5 Ways Technology has Contributed to Global Warming
Look around you. Almost everything you have in your home has had a negative impact on the environment; your smartphone, TV, air conditioning, car and even your food. The first and second industrial revolutions had huge impacts on human life and in several ways technology has contributed to global warming as well.
Most countries experienced accelerated economic growth and quality of life generally went up. Thanks to these revolutions, you can read this article on your smartphone or PC, you can enjoy a slice of pizza and you can drive to work. All these are the pleasures of modern life, brought to us by industrial and technological revolutions.
But these pleasures are not without significant impact on the planet we live on. Populations have ballooned all over the world, leading to a greater demand on the limited resources available one earth. We have placed increasing pressure on the environment – through activities such as mining, building, farming and manufacturing – to meet our needs. In the space of a few decades, technology and industrialization has wrought more damage on the environment than ever before in the history of our blue planet.
Global warming, a result of environmental pollution, has threatened the very existence of our species, and millions of others that live alongside us. The top 10 hottest years in recorded history have all occurred since 1998 and we are yet to reverse or stop the warming trend.
Below, we look at some of the modern technologies contributing to global warming. We also include smart solutions being employed to help curb pollutions and bring the temperatures back down.
5 Ways Technology has Contributed to Global Warming
1. Power Hungry
Since the industrial revolution, we have come to rely on power generated from fossil fuels to fuel modern life. Everything from your home lighting to your fridge to your car is possible because of fossil fuels. Human dependence on fossil fuels has become so great that it has influenced world politics.
While power generated from fossil fuels is crucial to modern life, it has also severely damaged the environment. In fact, fossil fuels have been one of the greatest contributors to global warming. A 2016 report by environmental experts asserted that the amount of methane emitted by the fossil fuel industry has been grossly underestimated. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is quite effective at trapping heat within earth’s atmosphere thus causing global warming.
Burning fossil fuels
In addition to methane, burning fossil fuels (natural gas, oil and coal) releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon emissions are the single greatest cause of global warming. As more cities are built, more cars appear on the roads and more products are needed by a growing population so does our need for fossil fuels. This is why carbon emissions have been rising sharply in the last two decades. It is also why global warming has increasingly become an existential threat we can no longer ignore.
In fact, this point on a power hungry world is an umbrella for everything else we discuss below. All the technologies we mention rely on fossil fuels, making them secondary contributors to global warming.
But we are not doomed, at least not yet. As countries have come to the realization of just how dire the global warming situation is, there has been an increased focus on renewable energy sources. Costa Rica has gone for several months on nothing but renewable energy, eschewing fossil fuels for alternatives like solar and wind power.
In the United States, and most of the developed world, the use of renewable energy has accelerated at a breathtaking pace. Beyond solar and wind, countries are also resorting to biofuels and geothermal power. All these diversifications relieve the pressure we have placed on fossil fuels to maintain our modern lives. In the last two years, carbon emissions have not risen as much and world leaders are getting more proactive at curbing the greenhouse gas emissions.
So there is still reason to hope that global warming is not a runaway problem posing an existential threat to earth and its inhabitants.
2. Gadget Crazy
It feels like the world would turn on its head if Apple refused to release an iPhone every year. It is not just the iPhone but dozens of tech gadgets from smartphones to PCs. We have grown so used to yearly gadget cycles that we do not realize the impact it is having on the environment.
Producing new gadgets every year means a lot of manufacturing has to be done. This manufacturing relies mostly on fossil fuels. The more gadgets we demand the higher the use of fossil fuels. You can now see the connection between your new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy and the rising global temperatures.
As technology advances, more gadgets are being manufactured. A few years ago, we did not have wearables or virtual reality. Today, smartwatches, fitness bands augmented reality glasses and VR headsets have all joined the smartphone in satisfying our gadget craze. This means more manufacturing and more fossil fuels getting burned.
You should also remember that developing countries in Asia and Africa are showing a greater-than-ever appetite for tech gadgets. It may be good for them and the companies pocketing the extra cash but it is bad news for the health of our planet.
The only hope here is that manufacturers pivot towards renewable energy sources. This will help reduce dependence on fossil fuels even in the face of high demand for tech gadgets.
3. Travelling Extensively
Modern transportation is perhaps one of the most important technology advancements of the last century. We have more cars on the roads than ever before, air travel is getting cheaper and more popular and train travel is still a central part of many urban regions.
It is without doubt that modern transportation has been greatly beneficial. It allows us to travel to work places, move goods from place to place and has improved social interactions. But it is also straining the ability of our planet to deal with the increasing carbon emissions.
