LITTLE STREAMS, BIG RIVER: OUR TAKE ON SAVING THE WORLD (SOLAR POWERED TABLET – PART 3)

The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Okko Meinilä

The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Okko Meinilä

How to make a difference and contribute to the environmental betterment of the world? Making a difference is a basic human desire. We at Global Senses want to have a positive effect on the environmental state of the world, even if that effect is small at first. During the past months we have explored a hands-on approach to our own “world saving method” that includes being energy self-sufficient and doing creative work.

Our Raspberry Pi3 based solar powered offgrid sound recording device (tablet) is our take on making a difference. We like the idea of freedom and independence in both energy usage and in making art. We want to help narrowing down the human-caused harmful environmental effects, and we have chosen to do it by exploring how we can advance environmental sustainability through solar energy and use it in creative work. We cannot save the whole world but we hope to add to the “many small streams make one big river” kind of action.

So what are the damaging environmental effects that we want to balance through our own action? What creates them? And how can you become a part of the big river? Here are some of our main concerns and insights.

The most alarming environmental consequence from our point of view is global warming that is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas produces greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) that are released into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases in turn trap heat in the atmosphere and increase the temperatures on the planet. Thus, they cause the climate to get warmer which in turn changes it for the worse. So what can you do?

In addition to our tech approach, one way to compensate for the often unavoidable CO2 releases is to advance the future of renewables. To make up for their carbon footprint, many events, such as Flow Festival, calculate their carbon emissions and compensate via renewable energy projects. The projects are certified carbon offset projects that work towards advancing, for example, wind electricity generation and hydropower usage.

The direction of climate change is painting a very unsettling and daunting future for the humanity. As the climate gets hotter, the following things may happen or are already happening: the land in some parts of the world becomes too dry for food production, the ice that melts on poles and on land (e.g., glaciers) raises sea levels on coastal areas, and regular weather events may turn into intense and possibly catastrophic nature disasters in some areas. All of these can force people to move to more livable areas. But when population in some areas grow faster than ever due to mass migration, it will put the carrying capacity and endurance of the planet to the test.

One thing that can lessen the burden on the environment and add to the small streams we are talking about is keeping food waste to the minimum. In our neighbourhood, supermarkets are encouraged to reduce food waste, and there are also waste food restaurants such as Loop in Helsinki that build their operation around food waste reduction. Food production chain uses a lot of energy so reducing waste narrows down the overall emissions caused by both food production and dumping food waste in a landfill. The usual suspects that are produced by different parts of production and in landfills are carbon dioxide and methane which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

TROUBLES IN THE NORTH

One of our concerns is also the damage done by trying to obtain fossil fuels. For example, both oil drilling and coal mining have damaging effects on the environment. Offshore oil drilling in particular endangers the ecocystem of the area where it is being done: oil spills are more disastrous on the sea than on land since the spills that spread on the water are difficult to contain and to clean.

We live close to one of the sea areas that is often making headlines because of oil drilling: the Arctic. The area has a unique ecosystem that the arctic animals depend upon, and due to weather conditions and fragility of the Arctic ice, oil spills could have a devastating effect on the area. Not only would the environment be in danger but, for example, the animals whose fur protects them from the cold would become extremely vulnerable if the insulation of their fur were destroyed by oil spills.

We feel that it is ill-advised to search the Arctic Ocean for oil since burning of oil as fossil fuel accelerates climate change and the melting of Arctic ice. The demand for global action to protect the Arctic is heavily in the headlines but if having an impact on decision-makers is hard, you can act towards making a difference in other ways.

Along with oil drilling, coal mining has damaging effects to the environment while it is being mined. Coal mining harms the environment by contaminating rivers and streams with mine wastes. The vegetation is also affected, especially in open-pit mining, where trees, plants and the upper layer of soil is cleared out of the way of the mine.

What we want to do is to reduce the environmental impacts by turning away from fossil fuel based energy consumption. Even if our impact is small, we still choose to invest our time in creating solutions ourselves.

COMBINED EFFORTS

So how much of a difference can we ourselves make? We actually calculated how many trees we would need to plant if we used a regular computer instead of our RaspberryPi3 based solar powered sound recording device for recording, and the estimate was 2-3 trees in a year. We are actually making a difference. Planting trees is good, of course, since they absorb carbon dioxide. This is also one of the solutions that an ordinary citizen of the world can embrace to compensate for human-caused harmful actions. If you want to go about it in a very precise way like we did, you can use carbon footprint calculators that will give you an indication on how many trees you might need to plant.

As we have followed the news and talked to people, we have realised that there are still many people who either don’t believe in climate change happening or are indifferent towards it. Scientists have stated this summer that we have only three years to act on climate change and turn the tide. After that it will be too late. It is hard to fathom that the humankind is divided in such a way that a portion of us does not consider the place they live in to be important. Neither are we alone here nor the only ones who will ever inhabit the Earth. We are making decisions on behalf of the present as well as the future generations of humans and animals.

Someone plants a tree or many trees that absorb carbon dioxide as a means to compensate for environmentally damaging action. Someone else who likes to fly takes responsibility for the carbon emissions caused by flying by purchasing carbon allowances. Someone recycles and lives in a way that doesn’t create food waste. Some events calculate their carbon emissions and compensate via renewable energy projects. Some others participate in demonstrations or take part in actively stopping oil drilling. Someone writes letters to politicians to pressure them to fight for the environment. We, on our part, explore the possibility of a solar powered sound recording system.

We aim to do things that benefit the environment and reduce the harmful effects of climate change on our part. What we are doing probably does not save a big part of anything or compensate for the loss or deterioration of even a specific environment but we are doing it nevertheless. We are hoping that it will add to the efforts of others and create a bigger impact in the future.

 

Text by Tiina Junno

Sources: nature.com – International weekly journal of science, EESI – Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Gold Standard, Oiledwildlife.eu, Greenpeace, Carbonify.com