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The War against Climate Change

The War against Climate Change

By: Aftab H. Wahla 

Notwithstanding that Trump administration has withdrawn from Paris Climate Agreement, the average global temperature is rising; the heated oceans are intensifying the occurrence of extreme weather patterns; the unusually warm climate is increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and sea surges —  recent category 4 and 5 hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the Atlantic ocean, for example — huge hole has opened up in Antarctica’s ice cover, the maximum ice coverage of Arctic is at the lowest since 1979, the Greenland’s ice caps are fast depleting and coastal floods are being witnessed at unprecedented levels; humanity is fiercely fighting against climate change on scientific, diplomatic, political, religious and social fronts. The news from these fronts are positive and encouraging and they give optimism that humanity would be able to survive climate change-driven existential threat as it had effectively countered the long-feared threats of population-bomb-driven mass starvation of the people through Green Revolution in the 1960’s. Green Revolution negated the Malthus’s prediction and ensured outpacing the food production from population growth through High Yielding Varieties (HYVs), the mechanization of agronomical practices, the application of artificial fertilisers and improved and effective irrigation system. 

Science at the service of humanity

Mitigation and adaptation are two approaches that are the undercurrent of all efforts being made to neutralize the repercussions of climate change. As far as war against climate change on science and technology front is concerned, there is much advancement that promises effective adaption and mitigation. Scientists are trying to decarbonize our global energy and transportation systems and developing new techniques that would be instrumental in ensuring food and nutritional security on sustainable basis.

The burning of fossil fuels for power generation is the biggest source of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouses gases. In this regard, many developments indicate that we are going in the right direction for complete transition from non-renewable sources of energy to the renewable ones. The innovation of sodium-based batteries, the near-development of living solar batteries that will manipulate the photosynthetic ability of bacteria to generate power – these batteries will be 4 times more efficient than solar panels – the use of the molten-salt reactors in nuclear plants that will use thorium instead of uranium and the rapid improvement in fusion-based power plants which will be able to generate power at unprecedented level with zero CO2 emissions or dangerous nuclear refuse will go a long way in meeting the nationally determined targets set by the Paris Accord. In addition to these environment-friendly sources of energy, scientists have developed successfully many techniques that would turn CO2 into stone or reusable concrete. One of them is CO2NCRETE, a project that will capture CO2 and turn it into concrete that will also be used in construction. This project will soon be launched in India and China. With all these completed and near-completed projects, the scientists have planned to turn our whole energy mix into 100% renewable energy mix by 2050. This mix would include 36% wind power, 21% solar power, 15% residential rooftop solar power and remaining gap will be met through tidal, geothermal and hydroelectric sources of energy.

Transportation is also a major source of carbon emission. The triumphant march of science in this field also continues. Japanese company, Toyota has announced that it is going to launch zero-emission heavy–duty truck by the end of October. Germany has also inaugurated a train which emits water vapour and warm air. Both of these would use the technology called hydrogen fuel cell that is environment-friendly. In addition to improved electric vehicles, both in speed and efficiency, the technological advancements have materialized the erstwhile wild idea of Hyperloop. This superfast transportation system both for passengers and freight would use only electricity with zero CO2 emissions and will provide astonishing speed of more than 700 km/h. This system would be launched in Mexico within the next few years.

Threatened food security and endangered ecosystem and biodiversity are also the areas where intensive struggle is being made to ensure the survival of human beings. The science is making huge strides in these areas as well. Deforestation and consequent desertification of fertile lands is among the principal threats to food security. To neutralize this threat, Chinese scientists have come up with a breakthrough development whereby they have converted 200 hectare desert area into arable land. They have developed organic paste, made from cell walls of plants, that has increased the ability of sand to retain nutrients, water and air. The results are miraculous: 200 hectare converted land is now yielding corn, tomatoes, sorghum and sunflower. Coupled with irrigation, this breakthrough advancement has full potential to provide millions of hectare of additional arable land. Drought, salinity and waterlogging are some of hurdles in the way of ensuring food security, drought-, salinity- and waterlogging-resistant crop varieties are the right answer. In this regard, different biotechnology techniques offer unique solutions of manipulating the genome of crop species with an aim to insert desired traits. The recent breakthrough in this regard came in the form of CRISPR technique that has drastically refined the available genetic engineering tools to carry out gene-editing precisely at base-pair level. This advancement in biotechnology would go a long way in developing extreme-weather-resistant crop varieties to ensure food security.

The preservation of global ecosystem and biosphere demands large-scale and unprecedented collective effort on the part of humanity. In this regard, scientists are putting forward different radical ideas and projects to check and even reverse the climate change. One of them is geo-engineering, an umbrella term that includes different strategies to modify the overall absorbing and reflecting ability of the Earth either through adding the layers of ice on North and South Poles or through creating artificial magnetic field around the Earth. A pilot project is being carried out in Switzerland by which efforts are being made to not only stop the melting of ice but also to recover the dissipated fringes of glacier. If this project shows encouraging results, this would be applied in Arctic Sea and Greenland in order to recover the fast-melting ice sheet in the North Pole. 

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