It’s easy to say that technology can save the planet. Technology is amazing! It’s how we got computers in our pockets and cars that drive themselves, so surely a raft of innovations that can battle climate change is heading our way. The tricky thing is that we can blame technology — everything from steam engines to jet planes — for getting us in this mess to begin with. Should we really build new machines to clean up after the old machines?
In many respects, we don’t have a choice. Building cleaner technology — and cleaning up our current tech — is perhaps the most direct path forward to a more sustainable future. Meanwhile, there’s real promise in enlisting new technology to dial back the damage we’ve dealt the planet in the last couple of centuries. This tech is already at work across multiple sectors, working to stop polluting the sky with greenhouse gases, the seas with plastics, and Earth’s surface with trash.
But it’s not yet clear that any of these efforts will succeed in combating the existential threat that is climate change before it’s too late. In some cases, cleaning up too much could actually be harmful to biodiversity, and there’s an ongoing debate over whether the measures large corporations and governments are taking amount to a real commitment to the environment or just old-fashioned greenwashing. A lot of clean tech is also really expensive, leading some power brokers to continue running their companies the cheap and dirty way.
Over the next week, Recode by Vox will publish a series of stories that highlight both new and overlooked technology that may be able to clean up our future and help undo environmental damage. Maybe technology can’t save the planet on its own, but it can certainly offer it some support.
Automakers, industries, and governments are betting on hydrogen again. Will it work this time? by Umair Irfan
For the electric vehicle takeover, batteries need a major makeover. by Rebecca Heilweil
Crypto-mining chips get more efficient each year. So why does bitcoin still use more energy than Finland? by Neel Dhanesha
The US is spending millions to explore a surprising source of untapped power. by Neel Dhanesha
Buildings waste a lot of energy. One low-tech solution could fix that. by Neel Dhanesha
Container ships are major polluters and a tough challenge for the global climate. Some companies think they have the solution. by Umair Irfan
Half of all coral reefs have vanished. Can we save the rest? by Benji Jones