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Technology as a climate saviour

Solar panels surround the earth like a shield and purring cats generate electricity with their vibration. Drawings about the future, made by visitors to the ‘Energy Junkies’ exhibition, show many technological solutions to the climate crisis.

Visitors to the exhibition ‘Energy Junkies’ in the Studio of NEMO Science Museum, which can be visited until June 2023, draw how they see the future in light of climate change. NEMO Kennislink makes a selection from the drawings and explores the artworks with an expert. In this episode: technology as a magic bullet.

A movie about the future should have flying cars, Bob Gale, screenwriter of the eighties classic Back to the Future, once said in an interview. The same goes for drawings about the future, as some visitors to the ‘Energy Junkies’ exhibition must have thought. When asked how they see the future in light of climate change, they drew flying cars and scooters. Self-driving cars speeding along on a road surface with solar panels, purring cats that generate electricity with their vibration, nuclear fusion, and men barbecuing next to a CO 2 -neutral meat factory can also be seen in the drawings. One of the editors’ favourites is a network of solar panels that surround the earth like a shield.

Each and every one of these drawings seem to say: technology is the key. There is optimism: greening energy production will get us there. Is it possible? A future in which energy is so clean and readily available that limiting consumption is completely unnecessary?

Greening and saving

Technological innovation has brought much to mankind. In fact, human evolution is closely related to it. What started 2.5 million years ago with hand-made tools to shape the world, has grown into the production of cars, smartphones and surgical robots. 

In that regard, it is not surprising that many people are investing their money in technology to get out of the climate crisis. The international climate panel IPCC of the United Nations also mentions technology in the list of possible solutions. 

We do indeed come a long way with technology, but in order to achieve the climate goals, we must not only make green but also save. Flying, on the other hand, is difficult to make sustainable in the short term. Batteries are big and heavy; which does not allow an aircraft to take off. Biofuel as an alternative to kerosene is also not a solution, because of the collision with food production. Do we grow corn to feed the world or to fly to a sunny holiday destination? 

The first is a basic need, the second is not. 

The downside of fully investing in solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars is that it brings new problems. Its production requires minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper, the reserves of which on earth are not endless. Scarcity isn’t even the biggest problem. Today’s lithium mines are especially problematic because of damage to ecosystems and violations of human rights. 

The question is how we can extract these raw materials in a clean and responsible manner. It is also to be expected that the prices of raw materials will rise, which will stimulate the search for alternatives. Can we make batteries without lithium, which run on salt? Or better recycle the lithium from batteries? For example, research into recycling solar panels.

One of the future drawings shows the revolutionary machine yet to be invented: on the one hand, CO 2 goes in, and on the other hand, clean energy comes out. That would be something! Is it possible that scientists will invent something that makes generating green electricity faster and easier? 

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