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Sunday, February 10, 2008


It would appear that there are two trenches in the war over global warming. One side, armed with complaints about cost and profit, volleys with the "enemy", who defends with concerns for environment and sustainability. Usually, no progress is made. When a positive result does occur, it is usually small in nature. Most innovative technologies remain on the fringes. Whether the cause is politically motivated or just typical of a free market economy is an issue that needs to be examined immediately.

If the resistance to innovation is caused by typical business trends, the problem can be rectified by financial assistance or other means of support. While this would not be an easy obstacle to overcome, it pales in comparison to the problem of tackling lobbies and political favoritism. However, it is only a matter of time before the political see-saw swings in favor of environmental protection and sustainability.

The issue of climate change and environmental sustainability, when combined with a healthy economy is one that should appeal to all elected officials. It is clearly evident that a strong business sector is not mutually exclusive with a healthy environmental footprint. Although there will be some initial carnage, free market principles will assert themselves and companies that act quick enough will profit greatly, while companies that lag behind of consumer demand will be given the choice of adapting late, at great cost, or being eliminated completely.

Therefore, it is up to the consumers to demand products that do not harm the environment. This ideal can take shape in many ways. It may be as drastic as making your home carbon-neutral, or driving an electric car, or something more mundane such as buying LED or compact-fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. Either way, the message to producers is clear: We will not buy products that are wasteful of expendable resources or harmful to the environment. To receive our money, you must offer clean, environmentally-friendly products that still provide the traditional demands of performance, elegance, exclusiveness, etc while still meeting our previous standards of power, performance, and precise engineering.

The biggest potential blow to companies that drag their feet will come in the utilities and food industries. As the public becomes aware of the environmental costs of shipping food great distances to reach markets where that crop wouldn't naturally grow, the pressure to buy local will increase. At the same time, power generation will be forced to de-centralize: utility companies relying on large power plants will be unable to compete with smaller, more flexible energy networks that depend on on-site generation for part of their energy needs. As the price of solar panels continues to drop, it will become increasingly viable for homes and small business to rely mostly, if not completely, on their own power. While there are many companies fighting for a share of the solar market, Nanosolar is a personal favorite. Personal behavior, coupled with energy efficient appliances, housing materials, and light bulbs can also greatly decrease a home's reliance on the current power grid. Wind, geothermal and tidal power generation will also help de-centralize the energy infrastructure.

Since these new energy networks would presumably rely on "green" power for the majority of their electricity generation, they will also allow most food to be grown locally, either on smaller farms, or in hydroponic towers. An innovative take on hydroponics, proposed by a Columbia University professor, can be found here. Hydroponic towers will be able to meet the needs of city residents, and reduce strain on sewer and water systems. A total switch to hydroponic crops will be unlikely--areas with climates suitable for farming will still produce crops, but for a more localized market.

Advancements in recycling and waste management technologies will also change the way we use our waste. For example, plasma gasification can be used to reduce and eventually eliminate waste that goes to landfills. The first phase of a landfill-free infrastructure would be to have the facilities to match the daily, weekly and monthly waste management needs of a community or town. The second and final phase would be to exceed demand by a high enough margin, so that existing landfills can be reprocessed. A quick but informative overview of the plasma gasification process can be found here.

The sheer number of new technologies and innovations vying for a portion of the potential profit in the "green" industry can be overwhelming. The fact that so many companies and individuals are jumping into this sector helps reinforce the idea that the "green" movement is more than a passing fad--which is a good thing.

Preserving our planet is an issue that we as people can rally around. A rich investment banker has just as much to lose as a starving third-world farmer. Global warming intensified natural disasters will strike indiscriminately, and global wind patterns will spread pollution thousands of miles to distant parts of the planet. A shift towards a world-wide mindset will be necessary; divisive factors such as race, religion, and economic status serve no purpose--we all need water, we all breathe air, and none of us want to live in a waterworld with all our prized coastal cities submerged.

In the end, we arrive at an ultimatum: Consume at our current rate, pollute at our current rate, and continue to run our economies and power infrastructures with outdated technologies, or act now to lighten the load we force our planet to bear. It will not be an easy or a quick transition, but the need to go "green" on a world-wide scale is unquestionable.