Earthshot Prize 2021 gives planet-saving ideas a shot

With saving the planet at the top of its agenda, the Earthshot Prize looks to the world’s best and brightest, looking for solutions to our greatest environmental concerns. This year’s five award-winners didn’t disappoint.

When US President John F Kennedy vowed an attempted Moonshot by the end of the 1960s, he inspired a generation to think big, and now, over 60 years later, all eyes return to Earth. There are problems on various fronts, but the following five contributions have been recognised for helping solve one issue or another in their own ways. Each of the following entries has been awarded £1 million respectively.

Protect & Restore Nature

The Republic of Costa Rica received an accolade for its impressive work in stemming the tide of environmental destruction. Since 1945, 80 per cent of the country’s forests have vanished, with Costa Rica holding one of the highest levels of Central America during the 1990s in particular. However, despite this bleak situation, the 1990s marked a turning point, and logging rates have dropped to virtually zero.

The introduction of stricter logging permits and the creation of a national forestry commission have helped monitor the health of Costa Rica’s precious green treasure, its forests, and now they have since staged a recovery. In just a quarter of a century, Costa Rica’s forests have doubled in size, helping fuel ecotourism to the country, and reinvigorating its floral biodiversity.

Clean Our Air

The incineration of agricultural waste is a silent killer worldwide. In countries where it is common practice such as India, life expectancy has been cut by a decade. The fields around New Delhi regularly ooze toxic smoke which chokes the life out of the country’s people. But help is at hand from the next award recipient, a social enterprise by the name of Takachar, founded by Vidyut Mohan. Takachar attempts to tackle agricultural waste at the source.

Using special technology fixed to machines such as tractors, Takachar can help farmers sort produce and convert agri-waste into products which attract high demand on the open market. This includes products like biofuel or chemicals which could be of great use as fertilisers. Less produce ending up in the incinerator means lower emissions of poisonous chemicals into the air, giving people in New Delhi and beyond the ability to breathe easy.

Revive Our Oceans

The prize for Revive Our Oceans was awarded to a group who achieved what might have sounded impossible. In a time when coral reefs are under threat from mass bleaching events due to rising sea temperatures, Coral Vita is actively growing coral on dry land, with the intention of seeding it back into the oceans. Founded by Sam Teicher and Gator Halpern, Coral Vita started operations out of its first coral farm in the Grand Bahama.

The team uses a technique called microfragmentation to aid in its work. Coral typically takes 25 to 75 years to reach maturity and to reproduce, which is too slow to guarantee its survival. As the name suggests, microfragmentation requires coral to be broken up into smaller pieces. Discovered by accident, such techniques speed up the maturation process, allowing for coral to start reproducing within just three years instead.

Build a Waste-Free World

For most of human history, generations of people lived hand to mouth, just about able to feed themselves and their families but food was often hard to come by. In 2021, the world is awash with food, so much so that we waste a third of it each year. This unsustainable attitude to food is coupled by the fact that food production is responsible for a significant chunk of the world’s carbon emissions. Even so, despite an abundance of food, 2.37 billion people are considered undernourished, lacking access to safe sources of nutrition.

The City of Milan in Italy offers a solution to combat the food waste mountains we have built for ourselves. With their own local Food Waste Hubs, the people of Milan are able to take food from shops and from canteens and send it directly to NGOs, who pass it on to those with the greatest need. The Hubs save an estimated 350kg of food per day, and the approach is capable of being upscaled elsewhere, ensuring that fewer people go hungry in an age of abundance.

Fix Our Climate

We have written before about the merits of green hydrogen as a power source for the future. Enapter is a technology firm with a device which could represent a great leap in generating large amounts of green hydrogen, through the use of its AEM Electrolysis machines. A number of existing industries produce what would be termed ‘grey hydrogen’, sourced from production of steel or chemicals. An AEM Electrolyser module would be able to take the grey hydrogen and convert it into cleaner green hydrogen.

Enapter’s AEM Electrolysers can be stacked together much like solar panels can be grouped together to generate as much clean energy as required. By winning this prize from Earthshot 2021, Enapter looks set to scale up mass production of these units with the explicit aim of being responsible for helping generate 10 per cent of the world’s clean hydrogen by 2050.

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