In 2022 Earth Day is themed around Investing in the Planet.
As the world is quickly adapting to zero-emission policies against climate change, we have to take a look at what is going on around us right now, not only reevaluating nature in 2030.
Some grave concerns include the rapid decline of species in nature, plastic pollution, and new technologies, and the investment in these technologies is bound to reap benefits.
According to the Earth Day organization, this year’s theme Invest In Our Planet challenges world leaders, CEOs, and even those in charge of small businesses, schools, and universities to answer a call to action to preserve and protect everyone’s health, families, and the livelihoods earth sustains.
Earth Day believes that; “We need to act (boldly), innovate (broadly), and implement (equitably)”.
For engineers, this means putting at task years of education. We looked at specific area’s engineers are acting in the Invest in Our Planet theme.
According to the civil organization Climate Action Tracker, the building sector is responsible for up to a fifth of global emissions, and governments have not stepped up to address it.
Engineers or the companies in charge of maintaining, upgrading, and building new structures have to enter the economy as a middleman addressing this high emissions space.
According to Climate Action Tracker, a lot of technologies already exist to ensure buildings are sustainable, but the shortfall is policies.
Their latest report Decarbonising buildings: achieving zero carbon heating and cooling looks at key factors that have led to a stagnation in the policy.
The report also looks at gas imports, reducing these from war zones, and rather have direct, indirect use of gas as a bridging fuel between fossil fuels and completely sustainable energy solutions stopped.
Gas has become increasingly costly, and for low-income countries it has become unaffordable in many countries natural gas prices are at record highs, leading to significantly higher costs for heating and cooling homes.
The report believes that since technologies to decarbonize buildings are already available, regulation and coordination in addressing retrofitting buildings is the next phase to achieving zero emissions.
The report estimates that to become Paris Agreement compatible, the emissions intensity of buildings has to drop 90 to 95% by 2040.
To reach these emissions, 2.5-3.5% of buildings need to be retrofitted annually, while all new buildings need to be zero carbon.
The report outlines the actions that could and likely should be included for buildings sector decarbonization strategies, based on four vital elements: the technologies needed to replace carbon-intensive technologies, performance standards and building codes, costs and finance, and ways to engage in the sector.
Developing technical solutions have happened, and there’s now a shift to transform the building sector. Decarbonizing buildings improvements is the main area to look at. Two main areas are how buildings will utilize heat pumps and windows. There is a great deal civil engineers can do to ensure these offer zero-emission buildings.
2) Minimum Energy Standards
Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) are considered vital to transforming the building sector. This will focus on energy-efficient building requirements, something only a third of nations have.
The next step is utilizing MEPS for increasing the retrofitting rate of existing buildings. Retrofitting old buildings can ensure a zero-carbon standard by 2050 at the latest.
3) Affordable finance and financial incentives
Money plays an important part in decarbonizing buildings. New or retrofitted zero carbon buildings are cheaper to maintain when the lifetime of the building is considered.
This is why governments should offer incentives to cover high up-front costs for new or retrofitted buildings, better payback alternatives, and investments to ensure these buildings become the norm.
In line with the 2022 theme of Earth Day, sustainable buildings are a valuable investment.
As a result, improving buildings to reduce energy and decarbonize these structures is fundamental to reaching the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit.
The buildings sector is currently responsible for 29% of global energy consumption and 18% of global emissions.
To achieve full decarbonization, most heating is currently powered by gas, oil, or coal burned on-site, and that needs to stop.
The major route for decarbonizing heating is through electrification using heat pumps. However, some Paris Agreement compatible scenarios also see a role for biomass and district heating. Cooling buildings is easier to decarbonize as most air conditioners are electric.
With a zero-carbon grid or on-site renewables, a lot of space cooling could be zero carbon.
The third step in decarbonizing heating and cooling is the decarbonization of the power source.
New builds should incorporate on-site renewables and smart meters can play a role to integrate additional demand into a renewable energy-dominated grid.
Earth Day emphasises nature preservation, and the technologies needed to ensure the loss of species in the world are halted, and green spaces are preserved.
One of the organizers leading causes on the day is The Canopy Project.
The project’s aim is to reforest areas in terms of rehabilitation and circumvent climate change as well as environmental degradation. The goal in 2022 is to plant 10 million trees.
The investment in trees by cities or countries provides a vital habitat for animals but also purifies the air and helps to regulate localized temperature. Reforestation programs can also assist in stabilizing land to put a damper on erosion or make natural disasters less worrisome.
