While studies show young people to be driving less, many of us still aren't going to be doing without cars any time soon. As long as urban developments are built to be un-walkable (we're looking at you, Apple and your new Cupertino Campus), we're going to have to find a way for everyone to be able to get from a to b and back again without destroying the planet. As it stands, the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that a full 20 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions come directly out of our tailpipes.
Fuel efficiency is on the up, albeit rather belatedly, with the most recent data suggesting that carbon dioxide emissions from new cars sold in the UK has declined 31 percent since 2007. But we're invariably better off with the ever improving hybrid electric technologies, and the recent New York Auto Show marked the release of some pretty incredible extended range vehicles. As this technology improves, the cars can only be as green as the grid they draw their power from. It's one thing to steer clear of gasoline, but even better when we can avoid emissions generating fuels altogether.
Similar emissions-reducing advancements are much needed in the aerospace industry. A coordinated project by the biggest manufacturers to develop affordable biofuel technologies for planes is an encouraging move in the right direction, but as we've seen, emissions from agriculture are nothing to get too thrilled about.
That said, the whole not-driving idea is also pretty great when one has the chance. And if you're in an area with exhausting inclines, such as San Francisco, electric bicycles still carry a far lower carbon footprint than many alternatives.
Water; we can’t live without it, and thankfully much of the Earth is made up of it. Yet we face major problems where the life-sustaining liquid is concerned. While there is technically enough freshwater available for all 6.8 billion of us, one-fifth of the world’s population live in areas of physical water scarcity. Vast improvements in infrastructure are required in order provide freshwater to areas which remain without, but also to ensure continued access in the face of widespread pollution, wastage and drought.
The degradation of water quality not only poses supply problems for our population, but also has a huge, inevitable impact on marine life. Whether it’s through storm water runoff from cities or farms, dumping from industry, or ill-regulated efforts to drill for yet more oil (more on that later), we’re increasingly filling our rivers, seas and oceans with toxic pollutants. From dolphins to coral, life in our seas is suffering tremendously. The Pacific Ocean is famously home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while the Gulf of Mexico has a sizable patch of nothing at all — a dead zone resulting from the travels of farmland fertilizers down the Mississippi River. And what happens at sea doesn’t stay at sea. With pollutants entering oceanic ecosystems, they invariably pollute our food.
Deforestation has long posed a threat to our Earth. Forests cover 30 percent of the planet’s land, and provide vital protection from sandstorms and flooding as well as the substantive natural habitat for wildlife. They are one of our greatest resources for offsetting some of our outrageous carbon emissions and without the canopy we leave areas vulnerable to intense heat, further driving climate change. Yet every single year we lose an area the size of Panama.
We’ve all heard it before, but really, we need to stop destroying and start replanting. There are incredible instances of ambitious efforts to replant our woodland areas, from a man in India, Jadav Payeng, who single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest, to the South Korean founder of Future Forest, Kwon Byong Hyon, who has led desert tree-planting efforts throughout Mongolia and China.
With forests often cleared to make way for farmland, and worldwide consumption of food expected to increase sharply by 2050, both sides of that particular coin desperately need to be addressed, which leads us to…