Photo: Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock

2021 Saw Incredible Developments in the Climate Fight — These Are Our Favorites

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Dec 31, 2021

In the final Climate Win of 2021, we highlight this year’s coolest developments in the expansive fight against climate change that you may not have heard about – these are all quite unique. Each has massive potential, brought forth by inspired minds not afraid to think beyond what’s been done before. Let’s get into it.

Aquastor prevents fertile land from becoming desert

The first noteworthy Climate Win is a tool in the fight against desertification (the process of fertile land becoming arid desert). This happens due to reduced precipitation, overuse of soil, deforestation, and other causes. A graduate student at the Parsons School of Design in New York developed a biodegradable tool to that could make a huge difference.

Dezeen reported that student Ziahao Fang built a vessel dubbed “Aquastor,” which is placed in open plots of land suffering from extremely dry weather, likely due to rising global temperatures and changing weather patterns. The device vaguely resembles a piece of pottery but is, in fact, an amalgamation of organic and inorganic materials designed to funnel water into the soil. The principle behind the tiny devices is simple: they’re shaped like a donut and have a pointy part that extends under the surface. Water collects in the empty space in the middle and slowly seeps into the ground. When rain hits land without much vegetation, it creates erosion and runoff — but these devices slow the absorption process, driving more useful moisture into the land. 

aquastor devices in a field of sand

Photo: Airbnb

Made of discarded desert exoskeletons along with clay, sand, and leaf litter, the Aquaster decomposes at the end of its useful life cycle, adding further nutrients to the soil. Its overall goal is to optimize water intake in regions such as the American West that face increased wildfire and desertification risk. While desertification has taken place throughout Earth’s history, Fang told Dezeen that the process is currently happening at 35 to 40 times the historical rate. The Aquaster is also able to be manufactured at scale, which means factories could produce hundreds of thousands for use around the world.

Giant pandas removed from endangered species list

Next up is the sure-fire win for the feel-good story of the year. The giant panda is no longer endangered. China, which touts the adorable bear is its national animal, made the announcement over the summer, National Geographic reported. This is big news for two reasons. First, it’s great news for the pandas, of which there are over 1,800 in the wild— nearly twice as many as when they were designated endangered in the 1980’s. More pandas in the wild lead to larger and healthier future panda generations. And secondly, the de-listing marks a major win for conservation organizations. It proves that change — and recovery — are possible. Of course, they’re not out of the clear yet, as their status is now “threatened” (or vulnerable). It’s just one step above endangered — but it’s a step in the right direction.

Company reinvents the wheel — and makes it more sustainable

The final development worth your attention is a reinvented wheel – quite literally. The Brighter Side of News reported in November on Arizona-based startup Global Air Cylinder Wheels, which created a functional mechanical tire without the use of traditional rubber. The Air Suspension Wheel is primarily steel along with “in-wheel pneumatic suspension through cylinders.” Its design uses far less energy to make and performs better in the field than traditional mechanical tires. Used for mining trucks and other heavy-duty machinery, the wheels are built to last for the lifetime of the vehicle they operate on. That means no changing tires and far less waste, especially considering the tires are recyclable at the end of their lifespan. Traditional rubber tires slowly leak chemicals into the ground when dumped in landfills, and unfortunately, the EPA estimates that more than 25 percent of tires end up in landfills rather than being recycled or repurposed each year. 

More climate wins

During the holiday season and impending new year, you may be wondering how you can help environmental initiatives likes the ones above succeed. As many of us have learned, identifying the proper cause or organization to donate to can be confusing and frustrating, particularly given that there are over 400 registered environmental non-profits in the United States alone. Rather than running down more news highlights, we close the year by offering our tips on how to give to non-profits fighting climate change in an effective manner.

There are two easy ways to sift through the madness when it comes to donating money. First, browse the site Giving Green. The site posts data from data-driven studies of the actual impact of environmental NGOs. It then notes which are the most cost-effective and productive from a results-oriented standpoint. Giving Green recommends charities to give to based on qualifiers like how well an organization follows its mission statement, how much of each dollar donated goes to programming efforts, and how effective the group is at making a noticeable impact. Choose a charity doing good things for a cause or location you care about, and donate directly.

The second way to vet environmental charities is to identify an organization founded and/or run by someone you trust. One good way to do this is to find an organization working either in your area, or in a place around the world that you care about (and have a basic understanding of its needs). That way, you can do your own vetting of whether an organization’s efforts are impactful.

As a snowboarder, I am a big fan of Jeremy Jones and make an annual contribution to his environmental non-profit Protect Our Winters because I trust him and appreciate the documentation the organization provides noting their efforts and spending. Many other prominent personalities run or promote environmental causes – several big-name surfers including Kelly Slater’s company Outerknown have partnered with the Ocean Conservancy, for example. Harry Potter fans may wish to defer to Emma Watson’s Instagram page, which consistently posts about environmental efforts around the globe. Even $5 makes a difference.

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