Above all local flora improves soil health, helps groundwater recharge, and promotes other flora to sprout up.
Ecosystem Management is quickly showing its technological teeth, in being able to sustain and create green spaces that benefit the earth tremendously.
Dendra Systems, an Australia-based engineering practice offers ecological solutions like aerial seeding.
Last year Dendra Systems‘ aerial seeding platform spread millions of seeds to create a corridor for koala habitat in mere hours.
During the project, it was the first time in Australia that drone technology was used to distribute seeds and create a habitat for animals.
According to the company seeding drones plant a mix of vegetation at scales to an AI-driven platform that will track restoration. The technology scales restoration and allows for a blueprint of nature. In the worst cases, like after natural disasters like bushfires, a bushfire restoration, and wildfire recovery can take place by knowing the habitat of the geographical area.
Scalable nature-based solutions that successfully contribute to the world’s carbon goals, but also offer efficient management.
Dendra Systems says they provide ecosystem insights, including invasive species and infestation, slopes and erosion, biodiversity and native species, fauna, area classification, and tree growth. All of these are investments for the future.
The company’s fleet of drones can plant in large areas, planting millions of trees or scrubs with up to 50 different species of seeds distributed in just one flight from one drone.
For Engineers Ireland biodiversity is also a fascinating entry point for engineers, especially concerning how they design new technology and implement it.
According to a 2021 paper by Engineers Ireland Protecting Biodiversity The role of engineers there’s a bigger need to integrate nature-based solutions.
For EI engineers need a better understanding of nature-based solutions, which means anything engineers touch needs to have positive nature-based outcomes.
Some of these solutions include a drainage act to move away from outdated practices that are still being applied.
There needs to be a counterbalance for drainage systems and rivers are surcharged with excessive volumes leading to flooding events.
Engineers have the potential to use natural wetlands as a nature-based form of attenuation, more research. There should thus be more collaborations with experts outside of engineering, and this is in and of itself another form of investment.
According to EI, the environmental processes involved in engineering projects have improved, but there remain limitations in terms of monitoring and accountability.
There is a need to see environmental assessment processes as more than just a requirement – and should rather be viewed as essential.
These assessments by ecologists or environmental scientists are often taken by engineers as measures to be incorporated into the design process.
If engineers were engaged with the process early and had a stronger understanding of the reasoning behind mitigation measures more valuable opportunities for biodiversity enhancement could be identified.
From bridges that assist water drainage but also provides roadworks, to building that has no waste or incorporates natural surroundings is effective and should be a focus point. Not cost-cutting or traditional isolated builds that do not consider the environment around the project.
Finally, mechanical engineers can breathe easily, knowing that much of their knowledge of heuristic theories is valid. And animal tracks are one-way engineers can help protect wildlife.
IBM created predictive analytics software to identify patterns and give data to inform conservation measures.
From radio collars, aerial surveys, camera traps, and the like analytical software can effectively map and manage wildlife, or endangered species.
The information can help assist one major point Earth Day 2022 wants to drive, that species are quickly dying out.
Earth Day’s 2022 fact sheet on the decline of species shows a bleak picture, but also one that shows the importance of technology to counteract it.
According to Earth Day, we are currently in an era of mass species extinction. Scientists estimate that 10,000 times more species per year than the normal rate are currently lost.
It’s accepted that insect populations have declined by 40% globally, and one-third of insects are endangered. Insects are crucial for the pollination of plants and also is at the bottom of the food chain for other species to stay alive.
Up to, and maybe even over 70% of animal species have declined or have been eradicated over the last 50 years. Habitat loss is just one of many factors that have created this scenario.
Worldwide, more than 650,000 marine mammals are caught or seriously injured by fishing gear annually. And engineers have been tasked to create better hardware like smart fish hooks to prevent this.
Lizard populations are especially vulnerable to climate change. A recent study projects that if the current decline in lizard populations continues, 39% of all lizard populations will be extinct and 20% of global species will be extinct by 2080.
What this means is the new technology to track animals and look after the welfare of species is more important than ever.
Engineers of all disciplines create products that help save plants and animals. Engineers are indirectly helping to preserve habitat by combating global warming. Even simple changes like building crossings for wildlife over (or under) motorways and rail are saving thousands of species every year, and there is so much more to be done.
As engineers are developing new strategies, changing the way construction takes place, and incorporating clean energy like wind, solar, and biomass technology, it helps to lessen the impact of global warming on species.
This Earth Day is a reminder of the role engineers play as the world moves on, and how their work impacts the health of not only their immediate environment but also the whole world.