ETech: Priorities for a Greener World: If You Could Design Anything, What Should You Do?

The second session today I’d like to share with you was presented by a personal friend of mine, Jeremy Faludi. Jer started his session entitled “Priorities for a Greener World: If You Could Design Anything, What Should You Do?” by pointing out that if we want to change the world, we ought to know what the most important issues are, right? Good thinking! And with so much news about how humans affect the planet its hard to accurately determine what really is important and what we can safely ignore. Jer set out to educate future green hackers about the most important things to focus on. Jer provided a vast amount of information that I can’t hope to adequately convey in one blog post. He covered: Climate change, species extinction and habitat Loss, resource depletion, pollution and overpopulation. At the end of his presentation, Jer provided us with an overall list of priorities — I’ll focus on those and will try to augment that summary with points from his main sections.

In order of importance:

1. Cities: Cities overall were the number one issue that topped most of the sections Jer covered because they concentrate so many of the other points in one space. If green entrepreneurs could focus on improving cities in general, the most can be accomplished with the least amount of effort. Cities produce vast amounts of pollution, but also account for large amounts of energy consumption that may not be readily apparent. For instance, materials used to construct roads and buildings make up a large amount of the material flow in the United States. For the details on improving cities, see buildings and transportation.

2. Buildings: Improving buildings takes on many facets. Wasteful heating and cooling contribute a significant amount of lost energy, but even how and what materials we use to construct buildings has a great impact on the environment. Reusing materials from old buildings in new buildings can reduce the amount of energy wasted in creating new buildings. Creating new buildings that use less energy for heating and cooling could make cities drastically more efficient.

3. Transportation: Most of us understand that transportation contributes significantly to negatively affecting our environment. Clearly cars in cities make up large portions of environmental impact, but Jer points out that its better to share an existing car than to attempt to make newer cars more efficient. Having one car be shared between many people is vastly better than many people each driving their own slightly more efficient vehicle. Also, building new cars contributes greatly to the environmental impact, since vast resources are consumed in the creation of one single vehicle.

4. Food & Agriculture: The creation of food and agriculture also contribute significantly to the impact on our environment. For instance, humans personally consume 8% of all water and industry uses 22% of the water. But agriculture accounts for the largest chunk overall with a whopping 70% consumed. And the worst is that only about half of the water used in agriculture gets used — the rest escapes unused! Meat is also a large culprit — one pound of beef takes thousands of gallons of water to produce, whereas chicken takes only a fraction of that. Finally, agriculture represents one of the largest sources of water pollution with fertilizers contaminating drinking water.

5. Electricity generation: Producing electricity pollutes the environment significantly since a lot of power plants use coal as a fuel. While direct emissions from power plants present a large portion of the problem, air and water pollution associated with mining coal for power generation also factors into the equation. Mining operations have a huge impact by contaminating water and then the surrounding environment and generating more waste than any other process on the planet.

6. Family planning: Most people don’t think about family planning when they think green. But, family planning directly affects our overall population and overpopulation of our planet has taken a great toll so far and continues to get worse. Curtailing population growth can significantly reduce the impact that humans will have in the future — fewer humans, fewer resources consumed and less pollution.

7. Empowering women: Giving equal rights and access to education for women has been shown to drastically reduce birth rates in third world nations. Furthemore, Jer noted that micro venture capital organizations have learned that men are less responsible in repaying loans and that some organizations have stopped lending to men altogether.

8. Other industries: Industries such as chemical production, paper manufacture, concrete production and manufacturing electronics have great impact on our environment. Jer suggested that eliminating paper entirely and using more digital solutions can have a serious positive impact. Also, manufacturing electronics requires precious metals like Indium which do not exist in abundance in the earth — Indium will likely be depleted from the earth very soon and must be recycled in order for it to remain available to us. Finally, the disposal of electronics presents another massive problem: A lot of the chemicals used to manufacturer electronics and the batteries that power them are toxic.

Thanks for all the valuable information and thanks for prioritizing and putting the dangers that affect our environment into perspective, Jer!

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