A Look Back at 7 Real-World Examples of Climate-Change Action for Earth Day 2017

BY KEN MICALLEF

On Earth Day 2017, focusing on climate change and resolving to do something about it are more important than ever.

After all, President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, focused on deregulation, strips away many Obama-era environmental policies—and runs contrary to the spirit of the Paris Agreement, adopted by 132 countries (including the U.S.) in November 2016 to prevent the potentially disastrous consequences of global warming.

But even as U.S. governmental entities seek to operate under a cloak of climate-change denial, resourceful startups, established companies, and individuals are finding new ways to address the future’s ecological problems. In the U.S. and across the globe, they’re using technology, inspiration, and innovation to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s changing world.

The following Redshift stories feature makers, companies, and organizations making real strides toward climate-change solutions. Common to their approaches is an emphasis on evolving the definition of climate change: Simply put, it affects everything. Through understanding the causes and consequences of climate change, they show that everyone can take action to mitigate its effects and adapt to a different paradigm.

Designing for Climate Change

“What is the energy implication of this design decision?” or “How will this choice increase energy and resource productivity?” These are essential questions that designers—from mechanical engineers to architects—should be asking early and often, according to Lynelle Cameron, vice president of Sustainability at Autodesk and president and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation. She lays out five strategies that encourage designers to consider environmental issues at the outset of a project, which keeps costs down while adding value. Making these considerations also means educating clients, suppliers, subcontractors, and colleagues as to how their choices impact climate change. With everyone on the same page, long-term decisions that consider the product or project life cycle can lead to greater sustainability—and lower operating costs.

Building Toward a Better 2030

Together, the 2030 Challenge and the American Institute of Architects’ supporting initiative, the AIA 2030 Commitment, create a plan to reduce fossil-fuel dependence while designing buildings, developments, and major renovations for carbon neutrality by 2030. An impressive 80 percent of the top 10 and 65 percent of the top 20 architecture, engineering, and planning firms in the U.S.—as well as organizations and governmental agencies in the U.S. and Canada—have already signed on. In this article, five professionals from private and public firms and agencies share how they plan to meet this ambitious, and imperative, 2030 target.

Adapting the Daily Routine Climate Change

Anyone who experienced New York City’s 2017 winter weather pattern, which included 60-degree days and 15-degree nights, knows that climate change is not some future paradigm, but a real concern today. Forward-thinking companies are designing solutions that could become daily staples of the near future: from workout bicycles that wash clothes to shower systems that reuse bath water. And when it comes to power, it’s all about hybrid forms of transportation, solar power, and even collecting kinetic energy from footsteps to recharge cell phones.

Rescuing Cities From Rising Sea Levels

Some climate-science experts forecast that parts of the San Francisco Bay waterline will rise more than three feet in future decades. Expanding that forecast globally, 634 million people—about one-tenth of the world’s population—live in low-lying coastal areas and are at risk of ocean-rise impacts. These alarming statistics call for innovative design methods in coastal engineering: employing new science and practices for sea walls, storm water drainage, and groundwater tables; designing raised roads and railways; elevating site plans based on changing FEMA maps; and instituting new building codes that require greater wind-load resistance.

Storytelling to Save the Planet

Past storytellers like Jacques Cousteau, Bernard Moitessier, and Sylvia Earle explained the fate of Earth’s oceans, giving people around the world awareness and a reason to care. Contemporary storytellers can impart a similar gift, relating their oceanic tales through technology-enhanced methods. The Hydrous is a nonprofit that captures high-resolution 3D models of endangered coral reefs, with the end goal of creating open-access oceans. Dr. Brendan Foley from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is leading research on the Antikythera shipwreck that holds the remains of the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient bronze protocomputer thought to be designed by Archimedes. Foley and his team are also preserving the shipwreck’s objects for future generations.

Generating Clean Energy From Natural Disasters

Deeply affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power accident (caused by the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 2011), engineer Atsushi Shimizu responded by designing an innovative generator prototype that converts devastating tropical-storm winds into usable energy. Shimizu has since founded Challenergy, and his propeller-free wind turbine, capable of withstanding otherwise-devastating storms, was born. Applying the Magnus effect—a physical phenomenon that would make the turbine viable—Shimizu received a patent for his design in 2013. He hopes that one day hospitals, schools, and evacuation shelters will benefit from his turbine. “I see today’s hazard maps—showing where typhoons, hurricanes, or cyclones may strike—as energy maps that could help support a storm-hydrogen-based society 10 years from now,” Shimizu says.

Making Sustainability Open Source

The global maker community is staking its future, and sometimes sacrificing its intellectual-property rights, to create novel, open-source ways to combat climate change. The POC21 innovation camp (tagline: “Eco Hacking the Future”) was a gathering of 100 DIY innovators committed to open-source sustainability and products. The meeting took place at a 16th-century chateau outside of Paris in late-summer 2015, with the ultimate goal of a fossil-free, zero-waste global economy. These makers insist, and demonstrate, that individuals are capable of advancing DIY solutions—even when governments and big business remain traditionally slow to act.

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