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Earth Day 2023: How STEM is helping us to engineer a better future for the environment

"With Earth Day 2023 just around the corner, we thought we’d explore how STEM is key to creating a better future for the environment.

But first of all, let’s discuss the theme of this year’s Earth Day: ‘Invest in Our Planet’."

Investing in our planet is all about pouring our time, energy and resources into protecting the environment.

On an individual level, this can look like taking a little more time to organise your recycling; campaigning for green highways in your local area, or opting for eco-friendly alternatives to everyday items.

On a larger scale, this involves countries choosing renewable energy over fossil fuels, seeking greener alternatives to landfills, and implementing climate action initiatives, among other things.

Behind every positive solution to climate change (including the ones listed above), we can find STEM.

Thanks to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and education, we are better equipped to protect the environment than ever before.

And so today we’re going to be talking about some of the best ways STEM is helping us to tackle the climate crisis, from green energy to regenerative agriculture.

How STEM Education is helping the future

STEM education is a huge part of the fight against climate change.

It raises awareness of what causes global warming and how our day-to-day actions contribute to it.

With this knowledge, people are more likely to change their behaviour and thereby reduce their impact on the environment.

STEM education is also what powers all of the research behind climate change solutions.

Our knowledge of science, technology, engineering and maths is how researchers have been able to come up with all the incredible methods for reducing and reversing global warming that we have today.

This brings us to our next section…

STEM-based solutions to climate change

We’ve spoken vaguely about how STEM has helped to create ways to combat the climate crisis, but now let’s take an actual look at what these solutions are.

If you’re ever feeling hopeless and afraid in the face of climate change, just remember this list - it’s a great reminder that we’re taking a lot of positive steps towards saving the planet.

Renewable energy

STEM has been a driving force behind the creation of renewable energy.

Renewable energy (also known as green, clean or sustainable energy) is energy from a source that naturally replenishes itself.

Well-known examples of this include solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric power stations.

One of the main reasons why renewable energy is preferable to other energy sources (such as oil, gas and coal) is because it’s much better for the environment in the long term.

Green energy also doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels, in turn reducing the amount of CO2 released into the environment.

Moreover, our supplies of fossil fuels are finite - meaning once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Renewable energy, on the other hand, can never run out.

These factors combined mean that renewable energy is a much more sustainable solution for the future and the environment.

Energy efficiency

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics have all helped our electrical appliances to become more energy efficient than ever before.

But how exactly does this relate to saving the environment?

Well, when our appliances use less electricity to produce the same output, we’re able to save loads of energy.

If enough people switch to energy-efficient appliances, we can significantly reduce our overall energy consumption.

As a result, we rely less on nonrenewable sources of energy that release polluting greenhouse gases.

And that’s not all. You can also save yourself some money on electricity bills!

So, wherever possible, try switching to energy-efficient appliances - whether that’s getting new light bulbs or investing in a better washing machine!

Eco-friendly alternatives

Thanks to STEM, we’ve been able to manufacture eco-friendly alternatives to common materials.

It should come as no surprise to hear that plastic (especially single-use plastic) is one of the main perpetrators of pollution.

Not only can plastic take between 20 and 500 years to decompose - releasing toxins as it does - but also it can severely threaten wildlife as it clogs the oceans, builds landfills and entraps animals.

Brilliant inventors have, fortunately, created eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic, including bamboo, cardboard and even a type of seaweed!

As well as this, scientists have been looking at greener ways to produce materials like steel and concrete, as manufacturing them releases a huge amount of greenhouse gases.

Last but not least, we have eco-friendly alternatives to refrigerants.

Refrigerants are chemical compounds that are used in air conditioning and heating systems.

They’re extremely hazardous to the environment if they manage to leak into the atmosphere.

As such, scientists have long been seeking an environmentally-friendly alternative to refrigerants, which they seem to have found in hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and hydrofluoro-olefins (HFO).

Improved agriculture

STEM research has revolutionised the agriculture industry.

Without things like fertilisers, farming machinery and genetically modified crops, we’d have no chance of keeping up with the population’s demand for food.

Now, in the face of the climate crisis, STEM is helping us to find new, eco-friendlier ways to farm - namely through something called regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture is a new and improved form of agriculture that focuses on the conservation and revival of the environment alongside food production.

Scientists have put their heads together to devise agricultural methods that could help us to save water, increase biodiversity, aid topsoil regeneration, reduce deforestation and support carbon sequestration (the removal of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere).

Basically, regenerative agriculture has the potential to completely overhaul how we produce food, plus reverse a huge amount of damage that humanity has caused to the environment.

And it’s all thanks to STEM.

Better waste management

Landfills are the oldest form of waste disposal - so surely we’re due for an upgrade?

Not only are landfills an eyesore, but they also leach chemicals into the ground and release methane into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Fortunately, to counteract this, STEM has provided us with the Five Rs of waste management:

  • reduce
  • reuse
  • recycle
  • recover and
  • residual management.

These five principles have taught billions of people how to dispose of their waste sustainably, driven large corporations to change how they operate, and fundamentally altered the way we manufacture and consume goods as a society.

Thanks to recycling, for instance, we don’t have to expend as much energy extracting and producing new resources like aluminium - we can infinitely recycle them.

This has saved us from causing a huge amount of unnecessary damage to the environment.

Prediction and preparation

Sadly, climate change has already begun and our lives are inevitably going to be affected by it.

Though the future is uncertain and we can’t definitively say how things are going to change, there are ways we can predict what’s going to happen and prepare ourselves for it.

STEM is a huge part of forecasting how climate change is going to impact our lives.

For example, scientists have estimated that sea levels will rise by over half a metre by 2050.

This will likely displace 800 million people who live by the coastline worldwide.

With this knowledge, we can get a head start on global warming and prepare new housing and better infrastructure to cope with the rising sea levels.

Urban design for the environment

Urban design probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when we talk about helping the environment.

After all, cities are massive contributors to deforestation, pollution and CO2 emissions.

But there are ways that we can redesign our urban environments to be better for the planet and people.

First off, having walkable cities with good public transport systems can make a huge difference in the amount of air pollution being released by vehicles.

If more people can easily catch the bus or train, they’re less likely to drive to work.

As a result, fewer cars are on the road, causing traffic, idling their engines and generating air pollution.

Low-emission zones in urban areas are also a great way to encourage people to rely less on their vehicles.

Creating bigger and better green spaces can help cities become more eco-friendly too.

Not only do these green spaces look attractive, but they also give the local ecology a boost.

Moreover, trees can enhance the city’s air quality as they remove CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

Sustainable urban design also involves improving the density of a city.

Low-density cities, where the population is spread over a large area, can result in more people relying on their cars and the destruction of the local ecosystem.

Conversely, high-density cities with good transport systems can use this space more economically, preserving the environment and generally being more convenient for everyone.

So, it goes without saying just how instrumental STEM is to protecting the environment.

From regenerative agriculture to sustainable urban design, it’s provided us with the most incredible and innovative solutions to global warming.

While the looming threat of the climate crisis can leave us feeling scared and helpless, STEM has given us a lot to be optimistic about.

We hope you can come away from this article feeling empowered and inspired to invest in your planet.