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.
So, how can we solve the quandaries said and thus avoid making the same mistakes in our plan? I believe the keys are largely associated with the directions we take for the future development of 3D printing. To be more specific, in my opinion, the next generation of 3D printers should allow us to transform waste such as empty bottles into workable products cheap and effortlessly at home. In order to make that happens, certain improvements are definitely have to be made, and the following are some practical suggestions of mine on what should we do next in this field:
Giving people a reason to have a 3D printer near him or her (there may be a future article about this topic).
Making the price more friendly to regular buyers (this is imperative to our goal).
Allowing a single 3D printer to print with multiple kinds of material (https://bit.ly/2onhid2).
Besides the things mentioned above, we also recommend building a “smart trash can”, which is capable of sorting garbage and turning trash into useable material automatically, as an accompaniment of a 3D printer for family. Through them, a lot of sweat can be taken away from the recycling process, and supposedly making people more willing to take action.
Among all the alternative energy sources, two of them are truly promising to us since they really follow our true-green principles. These energy sources are human power and living plants.
Let’s talk about human power first. When speaking of “the more people on Earth, the more energy we have”, the first thing that should come into our mind is to transform human being themselves into reliable power source, and I realize there are some devices out there claiming to be able to generate electricity based on people’s movement. However, execution is a critical issue here, and some of them just a epic failure due to the lack of energy conversion efficiency (look at this episode of Unbox Therapy: https://bit.ly/2oqlCbC). With that being said, we have come across some splendid examples with pragmatic execution. Let’s check out a few:
Making treadmills that generate electrical power:
With a gadget like this, you can help the Earth by adopting a healthier lifestyle (talk about win-win), and the best part is that the more people run with it, the more electricity we generate.
Electricity-generating floor using piezoelectricity:
Piezoelectricity means generating electricity by applying mechanical stress. So, if we put that on the floor, we can start generating power with our own footsteps. Again, in this case, the more people walk on it, the more electricity we will get.
Harvesting power from passing cars:
Although regular wind turbines are qualified as a sort of clean energy, they still have the following problems: occupying a lot of space, too cumbersome, too expensive and seriously depending on weather. These small-size, vertical wind turbines that powered by passing vehicles, on the other hand, can be placed right on refuge islands, and their energy source is far more stable than regular turbines’ (think about how many cars will pass through the main roads in a big city each day).
Despite that human power can be clean, the idea itself is not novel at all. The next idea, however, is pretty fresh and impressive: generating electrical power with living plants! The credit of this innovation goes to a company called Plant-e, which headquartered in Netherlands, and you can imagine how this technique can do to our future: the more energy we demand, the more trees we will have to plant. How cool is that?
With these products and facilities, people can produce electricity and partially power their own house by themselves with ease, which we deem to be a trend for future smart home. And most importantly, the larger human population is, the more energy we have and cleaner our environment will be!
In the end, we’d like to raise our final point: Do not rely on government for solving the environmental issues. There are at least three reasons. First, the red tape of the government seriously undermines its reaction time. Second, government can be restrained by vested interests, who may not be visionary enough to see the merit behind a big change. Third, national-scale construction led by government usually requests loads of money. If we depend too much on such construction to counter environmental problems, being ecofriendly is very likely to become a privilege for rich countries only. Instead, we should try to change our future with green products or green interior design (i.e., products and interior design that can turn waste into usable materials or energy), which people can buy and use in a daily basis, allowing all of us to instantly make a difference through our collective power!
No matter you are a believer of global warming or not, an overloaded Earth is a serious problem we’ll have to face sooner or later, and if there are measures that can clean our planet without damaging our development, why aren’t we taking action right now?
Footnote: Neurozo Innovation is now working hard on realizing a true-green future by following the strategies mentioned in this article (cf. True-Green Project on our Projects page). If you agree on what we’re doing, please show us some support by becoming our patron through our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/neurozo), and we'll share our progress on our website and all of our social media platforms. Thank you very much for your visit. We wish you a wonderful day!