Cleantech Fights Back Against Pandemic & Carbon Emissions

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While climate researchers are studying a fresh set of scenarios to model the future of the planet, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we interact with our built environments. Nobody knows how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the climate. It is unclear, even if cleantech fights back with marketable innovations, whether humanity will come together to avoid a potential climate catastrophe. With lifting of restrictions on social engagement, will carbon emissions will return to record levels? In the meantime, what new cleantech contributions are making the planet more livable for the long-term?

cleantech fights back
Photo by Carolyn Fortuna

The Pandemic’s Long & Ruthless Reach

But man, proud man, / Drest in a little brief authority, / Most ignorant of what he’s most assured, / His glassy essence, like an angry ape, / Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven / As make the angels weep.”

-William Shakespeare, playwright and poet (23 Apr 1564-1616)

US President Donald Trump has a remarkable list of dubious or inaccurate coronavirus-related medical claims. Just this week, it was his idea that sunlight could possibly be used to treat people who have the virus. He also stated that injecting disinfectant into the lungs to clean sick patients from inside could cure them of the disease.

These harmful ideas highlight Trump’s unsuitability for office amidst the dilemma he faces between keeping the economy closed to halt the virus and getting people back to work. Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported that another 4.4 million people filed initial unemployment claims the week of April 19, bringing the US 5-week total to more than 26 million. US states are being told to file for bankruptcy rather than expect federal assistance.

“At all levels, it’s eye-watering numbers,” Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, said.

The consequences around the world are equally alarming.

140 million tulip stems were destroyed over the past month.

The number of childhood immunizations has fallen sharply during the pandemic, putting millions at risk for measles, whooping cough, and other life-threatening illnesses.

The World Food Program estimates that 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of the year, which would double the number of people facing acute hunger.

“As much as I hope we are able to get ordinary economic activity back up, that’s just the beginning of our problem,” said Adam Tooze, a Columbia University historian and author of “Crashed,” a study of the global effects of the 2008 financial crisis. “This is a period of radical uncertainty, an order of magnitude greater than anything we’re used to.”

One thing is certain, though — cleantech and climate researchers around the world aren’t sitting still while the economy stagnates. They’re developing inroads to fight the climate crisis.

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Cleantech Fights Back: Entrepreneurs Align with Researchers

The news from the cleantech world is hope-filled and inspiring in a time in which so much uncertainty surrounds us.

NOAA’s Hydrographic Services Review Panel, a federal advisory committee that advises the NOAA administrator on products and services related to navigation services, water levels and currents, and global positioning, will hold a virtual public meeting via webinar on April 28. The panel will receive input and updates on navigation services activities and resource needs, sea level rise and coastal inundation, geospatial and positioning data, technology, the NOAA fleet, priorities for the Arctic, and integrated coastal and ocean mapping.

Finalists for the 2020 Keeling Curve Prize include projects that turn carbon dioxide into stone, bring solar energy to rural Africa, help people get paid for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and invite people online to post messages about climate change to those they love living decades in the future. The 20 finalists, announced during the Smithsonian’s digital Earth Optimism Summit, were chosen from over 300 applications from all over the world. The Keeling Curve Prize (KCP) is a global warming solutions project. The KCP organization is named for climate science pioneer Charles Keeling, who took continual measurements of CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The curve is based on decades of these measurements, and recent numbers indicate atmospheric CO₂ levels hit over 415 parts per million – the highest levels in human history.

Solar is soaring. Last year, one PV panel cost $0.23 per watt—a 99.3% decrease since the first Earth Day 50 years ago. On Monday the key US oil benchmark closed trading at -$37.63 a barrel. The negative prices indicate a profoundly dislocated oil market and a world of new applications for solar. The Solar Impulse Foundation is doing all it can to assure solar’s stability. “The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day is our wake-up call,” says Bertrand Piccard, founder of the not-for-profit Solar Impulse Foundation. Piccard’s mission is to fast-track the 1000 Profitable Solutions portfolio to support a circular economy in accordance with UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A free Sustainability Dashboard is now available that provides visibility into the environmental impact of supply chain operations. The dashboard allows companies to identify specific areas within their supply chains that are contributing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions so that they can develop more effective sustainability strategies. For example, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, freight transportation is a major contributor to air pollution, accounting for more than 50% of nitrogen oxide emissions, over 30% of volatile organic compound emissions, and over 20% of particulate matter emissions.

Plant-Based Home Products: Rebel Green was born out of the determination to make highly effective, natural cleaners at a better value with a “chic, edgy. and rebellious flair.” Whenever possible, Rebel Green only creates products made in the US that are specifically designed to minimize waste and motivate a fundamental shift in thinking about the planet we share. (Note: I’ve had a chance to sample their Fresh & Clean Handsoap and Tree Free Toilet Tissue, and I would recommend both.. although the latter is hard to get now during the pandemic.)

Water, water everywhere — but is it clean? Hydros – a sustainable startup that is dedicated to bringing filtered and clean water to the masses. Their universal water filter is made from 100% Coconut Shell Carbon in a BPA-free casing, with no ionic plastic resins. Hydros is reported to filter water in real time for drinking, eliminating the typical 30 minute to an hour wait for drinkable water. Water pitchers, carafes, and reusable water bottles are helping to eliminate the need to stockpile plastic filtered water during COVID-19 and help their customers save money. Did you know the average household spends upward of $1000 on water bottles a year?

Reducing paper in unexpected places: The Saalt Cup is a reusable soft silicone cup worn internally like a tampon, but collects—rather than absorbs—the menstrual cycle flow. It stays in place by creating a seal between the cup and the vaginal wall. Once the cup is filled, it is emptied, rinsed, and reinserted for another 12 hours of protection. The cup is chemical- and toxin-free, which is better for the body and the environment.

Final Thoughts

Climate change threatens 1 million plant and animal species. Warmer oceans could lose 1/6 of their fish and other marine life by the end of the century. Global warming is a major risk to the economy. The world’s leading scientists have made it clear that, to prevent the worst effects of climate change, there needs to be “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented” changes to our energy systems, according to the IPCC.

In simpler terms: We need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cleantech innovators are fighting back, often against the pressures of influential people in markets and governments.  The road to a decarbonized energy system is opening up before us; it will take all of us to support these industries in what is sure to be a most difficult energy transition.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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