Energy use of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) consumes a significant amount of energy, especially deep learning models, and in a few years it is expected that energy use will double. This energy consumption is due to the increasing demand for AI across various industries, which contributes to carbon emissions.

Efforts are being made to improve energy efficiency in AI, such as developing smaller models and optimizing algorithms. However, addressing the environmental impact of AI requires collaboration between tech companies, policymakers, and researchers to prioritize sustainability while advancing AI innovation.

The Enchanted Forest

Hidden on the north coast of California is a stand of very unusual redwood trees. Salty winds off the ocean break the trunks, but the trees keep on growing. New branches grow straight up from the broken trunk. Since the trunk is tipped over on its side, the tree ends up looking like a candelabra. After generations of this cycle, the trees have become twisted into fantastical shapes.

Redwood conservationists say they've never seen anything like it anywhere else. It's become known as the Enchanted Forest. Thankfully, the twisted trunks and branches have saved the trees from being cut down. Lumber companies need tall, straight trunks, so even though the old-growth forests around them have been destroyed by logging, the Enchanted Forest remains.

Moss helps cities breathe

The Amsterdam company Respyre has developed concrete and plaster that support the growth of moss. These materials can be used for new construction, as well as on existing buildings. The moss then acts as a respiration system for the city. It takes in water and CO2 from the air and releases oxygen.

Moss has other benefits, too. Watch this short video to find out more.

Do we need to replace the GDP?

The standard measure of economic performance, the gross domestic product (GDP), measures the value of goods and services produced within a country over a given period. However, the GDP doesn’t measure social factors like income inequality, domestic violence, drug addiction, or the impact of today’s actions on future generations. It also ignores sustainability and environmental destruction. It’s a very short-term view of market factors without respect to what’s happening on the social and environmental levels. As a result, the GDP gave us no warning of the impending global financial crisis in 2008.

But we continued to base our economic predictions on that metric. And it began to show economies recovering and growing—so everything’s going well again, right? But what if we factor in social and environmental realities?

Chopsticks become furniture

People throw away more than 80 billion pairs of chopsticks every year. Most of them have only been used once, like the cheap wooden ones you get in restaurants. All of those chopsticks end up in landfills. In China, environmental activists have documented rates of over 100 acres of deforestation every day to keep up with demand.

One start-up has decided to tackle this problem by using discarded chopsticks as a construction material. ChopValue, based in Vancouver, Canada, collects about 350,000 used chopstics every week, just from the Vancouver area. They then use the chopsticks to make things for the home and office, like bookshelves, cutting boards, coasters, and even desks. Founder Felix Böck explains,

Floating solar farms

Floating solar farms, also known as "floatovoltaics," are an efficient way to collect solar energy. They have a number of advantages over land-based systems:

  1. They don't occupy land that could be used for other things, like crop farming.
  2. They're up to 16% more efficient because the water keeps them cool.
  3. They reduce evaporation on hydroelectric dams, saving more water for hydropower.

But they also come with an environmental cost: the panels sit on plastic floats. So far, floatovoltaic developers have relied on virgin (new) plastic to keep the panels afloat. As we know, plastic is one of the biggest contributors to pollution, uses fossil fuels to manufacture, and is deadly for sea creatures. But a new floatovoltaic farm in Alqueva, Portugal, is under development by the EDP corporation, an energy company committed to sustainability. 

Do trees talk to each other?

People generally think of trees as disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight, with winners shading out losers and sucking them dry. But evidence to the contrary is coming to light. Forest trees are, in fact, cooperative and live in interdependent relationships maintained by communication and collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

Unlike other organisms, most of the communication between trees happens underground, through a system known as the “Wood Wide Web”. “[Trees] in every forest that is not too damaged”, explains Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behaviour when they receive these messages.”

Indonesia bans palm oil exports

In late April, the Indonesian government announced a temporary ban on exports of crude palm oil and its refined products, such as cooking oil. The decision came as a surprise to commercial goods traders as the government had previously stated the ban would only apply to refined products. After the government’s initial statement, prices of crude palm oil significantly fluctuated given uncertainties about what products the ban would cover. Prices have again skyrocketed in light of the most recent announcement.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world has seen a wave of food protectionism, as governments seek to protect domestic food supplies in light of surging agricultural prices. As the world’s largest edible oils shipper, providing one third of global supplies, Indonesia threatens to worsen global food inflation with its decision and raises the risk of a full-blown hunger crisis.

Restoring degraded land in Mexico

Indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, have been working to restore the soil and forests, with remarkable success. Twenty-five communities have restored 49,000 acres (20,000 hectares) over the past 20 years. Restoration efforts are driven by the communities themselves, who together make up the Chocho-Mixtecas Community Alliance.

Before the Spanish arrived, the area supported a city of about 100,000 Mixtec. The current population of 2,800 struggles to find enough water to drink, let alone to grow crops. Large-scale goat ranching by the Spanish destroyed the soil. Goats pull plants up by the roots when they graze, so over-ranching with goats caused the land to erode all the way down to bedrock.

Save energy with new windows

In 1991, researchers at Berkeley Lab invented a triple-glazed window they hoped would revolutionise the building industry. Though windows with three panes had existed for years, what distinguished Berkley’s design from precursors was the presence of a centralised, thin layer of glass. This made the window lighter, as less material could be used to make the external panes. It also made the window more energy efficient, as compartments either side of the central layer could be filled with insulating gas. On paper, the window had the potential to cut annual heating bills by 39 percent and reduce air conditioning costs by 28 percent. The only problem was that it was prohibitively expensive to manufacture.

