Last time, we talked about actions for climate change that Berkeley High School students could take on in their daily lives to make a difference. In this column, we will talk about what solutions organizations are pursuing on a larger scale to address things like heaps of plastic in our oceans, rising sea levels, and skyrocketing temperatures. Learning about these potential technologies can help reduce the feeling that we have already, as a planet, reached the point of no return. After reading about these technologies myself, I felt more hopeful that the future offers actual antidotes to our worst problems.
According to climate.gov, by the year 2100, the global average sea level is set to rise by between 1.5 and 2.5 meters, which is about 5 to 9 feet. To give you a better picture, imagine standing on the shore of the Bay today, but the water, instead of sitting below you, is up to your neck, and is that same level all the way inland. Now picture the water being over your head by several feet. The Embarcadero would be underwater, most of our power plants would be under water, and most of our beaches would no longer exist. One potential solution that Manoj Bhargava, of the Billions in Change organization, has come up with, is the idea of desalinating the excess ocean water and reusing it as fresh water for human use, including in places that currently don’t have easy access to clean water at all. The plan would be to use barges off the coasts of every country in the world that would contain thousands of desalinating machines. Getting the desalinated ocean water inland is still a tricky problem, but the answer could still be very effective.
Speaking of the ocean, plastics are being dumped into our seas instead of being recycled (like we’re told they are), creating huge plastic patches. Plastic patches are basically massive floating whirlpools of debris consisting of plastic bags, plastic water bottles and caps, styrofoam cups, and basically anything that is single-use plastic. Most of it is microplastic that has been broken down by both the water and the sun, and it creates a cloudy soup in areas that come together via large vortexes of ocean currents. We now have 150 million tons of plastic in our oceans. One possible futuristic answer to the plastic problem is the use of fungi (mushrooms) that eat plastic and give off edible fruits with no toxic side effects. I think this is a really fascinating solution, because not only is it really resourceful in using a natural remedy, but it also produces food as a benefit. I think fungi will play a big role in the future of plastic disposal. Mushrooms can eat plastic within a couple of months, but creating a system that could break down all the current plastic in the world is still a monumental task that requires far more investment.
Even though these ideas are still in research phases, it’s important to explore what the future looks like for these huge climatic problems that seem insurmountable, because they could evolve into systems that might become a normal part of our everyday lives. Wouldn’t it be cool, for instance, if we all had a mushroom patch at home that we simply fed all our plastic to?