The Growing List of Environmental Solutions to Climate Change

The election of a new president of the United States is likely to signal a new examination of climate change regulations at the state and federal level, as well as sparking a new debate over environmental solutions to what many believe is a mushrooming crisis.

Some will focus on regulations geared toward forcing the automobile and trucking industries to curb emissions. Others will search for new technological solutions, like fuel catalysts and other emerging devices designed to reduce fuel consumptions and dangerous contaminants.

The solutions are wide-ranging and growing ever more creative. For instance, one solution may be growing all around us: plants, shrubs and trees. Writing in the Verge, Alessandra Potenza details an exciting new study revealing that plants alone over the last decade have slowed up the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere even as emissions have increased.

How Plants Use Carbon Dioxide

Plants need carbon dioxide to grow. It increases photosynthesis. So as the CO2 caused plants to grow more abundant, that abundance in turn helped absorb more CO2.

This is not the answer alone, though. “More CO2 means warmer temperatures, and warmer temperatures cause ecosystems — plants, trees, and even bacteria in soil — to release more CO2 back into atmosphere. So it’s a give and take,” Potenza writes, detailing a new study in the journal Nature Communications. 

“The growth of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to grow. And until we really cut our emissions, that’s what’s going to continue to happen,” Trevor Keenan, a scientist in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told Potenza. “So plants are helping us out, they’re buying us time, but ultimately it’s up to us.”

The Water Solution is No Solution at All

Then there’s the water solution. Recent estimates have calculated that 26 percent of all the carbon released as CO2 from fossil fuel burning, cement manufacture, and land-use changes over the decade 2002–2011 was absorbed by the oceans. (About 28 percent went to plants and roughly 46 percent into the atmosphere.)

That’s sounds terrific, but it’s really not a solution at all in the long term. By stowing that extra energy in their depths, oceans have spared the planet from feeling the full effects of humanity’s carbon overindulgence.

An energy overload, though, is rising below the waves as those gases build up. New research reveals that the ocean has been heating faster and deeper than scientists had previously thought. There are new signs that the oceans might be starting to release some of that pent-up thermal energy, which could contribute to significant global temperature increases in the coming years.

The Ultimate Solution Depends on You

So, if you can’t depend on plants and oceans, and the new technology isn’t being embraced fast enough, what can you do to reduce your emissions and help stave off climate change?

Kevin Wilden, co-founder of Sustainable Surf, writes that, ultimately, the solution should start at home for now. He lists a wide range of actions that the average consumer can take, from buying LED bulbs to installing “grey water” systems for your lawns and gardens.  

“Change has to start small with individuals and communities,” Wilden writes. “Political scale solutions will be necessary eventually, but they are powerless to affect the magnitude of change needed until a… majority of individuals fundamentally change their lifestyle to reduce direct CO2 emissions.”