British Columbia

4 ways technology can help mitigate climate change

One of the biggest unknowns is how far technology will mitigate or change the effects of climate change. Here are four ways technology could make a difference.

'Climate change and clean technology are inherently linked'

A woman stands in front of QR-code information panels. Data-sharing could, in the future, play an important role in mitigating climate change, according to experts in the field. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

While technology, alone, isn't going to solve climate change, experts say there are ways technology can dramatically help reduce its impact.

Jessie Adcock, the chief technology officer at the City of Vancouver, says a lot of the solutions to climate change are grounded in advances in technology. 

"Technology is becoming a lot more pervasive in everything that we do," she explained.

"I think climate change and clean technology are inherently linked. A lot of the solutions don't exist yet. We're still trying to figure them out, but I do think that we have a lot of the building blocks in place." 

1) Alternative energy sources

Alternate energy sources — like wind, solar and wave — are key to reducing B.C.'s reliance on greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels, according to the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria. (David Zalubowski/ Associated Press)

Sybil Seitzinger, the executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria, says alternative energy sources are key to reducing B.C.'s dependency on fossil fuels and in turn, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. 

"Our heating will probably be coming from wind, solar, maybe even nuclear," she said. 

Not only would technology help develop these energy sources, the City of Vancouver's Adcock says data sharing between communities could help harness this energy efficiently and sustainably.

"Basically, neighbourhoods can create their own private solar grids and share energy amongst themselves," she said.

"Everybody on the street can essentially connect their homes into this app, and it monitors how much energy you create. If I have a lot and you're not generating a lot we can swap."

2) Lab-grown meat

Meat produced in a lab could become a viable alternative to livestock farming. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

One of the biggest generators of greenhouse gas emissions is livestock farming, Seitzinger explained, and livestock farming also takes up valuable land and water resources which may not be available in the future.

"In many areas such as the Interior of B.C. where we have cattle now, there'll be more droughts and drier conditions," she said.

She said meat developed in the laboratory — cloned from individual cells — has significant advantages.

First, lab meat doesn't use large areas of land, nor large amounts of water and without living, breathing animals, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

"A few years ago, it sounded like we were a long way off but now there's companies in the U.S. and the Netherlands that are making quite good progress, and some of them say within five years they think they'll be able to go to market," she said.

3) The automation revolution

An automated driverless highway could be a possibility in the future.

An automation revolution is coming — be it driverless "quiet" highways, industrial robots or automated assembly line systems.

The main ecological promise of automation is the ability to more efficiently use resources which can reduce waste, save energy costs and improve efficiency. 

However, automated technology will also change how human beings organize themselves, Seitzinger said, and possibly change the way we work together. 

"We've had changes in the workforce already, and so, I see this as a continuum, and it's a continuum that we need to be ready for, and we need to prepare for," she said. 

"There will be shifts in the way we educate and how we educate and what we train people for."

4) The ubiquity of data

The widespread availability of minute, personalized data will help Vancouverites make better climate decisions, Adcock says. (Shutterstock)

In the future, data will be even more ubiquitous and readily available than ever before, according to Adcock. 

"What we'll have is potentially temperature sensors or pollen sensors or water sensors and all sorts of detection aids that can help us make decisions that are a lot more fact based but also a lot more in real time so that we can course correct and adjust," she explained.

"I think that a lot of us will use that data to make positive decisions, ultimately, that can help us."

Listen to 2050: Degrees of Change, a CBC Vancouver podcast