Three interventions that remind us: solutions are emerging
The global news isn’t all bad.
Amid the heartbreaking daily news feed, it’s important to remember that scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs are working 24/7 to solve some of our most pressing challenges. Here are three to appreciate.
First the facts. A nature.com report explains: “Currently, ~1.2 billion people around the world are suffering from a shortage of water and its adverse consequences on health, food and energy…As estimated by the world water council, the number of affected people will rise to 3.9 billion in the coming decades.”
The solution: desalination of ocean water, that is, converting saltwater into clean water (97.5 percent of all water on the planet is saltwater). Desalination, mind you, is nothing new, and desalination plants have been operating worldwide for years (in 2016, nature.com reported, “global water production by desalination was estimated to be 38 billion cubic meters per year…two times higher than that in 2008”). The problem is that the current technology – reverse osmosis – is extremely costly, “consumes large amounts of thermal and electric energy, thus emitting greenhouse gases extensively,” according to the nature.com report.
Enter: graphene oxide.
A UK-based team of researchers has created a graphene-based sieve that is capable of removing salt from seawater and can be manufactured on a large scale. Said lead researcher Rahul Nair, from the University of Manchester, as quoted by Kate Stone in a piece for gotscience.org: “This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime. We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass-produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes.”
The worldwide pollination crisis has been building for years. As CNN’s Tricia Escobedo reminds us: “So much of what you eat and drink every day -- apples, carrots, chocolate, even coffee -- relies on pollination, which allows plants to reproduce.” The world’s leading pollinator, of course, is the honeybee, which is “responsible for pollinating many of our favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts — the almond industry relies almost entirely on honeybees for pollination,” notes Nick Vega, writing for businessinsider.com. “As their population continues to decline,” says Vega, because of pesticides, disease and habitat loss, “farmers will face a real production crisis.”
Enter Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan. Miyako and his team of researchers (Svetlana Chechetka, Yue Yu and Masayoshi Tange) have created a pocket-sized drone to pollinate a flower, “taking the first steps towards creating a safety net for the world’s flora,” wrote Vega.
In their article for the science journal Chem, Miyako and colleagues wrote: “The global pollination crisis is a critical issue for the natural environment and our lives. The need to develop an innovative pollination tool that does not require time and effort to achieve pollination with a high success rate is urgent…The creation of a practical pollination technology has the potential in the long term to lead to a breakthrough for a sustainable society.”
Added Crystal Ponti, in a piece for npr.com: “[Miyako is] looking into incorporating artificial intelligence, GPS, and a high-resolution camera in future prototypes.”
PLASTIC THAT ISN'T PLASTIC!
The challenge: to rid the planet of the one trillion plastic bags that are dumped every year, choking marine life and contaminating the water.
Enter Kevin Kumala, whose Indonesia-based company, Avani, has created what some are calling a miracle bag that dissolves when placed in warm water. Explained Lauren Wills, in a piece for livekindly.co: “The new ‘Eco Bags’ are not only biodegradable, but, incredibly, if eaten by fish and insects will nourish them. According to Global Citizen the bags are so safe that Avani co-founder Kevin Kumala will often during demonstrations drink the dissolved bag himself!”
Added Wills: “Avani has not only created this bag of dreams, but also has developed a huge range of other completely biodegradable products, such as takeout containers and disposable cups, with the intention of replacing disposable plastic alternatives in everyday life.”