Name a carbon capture technology that is fully proven, used the world over, pumps out oxygen, and improves wellbeing at the same time? There’s only one answer: trees. As trees grow they feed on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and trap it in the form of wood: as long as the wood exists, the carbon is captured and not released back into the atmosphere. This makes wood not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative, as a building material.

When I met the architect Andrew Waugh earlier this year, on assignment for the BBC, I was struck by the simplicity of…

Unlike climate change, air pollution is hyper-local — and somewhat in your control

Image for post
Image for post
Credit: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

We often speak of climate change and air pollution in one breath, but in fact, the two problems differ in significant ways. While carbon emissions from one country contribute to the changing climate globally, the same is not so true of air quality. There are some transboundary air quality issues, with one country’s pollution blowing over their borders into neighboring states, but for the most part, the pollution is hyper-local. The most dangerous particles are the smallest ones, nanoparticles, which only exist within meters of their source (typically traffic fumes). The lifespan of nitrogen dioxide is also typically no more…

Wave energy has had many false dawns. But now a company from Finland has a working 2MW prototype up and running in Portugal. Has wave power finally been cracked?

Image for post
Image for post
The near-shore WaveRoller wave energy panel

Wave energy is generated by using the power as a wave rolls towards shore to spin a turbine or pump hydraulic pistons. The energy is determined by wave speed, wave height, and the ‘fetch’ — the distance over which the wave has travelled. …

One image, two very different responses. A group of combine harvesters process across a vast, dusty field, harvesting a crop that expands beyond the horizon. One take, when tweeted by a farming union (I cannot name them because they have since deleted the tweet), was how it highlighted the natural beauty of the agricultural countryside. Another response, from the animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming, is rather that such scenes are evidence of “a faceless, heartless, relentless machine… Intensive farming causes immense harm to wildlife and is one of the biggest drivers of species extinction on the planet.”

Image for post
Image for post
The beauty of the countryside, or desolate industrial landscape? Photo by Joao Marcelo Marques on Unsplash

The…

Autonomous cars are coming — but this could be bad news for the air we breathe. During Tesla’s recent “autonomy day”, Elon Musk boasted that autonomous taxis will roll out as soon as next year (2020). Buying anything other than a car without fully autonomous software and hardware will be like “owning a horse”, said Musk. He envisages that all Tesla owners will soon sit back and let their car drive for them — and when they aren’t using it, let it ply the streets as a ‘Robotaxi’, earning the owner money while they sleep. …

Image for post
Image for post

At my local train station, diesel plumes shimmer in the air above each train that pauses to disgorge both passengers and particulate pollution. In London’s Marylebone station — my usual end destination — trains revving their engines at the start of their journey blow thick puffs of black smoke, like smokers clearing their lungs first thing in the morning.

Breathing diesel fumes is bad news. I spent a lot of time researching diesel pollution for my upcoming book about air pollution, Clearing The Air. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) named diesel exhaust as a probable carcinogen way…

Image for post
Image for post

There’s a lot of doom and gloom about the pace of decarbonisation. But it is happening, and we should celebrate the victories. Here’s my top 10 reasons to be cheerful about renewable energy taking over from fossil fuels.

Forget Nuclear Fusion. There’s a future energy source that has been proven, piloted, and is accessible to any coastal nation. Salinity gradient power — more simply known as ‘blue energy’ — is an idea that has been kicking around since the 1950s. When the mouth of a river meets the sea, huge volumes of freshwater meet salty seawater. As the salinity of the seawater mixes into the freshwater, the two waters diffuse quickly to reach an equilibrium. This mixing process releases energy: as much, in fact, as the same volume of water falling from a 250 meter high hydroelectric dam.

Image for post
Image for post

Ok, it sounds like something out of Austin Powers (“sharks with fricking laser beams on their heads!”). But the future of sea fishing could well be electric pulses and laser beams, not nets, hooks and metal chains.

Commercial sea fishing has long been criticised as unsustainable and ecologically damaging, especially for bottom-dwelling species. The current catch methods of choice include bottom-trawling, beam-trawling and dredging. Bottom trawl nets as long as a football fields and as wide as a three-storey buildings drag along the ocean floor, catching everything in their path and crushing bottom-dwelling species like crabs and coral. According to…

Tim Smedley

Environment & tech writer for the BBC, Guardian and others. First book ‘Clearing The Air’ was nominated for the Royal Society science book of the year, 2019.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store