Why Technology — Not Politics — Is The Key To Fixing The Climate Crisis10 February, 2022 / Articles
It’s easy to feel disheartened about climate change. Every day it feels like we’re bombarded with some more bad news about the climate crisis — with little being done by politicians to address it head-on.
Even COP26 — the UN’s 26th climate summit held recently in Scotland — left many feeling let down by our governments’ collective response to global warming. No wonder, then, that a recent global study of 10,000 young people found almost half (45%) admitted the climate emergency was causing them so much anxiety and distress that it is starting to affect their ability to function.
So what can we do to stop the planet (and the next generation) from burning out? Well, although it may not feel like it, there are some reasons to feel optimistic.
First, COP26 was not a total letdown. Secondly, there are already a number of tech innovations already tackling climate change.
There were some positives to come out of COP26.
The big news that broke at the summit was the Glasgow Climate Pact. As part of the pact, countries agreed to 1) reagree on targets next year and 2) keep an open dialogue on funding for loss and damage. Not exactly inspiring stuff. But here are two positives to take away.
1. The deal requests countries to “revisit” their targets again next year. Before COP26, world leaders had to reevaluate their climate goals twice a decade. Now it’s 10 times a decade.
2. The deal calls for countries to “phase down” coal-fired power generation. Originally, this was phrased as “phase out” coal-fired power generation but was dialed down. Of course, that’s not a win, but the fact coal is mentioned for the first time ever in a COP document is something to celebrate. It shows fossil fuels are loosening their grip on politicians, corporations and society.
Tech advancements could hold the key.
If we are being honest with ourselves, technology, not politicians, could be the most realistic answer to solving the climate crisis.
We all know the impact new tech can have on our lives — and there are already a number of innovations that will help us keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5C (the point scientists believe we’ll start to see dangerous and irreversible damage).
Let’s start with my own industry — ad tech.
Advertising’s Carbon Problem
Now, when thinking about industries with large carbon footprints, advertising is not one that readily springs to mind.
But from ad production to the substantial energy required to fuel the digital ad ecosystem, Adland contributes heavily to carbon emissions around the globe.
The internet is responsible for almost 4% of global CO2 emissions (that’s similar to the amount produced by the airline industry). A sizable chunk of that percentage is taken up by digital advertising, particularly data-rich formats such as video. In fact, a typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide — roughly a third of what an average U.S. consumer produces in a year.
And that’s just the ads we actually see. Because of the rise of programmatic advertising, we not only need to factor in the carbon dioxide used to transfer the ad onto the page and display the ad to the user but also the trillions of auctions that take place every day without any ads being served at all.
There are many steps that advertisers can take to reduce the carbon footprint of their digital ads. These vary from reducing the size and type of creative assets being used to the green credentials of the servers and publishers advertisers choose to work with.
The Green Ad Tag
But there are also a number of innovations within the industry that are helping to reduce the hefty carbon footprint. These include a number of different carbon calculators, including AdGreen’s, swirling around the industry to help advertisers measure the negative impact their operations have on the planet. At Good-Loop, we have also developed the Green Ad Tag, a tracking pixel that, for the first time, enables brands to measure and offset the carbon cost of their digital advertising in real-time.
Moving away from adtech, there are also a number of other tech innovations that are helping to tackle the climate crisis. These include:
It’s not just about carbon offsetting. Cleanhub calculates and offsets plastic emissions. Its platform connects brands with local collection partners who collect nonrecyclable plastic in the coastal regions of developing countries.
OLIO is a free app that reduces food waste by connecting neighbors with each other and sharing leftover food.
Justdiggit is a charity that is cooling down the planet by regreening Africa using rainwater harvesting technologies to revitalize degraded land.
Could hydrogen-fuelled planes be the future of flight? Well, in September 2020, the world’s first commercial-grade hydrogen plane took flight in the U.K.
Why is this exciting news? Well, planes fueled by hydrogen produce zero CO2 emissions and can substantially reduce or even eliminate pollutants such as nitrogen oxide.
Vertical farming is the future of farming. While traditional farms are limited by geography and the change in seasons, vertical farming allows growers to grow crops indoors all year round — with the help of robots and AI, which continually improve the quality of growth for fruits, vegetables and herbs grown.
For example, this two-acre vertical farm in California, created by San Francisco tech startup Plenty, produced more food than a traditional 720-acre farm, despite using 95% less water and 99% less land.
Direct Air Capture Technology
Direct air capture technology can pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and put them back where we found it — underground.
The slight fly in the ointment is if we were to use this to solve our problems today, it would cost $10 trillion. That’s half the GDP of America every single year.
The big takeaway? Solutions are out there, but we need to start making them cheaper to effect change quickly.