IS CLIMATE CHANGE A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN OR A TECHNOLOGICAL CHALLENGE THAT CAN BE RESOLVED?
Delivered at the Preliminaries, Daring Debates Africa. 2020
The development of technology over the years is one that has brought wonder to the faces of man and the dynamism of it is one that has brought the incorporation of intelligent individuals, reputable institutions, to make the world an easier place to live in. However, with the emerging technologies that we have, things have gone down the drain as the adverse effect of these technologies tell on the survival of man and his environment. No wonder Alan Eddison said that “modern technology owes ecology an apology”. However, despite the problems these technologies have brought to us, one thing that is certain is that technology will take us out of it.
According to the President of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp, human-made methane emissions – a greenhouse gas that is released during natural gas production and distribution – are responsible for a quarter of all the warming we’re experiencing today of which one of its largest sources is the oil and gas industry. Similarly, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2018, oil and gas methane emissions are about 75 million metric tons worldwide, an amount of gas enough to generate all of Africa’s electricity twice over. This is a serious challenge posed by the energy industry through the use of technology. However, there is a solution, using technology. For Instance, the Environmental Defense Fund, in an article published by the World Economic Forum in 2018, stated their partnership with Shell, Stanford University and ExxonMobil to look at mobile detection technologies and as well launch a Methane Satellite mission by 2021 that can be used be used to map and measure human-made emissions globally, to ensure a 45% reduction by 2025 and aim to virtually eliminate the industry’s methane emissions by 2050. Hence, if technology has led us to this problem, definitely, technology can also take us out of it.
At a time when global emissions need to be going down, transport emissions are on the rise. For example, according to the data provided by climate watch, an online platform that provides open climate data for policymakers and researchers, the transport sector in the U.S. surpassed the electric power industry as the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2016. Also, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018, around 25% of the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are produced by the transport sector. Therefore, to solve this problem, the decarbonization of the transportation sector comes to mind by producing electric vehicles which would replace fossil driven vehicles and according to the International Energy Agency in June 2020, More than 14 countries around the world have proposed banning the sale of passenger vehicles powered by fossil fuels. This, thus, helps lessen further negative impacts of transport such as energy consumption, space requirements and noise emissions. Hence, if technology has led us to this problem, definitely, technology can also take us out of it.
The opposing side might claim that while technology might bring an end to this, climate change is happening more than climate technology is produced. However, what we need to establish is, right before the Industrial Revolution, the earth’s climate changed due to natural causes unrelated to human activity. And until the effect of human’s denigrating activities became evident, the need to produce counter-technology did not arise. Hence, you cannot judge the slowness of building new technological solutions as opposed to the fast increasing destructive nature of man through already built technologies. Remember, to destroy is much faster and easier than to build.
Furthermore, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2019, the world has witnessed a 60% decline in wildlife across land, sea and freshwater in just over 40 years. Same as the United Nations estimates that in the last 10 years, climate-related disasters have caused $1.4 trillion worth of damage worldwide. Despite the scary figures, we need to believe that with technology, we still can overcome this challenge. For instance, the World Wide Fund for Nature avowed its partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and the University of California to develop an algorithm that enables the detection of deforestation from palm oil expansion using remote sensing data; Chinese government harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence to help protect wild tigers and their habitats, while also protecting countless other species, helping carbon storage, vital watersheds and communities in the area. These are just evident examples from the numerous that exist. This just is to affirm that even if technology has led us to this problem, technology can also take us out of it.
Finally, Just as technology is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, relate to one another and to the external world, it can similarly be regulated by the government by developing policies that will guide against the use of disruptive technologies that contribute to climate change. And until we take actionable steps, not minding the efforts it will cost to create these new technologies, we just continue to join hands in increasing the potency of a warm heart, uncontrollable flood and continuous environmental disasters that can almost make the earth unrecognizable. But as long as it is technology that has contributed more to this problem, it can definitely take us out.