Oil-eating robots and apartment-dwelling bees are only a couple of the tricks scientists and engineers are using to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
There are many other strategies, detailed in a laundry list of TED talks, that explore how humans can keep the planet healthy in the coming decades.
Here are some of the most thought-provoking.
“This computer will grow your food in the future” by Caleb Harper
As Caleb Harper tells it, fewer people are getting into the farming business each year, which could threaten global crop production. Harper, the director of MIT’s Open Agriculture Initiative, developed a solution that may simplify the food production process.
Harper’s food computer is a device that can monitor and regulate growing conditions for crops. It grows food indoors in tighly controlled environments, handling variables like humidity and mineral quantities automatically. The result is a near-perfect crop of vegetables on a small scale – think tiny beds of lettuce, broccoli, and tomatoes – and the potential for sustainability on a wide scale.
“4 ways we can avoid catastrophic drought” by David Sedlak
Sedlak, a civil and environmental engineer, looks at global warming and sees a need to protect the world’s water stores, which currently live in reservoirs and aquifers.
Sedlak believes we need smarter ways of capturing stormwater underground, before diverting it to nearby treatment plants. He also calls for recycling waste water to make it drinkable, or “potable.”
Preventing over-consumption is also vital, he says, namely through sensors that can monitor sprinkler and irrigation use.
“We need nuclear power to solve climate change” by Joe Lassiter
Lassiter, an energy expert, argues detaching from oil and natural gas should be a no-brainer if governments can properly harness the power of nuclear energy.
“We have not used our latest scientific thinking on radiological healthto think how we communicate with the publicand govern the testing of new nuclear reactors,” he said. “We have new scientific knowledge that we need to use in order to improve the way we regulate nuclear industry.”
“Buildings that blend nature and city” by Jeanne Gang
Population forecasts say 67% of people will live in cities by 2050. As an architect obsessed with nature, Gang approaches her work to create designs that cater to that cramped, crowded future.
Her talk showcases some of her past work, including a Chicago high-rise apartment building that promotes social interaction among its tenants and a social justice center that uses logs instead of bricks in construction (to avoid the carbon footprint brought on by burning that wood).
Her overall goal is to bring city-dwellers closer together while also protecting the planet.
“A small country with big ideas to get rid of fossil fuels” by Monica Araya
In Araya’s home country of Costa Rica, five renewable energy sources – hydropower, geothermal, wind, solar, and biomass – supply nearly 100% of the power.
The tiny nation of 5 million people is a case study in how to protect the environment and develop new sources of energy at the same time, Araya says.
Costa Rica is also experimenting with electric buses and plans to go totally renewable by 2025.
“How we’re growing baby corals to rebuild reefs” by Kristen Marhaver
Marhaver, a coral reef biologist, details how important the disappearing coral reefs are to both the environment and human well-being.
They protect shorelines from storm surge, act as natural water filters, and provide a home to molecules that further the study of antibiotics and cancer drugs.
Together with her colleagues, Marhaver has taken on the job of breeding coral populations and introducing them to natural environments, so that they (and we) can prosper.
“A robot that eats pollution” by Jonathan Rossiter
Engineer Jonathan Rossiter developed a robot that uses microbes placed inside in a fuel cell to chomp away at algae or crude oil and produce energy in the process. That energy can then be used to power the robot and clean up even more of the environment.
He calls it the “Row-bot.”
Right now the robots are made of plastic, but Rossiter hopes to fashion them out of biological materials someday so they can degrade once they complete their life cycle.
“Every city needs healthy honey bees” by Noah Wilson-Rich
Honey bee populations are vital for keeping plant ecosystems alive through cross-pollination, beekeeper Wilson-Rich explains. Pollinators support 70 of the top 100 food crops, or roughly 90% of the world’s nutrition.
As the world urbanizes, even cities have a need for beekeeping, Wilson-Rich says. City-dwellers people can “hide a hive inside your home” (ideally on the roof, if you’re in an apartment building) and paint it to your preferred aesthetic.
“We save on the costs of transportation,we save on a healthier diet, and we also educateand create new jobs locally,” he says. “We need bees for the future of our cities and urban living.”