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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

With ‘two years left,’ we have to embrace technology to survive climate change

We must remain realistic as we fight to reverse global warming 

 

By MAYA KORNYEYEVA — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu

 

Recently, the United Nations (UN) Climate Chief Simon Stiell announced that “humans only have 2 years to save the world,” a prediction that paints irreversible climate change as practically inevitable. I met this announcement, to no surprise, with anxiety, fear and a great amount of speculation: what exactly is going to happen in two years, and how are we supposed to adapt to this new deadline?

Given the fact that climate change is the No. 1 source of concern in the modern world, with over a million people in the 2021 UN global climate poll labeling it as a “global emergency,” progress towards a sustainable future is moving along much more slowly than anticipated. 

Carbon emissions — one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, plastic production and global warming — aren’t being decreased in a way that is radical enough to make a significant and long-lasting impact before the end of the decade. A global capitalist economy continues to contribute to the over-consumption of non-renewable materials, which pile up in the streets, in parks and on beaches, filling the oceans with plastic. Money, yet again, is winning over the very real and crucial need to reform society in a sustainable way.

However, the last several years have proved incredibly fruitful in creating new, progressive technology for environmentally-conscious farming and agricultural practices. Intermixed and often hidden behind news stories of dark predictions and climate-induced natural disasters are dozens of studies about new food technology, from climate-resistant crops to urban farming. 

Focus has been dedicated to food production and management, and I would like to highlight some of the most important and innovative steps forward based on research beginning at the start of the decade and spanning over the last four years. 

The first and most curious new technology is an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered raspberry-picking robot, which allows scientists to reduce food waste and pick the ripest berries at the best times (night and early morning). Because raspberries are extremely fragile, the robotic machine preserves the berries by picking them with a soft, silicone-coated arm, which creates cushioning during harvest. I find this to be a very creative approach to ensuring that nothing goes to waste while also saving farm workers long, physically demanding labor.

Another unique approach to agriculture is vertical farming, a system that is being pioneered in Dubai at a growth center called the “GigaFarm.” This 31,000-square-foot tower of vertical growing spaces has already replaced up to 1% of food imports in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and produces three million kilograms of fresh produce annually as of 2022. This concept focuses on land as the central constraint of agriculture. It attempts to consolidate ground for farming into a vertical rather than horizontal orientation, essentially to “save space” for other uses such as housing an increasing population. The facility includes technologies that transform waste streams (such as food scraps and sewage) into fertilizer, water and energy. Scientists at the “GigaFarm” also use sensors to monitor humidity, plant growth, light and temperature, as well as hydroponics to water the crops and a combination of compost and coconut fibers instead of soil. 

Finally, there’s salicornia, a type of succulent plant that thrives in marshes and saline water. This unique plant can be used both as a source of biofuel and as food for consumption, which is a major step forward. As freshwater is becoming scarcer in our warming world, freshwater crops are likely to become expensive and unsustainable, allowing for salicornia and other saline-based crops to lead the way. 

These and similar new agricultural technologies are something that we collectively need to focus on now that reversing climate change seems to be out of the question. A mere two years doesn’t give us enough time to realistically pass political reform on environmental issues. What we can do is put time and resources into developing new tech that will allow us to survive and thrive in a world that has passed “the point of no return.” 

Don’t get me wrong — as a globally connected community, our primary goal should still be to do everything we can to stop irreversible climate change. However, given the unattainability of completely reversing our current emissions and energy usage by 2026, we must start critically considering alternative solutions to problems that will arise in the future. This includes sustainable agricultural practices that aim to make farming easier in a potentially inhospitable environment, as well as distribution systems to ensure food security for at-risk communities. 

Whatever path we choose to take, the time to act is now. It’s crucial that we continue researching, exploring and advocating for sustainable legislation, procedures and practices that can create a safety cushion for our future. 

 

Written by: Maya Kornyeyeva — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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