Throughout 2020, much of our attention has been focused on the uncertainties brought on by the novel coronavirus and the prolonged election season. With so much of our time and effort taken up by lockdowns, personal distancing and campaigns, it has been a struggle to keep track of many of the other issues that typically affect our lives.
Despite the almost overwhelming litany of distractions, the Mackinac Center’s Environmental Policy Initiative has spent the past several months putting together a list of 50 reasons people can be optimistic about our future. We chose to list 50 separate technological and environmental innovations that have helped human life to flourish on our planet, and not because that was all we could find. In fact, there are so many more examples to list that we could have kept this up for a great deal longer. We chose to narrow the project to a list of 50 to recognize the fact that 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
So far, we’ve seen 45 different ways that humanity has improved the environment for ourselves and the planet. Those reasons include:
With this post, we will finish off the final five ways human ingenuity is improving our environment and helping people to live healthier, longer, more fulfilled lives:
Identifying rare species made easier: Expeditionlab’s portable “GENE” field labs are moving the technical abilities of an established laboratory into a field setting. The GENE system allows field researchers to “extract, amplify, and sequence DNA” and has proven especially useful in remote areas. It can analyze the DNA of plants and animals to aid in the rapid identification of rare and hard-to-find species.
Artificial coral reefs are more common: Artificial reefs are being built around the world in an attempt to encourage the growth of marine life and reverse the loss of coral reefs. As a result of reef-building efforts in Australia, 50 species of fish have moved onto one artificial reef, where only 12 had been there before. While not all attempts to build artificial reefs are successful, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that “more than 3,750 planned public artificial reefs have been placed in state and federal waters off Florida’s coast,” and many of those will succeed.
Automated greenhouses are cheaper to run: Automation is allowing greenhouse operators to grow a wider variety of plants and produce a more consistent product year-round, regardless of location or outside climate. Contemporary greenhouses are increasingly tech-reliant, using LED grow-lights, sensors and computer automation to monitor and increase production. These newer technologies also allow greenhouses to save on energy and production costs.
Oyster castles improve water quality: The Chesapeake Bay Program, a partnership of government, academic, and nongovernmental organizations, was established to improve water quality, educate the public, and sustain the local economy. As part of its efforts, the program is working to rebuild oyster populations that declined due to, among other things, increased harvesting. Typically, oyster shells are sent to landfills after the oysters have been eaten. This practice actually reduces oyster populations because juvenile oyster larvae rely on the shells of their forebears to anchor and establish themselves. The Chesapeake Bay Program is building “living shorelines” made up of a mix of plants, sand, rock, and oyster castles that mix concrete and oyster shells as a way to provide a habitat for juvenile oysters. As each new generation of oysters becomes established on these castles, the living shorelines will also help reduce shoreline erosion, improve water quality and restore wetlands.
Drones lead to more trees: Drones are now being used to speed up the planting process for trees and crops. One company that has developed drones, and the software to replant areas that have been logged or harmed by wildfire is called DroneSeed. Its specially equipped drones can plant up to 800 tree seeds per hour, compared to the entire day it takes an effective human tree planter to do the same work. Various agriculture startups have created drone systems that help to map out planting areas, improve crop spraying systems, monitor crop growth, and even “decrease planting costs by 85 percent,” according to work done by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
This completes our 50th Anniversary of Earth Day list of reasons people have to be optimistic about their future. Human ingenuity has developed amazing technologies and found numerous new ways to solve the environmental challenges we face. Whether these innovations help us find cheaper and cleaner energy sources, expand our ability to treat disease, decrease poverty, increase our access to food, stop species extinctions, or protect us from the impacts of natural disasters, their common element is the creative potential of the human mind.
Humanity is often wrongly maligned by green groups, elected officials, and the media as a necessarily destructive influence on our Earth. But our 50 examples demonstrate this is simply not the case. We have only published 50 reasons in this series, but the human mind has not yet begun to approach the limit of what it can achieve.
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