You have to remember that most forms of transportation depend on fossil fuels. In the US, the transportation sector produces a third of the national greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, 15 percent of total emissions come from cars, planes, trains and ships.
As the world population rises, so does the number of cars and planes and ships needed to satisfy our transportation requirements. In developing countries like India and China, millions of new cars appear on the roads every year.
It is obvious we cannot do without modern transportation. But what do we do about the threat of global warming posed by the transportation sector? Luckily, industry experts are coming up with innovative solutions.
Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors has led the way in manufacturing electric cars, making them affordable to the ordinary individual. Other motor companies are also starting to look into electric cars. In a decade, it is very likely that most of the cars on the road will use alternative sources of energy such as electricity instead of petroleum.
When it comes to air travel, major players have agreed on a plan to drastically cut emissions and take measures to mitigate the impact of their hazardous carbon emissions. Travel innovations such as the Hyperloop by SpaceX will further aid in efforts to cut carbon emissions in the transport industry.
Action to lower the carbon footprint in transport is especially important as the world population rises and people travel more.
4. Urban Sprawls
Existing cities are adding to their populations rapidly and are expected to maintain this trend for the decade between 2010 and 2020. Every year, scores of new cities arise around the world. China, for instance, has built hundreds of new cities over the last one or two decades.
The result of all this is a world populated with countless megacities, thanks to advanced architectural and urban planning technology. From New York to Hong Kong to New Delhi, these megacities come with no shortage of environmental effects.
Urbanization means an increase in the number of cars on the road, a bigger demand on power and more pressure on increasingly limited resources. Inevitably, there will be higher emission of greenhouse gasses, which comes with the risk of accelerated global warming.
Not without benefits
Urbanization has its benefits. It provides a place to shelter growing populations. Most importantly, it acts as a driver of economic growth. With urbanization come new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. Cities are a crucial driver of national, regional and international growth. But we cannot overlook the negative impact urbanization has on the environment.
Experts have already started to come up with solutions to minimize the environmental impact of megacities. Some cities are on an aggressive push to switch to renewable energy sources. Others envision a future where driverless cars eliminate the need for everyone to own cars.
Some countries are drawing up plans for smart future cities that run on 100% renewable energy. These sound like hopelessly out of reach ideas but with the rate at which technology is advancing, we believe they can be achieved.
Urban regions are the biggest contributors to global warming. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions by megacities, we could score a huge victory against global warming.
A hyper intensive consumerism culture has necessitated a radical increase in mining activity. As we demand for more smartphones, appliances and other gadgets, mining has to be stepped up to keep up with the demand.
Mining depends greatly on fossil fuels to power machinery and fuel trains and trucks used for transportation. Considering the potential financial windfall from mining activities, countries are not shy to dig deeper and further for diamonds, gold, stone and other minerals. After all, they have to feed and clothe their citizens.
But as with every other technology trend we have discussed above, the benefits come at a steep cost to the environment. As mining activity increases around the world, carbon emissions go up and global warming becomes more of a threat.
The world population is growing and this means a greater demand for natural resources. So expect mining activity to keep increasing over the coming years. But a few innovative solutions might help offset the negative environmental impact.
For instance, there is concerted effort to get mining companies to invest more in renewable energy such as solar and wind. This will help mitigate damage to the environment even if mining keeps going up in the future.
Technology to the Rescue
Industrialization and technology has led to the current global warming threat. We can rely on the same innovation inherent in humans to push back against the threat. From all the points above, it is obvious that renewable energy is one of the most effective solutions against global warming. Thankfully, renewable technology is advancing rapidly to provide affordable and efficient alternative power sources for a growing population.
In the travel sector, we need to come up with means of transportation that do not rely on fossil fuels. The advent of electric cars is a good start. In the future, we could even have planes that do not rely on fossil fuels to transport people between continents. The Solar Impulse, a plane that relied on nothing but solar energy to fly around the world, set precedent for cleaner energy in the skies. (https://www.solarimpulse.com/)
Some of the technological solutions suggested are a bit out of the ordinary. One of them is referred to as CSS or Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. The technology involves capturing carbon emissions from manufacturing processes, compressing the carbon dioxide into a liquid and storing it deep below the surface of the earth. The technology has yet to gain favor among industries chiefly because of the enormous costs involved.
Central to all the technological solutions to global warming is the reduction or elimination of our dependency on fossil fuels. Obviously, there are numerous financial and political reasons why countries will not even consider this approach. But if we could even lower our use of fossil fuels gradually over time, the fight against global warming will be significantly boosted.
In the meantime we will have to rely on renewable energy and zero-carbon technology to slow down global warming.
What technologies do you think are the biggest culprits in global warming and which solutions would you propose? Leave your comments below.