Updated: Apr 24, 2019
Today, one of the biggest threats regarding our environmental problems is the rapid growth of human population. As of 2017, there is more than 7.5 billion people on Earth, and the number is still climbing (cf. https://bit.ly/Ism9T6)!
It’s important to realize that human beings are not doing something special in ecological sense to damage the nature. We are, like other animals on the planet, simply consuming resources to thrive and producing waste along the way. The real issues here are how efficient we are in respect of turning natural treasure into trash. Here, we can see a vicious cycle:
There is no need to deny that human beings are a species with extraordinary intelligence, and such intelligence has allowed us to expand dramatically throughout the years. However, the more we develop, the faster we will turn resources and energy into pollutants, and accordingly the conditions of our environment are destined to become worse and worse each day. If one wishes to eliminate the negative impact that people have done to Mother Nature, a new way of living will have to be formulated in order to resolve the conflict between population growth and the depletion of natural assets.
Of course, mankind is never a sitting duck. In response to the current predicament, various types of green energy and more ecofriendly ways of manufacturing were purposed in the past few years. However, many of them can only postpone our doom (P.S., some are worse; they’re merely the old ways in disguise). Let’s check out a few examples here.
Most often, when talking about environmental protection, the first thought that comes across people’s mind is reducing energy consumption and the amount of trash. But such strategy, we believe, will never work, and here’s why. First, the effect of “reduction” can easily be neutralized by population growth. Second, such strategy may be good for making a story on the media (e.g., turn off your lights for 1 hour: https://wwf.to/2LzDiur), but it lacks practical influence since such behaviors are hard to maintain (imaging switching off your lights 1 hour every night). Last but not least, it does not reconcile the contradiction between the expansion of human race and the depletion of natural resources. In other words, in order to protect the environment, some development activities of mankind will have to be restricted or banned. One can expect that such action will have profound impact to our economic system and thus is unlikely to receive support from those short-sighted entrepreneurs.
Renewable energy is yet another tricky thing. We should notice that although some energy sources are presented as a promising alternatives of what we have today, they are in essence neither clean nor renewable at all. Hydropower (https://bit.ly/2vAfvW5) and biomass (https://bit.ly/2PaV1dV) are just two great instances of that.
Moreover, even the solar power, one of the most promising emission-free energy, contains covert deadfall. That is, pollution can still occur from the process of making solar panels (https://bit.ly/2BF1El3)! Therefore, when more energy is demanded in response to the population growth, the more harmful solar energy can potentially become since more solar panels will have to be made.
So, does it mean that there is absolutely no hope to our future except that we cut out all of our civilization and start to live in the Stone Age again? Of course not! But it certainly requires a new and different path.
To me, a true solution to environmental problems must obey the following principles:
Principle 1. It does not restrict human’s development.
Principle 2. The more people develop, the cleaner our environmental is due to the solution.
Principle 3. The more people on Earth, the more energy we have due to the solution.
Yes, I know. These principles look absurd at first glance. However, I believe they are indeed very feasible, and the technologies that we need are already out there. Let me now explain how can that be, and I’ll do it by discussing two topics separately. In the section of True-Green Manufacturing, I’m going to talk about some truly ecofriendly methods for manufacturing. While in True-Green Energy section, various genuinely renewable energy sources in my opinion will be introduced.
The main goal of true-green manufacturing is to figure out a way to reuse everyday garbage and the waste resulting from the traditional subtractive manufacturing process (e.g., marble dust, empty plastic bottles, carbon dioxide, etc.), and trying to turn them back into useful products again. Luckily, methods based on additive manufacturing such as 3D printing just give us what we ask for.
In 3D printing, substances are gradually added in a layer-by-layer fashion, and such technique can be applied to various sorts of material: plastic, nylon, metal, stone, wood, living cells to name a few, and it can be used to print an astonishingly wild range of things: creative products, working automobiles, houses, living organs and even circuit boards of an electronic device. As you can imagine right now: if being utilized properly, 3D printing and methods based on subtractive manufacturing can form a compensatory cycle. That way, we will no longer have to put any ban on the production that can generate waste such as plastic and carbon dioxide because these things can be turned into the raw material for additive manufacturing immediately.
As a matter of fact, we have seen some extraordinary cases, in which trash is transmuted into something useable with the help of 3D printing. For instance, The New Raw, a studio based in Rotterdam, has been 3D printing functional and stylish furniture with plastic waste (https://bit.ly/2POLBpz). Another great example is accomplished by a group of scientists at University of California, Log Angeles (UCLA), where they turn carbon dioxide in the air directly into a printable material that they call “Co2ncrete” (https://bit.ly/2MGSQ52).
“Wait a minute!” Some people may ask. “Haven’t we already had mechanism for recycling plastic?” Well, yes we have. However, we must sadly report that such mechanism does not work well at all (https://bit.ly/2MGqnfO)! And what exactly go wrong? Well, I believe the reasons are at least twofold. First, plastic recycling right now is a process that requires extra effort and money to do (the garbage have to be sorted, and specialized facilities for recycling have to be built). Second, despite hard work has been paid for doing recycling, people cannot get the positive feedback immediately after their actions.