The History of Planned Obsolescence

On December 23, 1924, a group of international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would change the world for decades. Delegates from all major lightbulb manufacturers were present, including the Netherlands’ Philips and the United States’ General Electric. While revellers celebrated Christmas elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the global incandescent lightbulb market.

Diversity of research sources

According to PhysOrg, a scientific publication, scientific knowledge used in international studies is predominantly sourced from English-language documents, as it is assumed that all scientific knowledge is available in English. However, according to research scrutinizing over 400,000 peer-reviewed papers in 326 journals, published in 16 languages, scientific papers written in languages other than English may hold untapped information crucial to the conservation of global biodiversity.

These findings have important implications for global efforts tackling the biodiversity crisis, where lack of evidence is an issue commonly faced when trying to implement evidence-based conservation. The authors demonstrate that incorporating non-English-language studies can expand the availability of scientific evidence on species and ecosystems into 12%–25% more areas and 5%–32% more species.

Farm-to-closet fashion

For $200, you can now invest in the eco-fashion label Christy Dawn. The label is selling "plots" in the organic, sustainable cotton farm in India that provides the raw materials for their clothing. At the end of the season, you're paid back with store credit. If the harvest is good, you might get back more than the initial $200 you invested. On the other hand, if it's a bad year for cotton, you could lose most or all of your money. 

Toyota's struggles with EVs

Toyota was the leader in eco-friendly hybrid vehicles for many years, according to ArsTechnica. The automotive company had a fuel-efficiency edge over its competition. However, it has recently struggled to compete with companies that sell electric vehicles such as Tesla, Nissan and Volkswagen.

Toyota has made two critical choices. First, it tethered itself to hybrids. Second, it bet its future on hydrogen. But now governments around the world are moving to ban fossil-fuel vehicles of any kind.

Flip-flops made from algae

Algae is used in lots of ways, from food to health supplements to fuel. Now we can add flip-flops to the list. Flip-flops, commonly made from rubber, foam or plastic, are hugely popular all over the world. When people lose theirs on the beach, which happens frequently, the flip-flops are swept into the ocean to join the rest of the plastic pollutants collecting there. 

To solve this problem, new biodegradable "plastics" are being developed using something else found on the beach: algae. A chemistry professor at University of California, San Diego, Mike Burkart, is spearheading a project to make flip-flops out of algae so that, instead of creating pollution, they decompose naturally. Major shoe manufacturers are talking with Burkart about using his material, as are producers of food storage containers and other plastic items. 

Coal energy challenges in Japan

According to The Japan Times, the tragic events of March 11, 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at three nuclear reactors in Fukushima, forced Japan to reconsider nuclear energy. Today, 24 of Japan’s 33 reactors remain offline.

After the disaster, the government increased its push toward renewable energy, but it also invested heavily in coal projects. The dirty fuel was seen as the fastest, cheapest and most reliable way to keep the lights on.

A return to coal has left Japan with only modest long-term climate goals. Electricity generation is now responsible for almost 40 percent of the country’s emissions, and Japan aims to cut total emissions 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels.

Universal phone charging ports

Electronic waste is a huge problem. There's an estimated 51,000 tonnes of it globally per year, says the European Union. But a new law could put an end to one part of it.

The E.U. has passed a law that as of 2024, all phones will have a standard USB-C charger. Having a single type of smartphone charging port will make cables interchangeable and more reusable. This standard charger would also improve the customer experience. 

Maybe you've been using your phone when the battery runs low, and your friend offers you a charger, but it's the wrong kind. Many of us have had our phone die while we are out and about, far from our charger. A standard charger would solve this problem.

The environmental costs of flying

The Japan Times reported that most world leaders chose to fly to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, but Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg made headlines for deciding to sail instead.

This has prompted a gathering of tourism executives to ponder how to address the fact that flying adds to the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. According to data cited by the Air Transport Action Group, in 2019, commercial flying accounted for about 2 percent of global carbon emissions and about 12 percent of transport emissions. By 2020, emissions from global international aviation are projected to be about 70 percent higher than in 2005 due to rising travel demand.

Saving the world with batteries

The 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to three scientists who played a large role in developing lithium-ion batteries: Stanley Whittingham of the U.K., American John Goodenough (at 97, the oldest Nobel laureate ever), and Japan’s Akira Yoshino. Whittingham created the first functional lithium-ion battery in the 1970s, then Goodenough increased its capacity two-fold over the next 10 years. Finally, Yoshino removed the pure lithium, making it much safer to use.

Lithium-ion batteries are indispensable in today’s world, used in everything from cellphones to cordless power tools to electric cars. Rechargeable and able to store large amounts of energy, they have revolutionized electronics. As the Nobel Committee put it, "...this year’s chemistry laureates have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society."

Rivers get a right to life

The Rights of Nature is a global movement that views nature not as something that we own, but as something that has rights. There are many important parts of this movement, but one of the most important is water. It is said that water is likely to be the most pressing environmental concern of the next century.

Bangladesh recently took the unprecedented step of giving rights to all its rivers. The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has said that anyone who harms a river will be tried as if they’re harming a living entity because each river has the right to life. People who damage the river can be taken to court by a government-appointed national river conservation commission.