The planet’s problems are myriad and pressing. But considering them insurmountable isn’t going to help matters. Rather, urgency is the name of the game. Because if we don’t face up to the biggest issues now, we’re only going to be dealing with even bigger, scarier and more daunting problems further down the road.
Thankfully, there are plenty of people and businesses out there realising that the time is now. Clean energy is a hugely pressing issue, with cutting CO2 emissions essential in the fight against climate change.
And it’s not just the energy created by power stations and agriculture that are a concern. Ruben Walker from African Clean Energy has channeled his energy into tackling the huge amount of energy expended by cooking on open fires on the continent. The burning of toxic paraffin leads to pollution, while the collection of firewood is leading to rapid deforestation. Terrifyingly, one person cooking on an open fire in one year uses as much energy as an SUV.
Walker, however, is looking to fix this with the development of a clean burning biomass stove. His invention takes all kinds of biomass, from cow dung to twigs, and converts it into gas, which does not produce the toxic smoke that results from open fires.
It’s not just the energy used while cooking that needs addressing. The Tanzanian government is using an innovative approach to fix the urgent problems of electricity supply and use in the country. In conjunction with U.S. company Off Grid Electric, it’s making strides in developing a new ‘solar as a service’ platform. This means installing a panel which can generate enough power for charging a phone, running a TV and generating light. Homeowners pay a $10 setup fee before paying for power via their mobile phones. Not only does it bring life giving electricity, it also means Tanzania’s electricity is generated from a more sustainable source.
Africa’s energy struggles are of a concern, but are clearly being addressed by companies like African Clean Energy and Off Grid Electric. But one of the continent’s, and the developing world’s, most pressing issues is sanitation. Or more pertinently, the lack of it. Operating on a similar subscription model to Tanzania’s solar panel scheme, Sanivation is a startup designed to bring clean toilets into the home. This problem is in dire need of a quick fix. Currently 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation.
Founders Emily Woods and Andrew Foote have developed a system which sees portable toilets installed in homes for free, with users then paying a monthly charge. This money doesn’t just cover the toilet though, it also pays for the waste to be collected and recycled into charcoal briquettes, which can then be used for cooking.
Such simple, but savvy solutions could have a major impact on the developing world. But how about fixing the problems in heavily polluted, developed cities? Here, initiatives tend to require complex thinking in order to solve issues that have been going on for years. Fortunately, city planners are starting to see a way forward, largely by trying to dispense with as many motor vehicles as possible in urban areas. In Paris, the city government has unveiled ambitious plans to double the number of bike lanes and ban diesel cars, while limiting certain streets to low emitting cars.
Where cities are being built from scratch, the ability to institute new ways of thinking is easier. A new satellite town outside of Chengdu, China is being created so that everywhere can be reached within 15 minutes by foot. Cars will be limited to half of the town’s road.
It’s clear that many of the planet’s urgent issues are tied to climate change and energy. Fortunately, the UK government created Global Calculator allows individuals and businesses to model how the world will look in 2050 based on key variables and using the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. It may demonstrate the urgency required to fix Earth’s biggest problems, but that is surely a way of pushing people and businesses to do more now.