a secretive collective of 11 families worth over $60 billion, has invested $1.4 billion in renewables in the last year alone with the goal of making a difference in climate change while reaping a healthy profit along the way.

Solar and wind energy have quickly been gaining traction over the past few years. Energy capacity from solar and wind has tripled since 2008. Though still far behind coal, the most optimistic forecasts for the growth of solar and wind energy for the year 2030 have already been met and surpassed. Several reasons account for this rise in renewable energy, including increased government investment during the recent recession, increased regulations on coal power plants and the natural efficiency that comes from repetition. Jenny Chase, the head of solar at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, put it simply, “The more of something we do, the better we get at it.”

But the real secret to the growth of wind and solar energy is rather obvious: They’ve both gotten much, much cheaper. Solar energy especially has benefited from innovations in technology, declines in cost of materials and an expanded manufacturing base, leading some to believe that by the year 2030 solar energy capacity could increase fivefold and be up to 50 percent cheaper.

This drop in cost led Dan Esty, an environmental law and policy professor at Yale, to argue that the recent drop in oil prices is actually a good thing for solar and wind energy as they will both be forced to become even more economical to compete with fossil fuels. This competition will leave them perfectly positioned when fossil fuels eventually become more expensive.

The issue of cost is especially important in the case of developing nations that are rapidly expanding their energy infrastructure due to growth and industrialization. One of the most pressing concerns of the climate conference in Paris was how to decrease carbon levels without stifling the growth of impoverished and developing nations. Increasingly, the hope is that wind and solar energy can bridge this divide. Recently, India announced an alliance of 120 countries that will work together to develop and implement solar technology. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes that heavy investment in solar energy will allow the world’s second most populous country to keep its large coal reserves untapped while still allowing its economy to grow at a steady pace.

China, notorious for its smog-filled horizons, has become the world’s largest producer and consumer of solar panels in recent years and hopes to get 20 percent of its energy supply from renewables by the year 2030. Even Saudi Arabia, the definition of a petro-state, is investing heavily in solar energy, hoping to stem its own consumption of fossil fuels; though of course in the case of Saudi Arabia this is less than altruistic as they hope to sell fuel to other countries for greater profits. 

Solar panels producing energyMore optimistically, the increasing accessibility of solar and wind technology has proved particularly useful for less economically stable countries, such as Afghanistan. In a country without a strong central government, it is difficult to develop the infrastructure necessary to generate power for citizens outside of major population centers. However, solar facilities can be built and maintained locally at modest expense allowing for the democratization of electricity in areas where it was previously not viable. This is especially helpful for developing nations, which are largely in tropical and subtropical regions and therefore receive abundant sunlight year round. 

Solar energy is not only growing in developing countries, it’s heating up in the United States as well. In July, the White House announced an initiative to increase the use of “community solar,” a system designed to install solar panels for apartment buildings or neighborhoods instead of requiring each household to install and maintain their own systems. The initiative hopes to extend the use of solar power to those who rent or cannot afford the up-front installation costs of solar panels and is viewed by many as the most significant market for solar growth in the United States. 

While solar and wind energy have made great strides in recent years, they still provide only a small fraction of the total energy output worldwide. Last year more than $250 billion was invested in renewable energy, but according to many analysts, that amount would need to quadruple in order to stem the climate change problems caused by fossil fuels.

On the upside, solar and wind energy have a record of far surpassing expectations and the investment and innovation in these technologies is only just beginning.

—The Alternative Daily