Comment writer Hannah Dalgliesh argues that technological solutions for climate change need to be safe, practical, fitting solutions tailored to climate specific needs

Final year English literature student.
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Eight years on from the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, it seems that we are no closer to competently assuaging the devastating effects of climate change. Climate change has undoubtedly become a climate crisis. From extreme bushfire deaths in Australia to the necessity of a Flood Alleviation Scheme in my home town of York, there is no denying the threat we are facing across the globe. The climate technologies that we have are vital in reducing our carbon emissions and the leaps made by scientists internationally cannot be understated. However, when so much progress is yet to be made, how far can technology really be the answer to climate change?

As a child I watched the council build flood barriers around York town centre every year. Friends at school lost their homes to the floods and local businesses would close for months at a time. It was, and remains, a stark reminder that the effects of global warming which sometimes feel so far away are in fact a reality for many within the UK. The North-East is home to Teesside Net Zero, the UK’s first carbon capture technological base. This technology uses the emissions from industrial processes, capturing the carbon and purifying it with giant air filters or alternatively storing it in the ground, in this case under the North Sea. Although this is an undeniably important process, it is estimated that carbon capture costs more than three times the cost of wind power. For this there is simply not enough government funding.

There is simply not enough government funding

Alternatively, if we are to try to use more renewable energy sources, there can be no overlooking the problem of climate itself. There are very few days in the year in Britain when I feel assured solar power could ever be a reliable resource and despite fierce winds along the coastline and in many parts of the North of England, funding and the actual construction of renewable technologies is not easy to come by. Additionally, I believe that domestic solar panels create an energy divide in an already economically-divided Britain: when wealthy, middle- and upper-class households can afford solar panels which then provide power at a cheaper cost in the long-term, it forces working-class and poorer households to continue paying extortionate energy rates because we cannot afford the initial bulk cost of solar technology installation. If the government wants to offer this as a long-term domestic solution, massive funding has to be introduced.

Looking abroad, the technology required for crop demand as the global population rockets goes well beyond the current availability. As farmers try to keep their crops healthy amongst rising temperatures and loss of land due to wild fires and flooding, mass irrigation and hydroponics are increasingly necessary. Irrigation, however, is difficult in hot countries with an existing water supply, especially those that are prone to severe drought, and hydroponics, the science of growing crops in water or mineral solution without soil, is incredibly expensive. Arguably the solution posed most frequently is the one I view to be most dangerous: nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is a process which relies on the reaction caused when hydrogen atoms are heated and release neutron energy. This neutron energy is used to heat water and power other industrial processes as a form of – supposedly – renewable energy. The danger lies therein: this complicated and seemingly impenetrable scientific practice uses nuclear energy, which is nothing short of catastrophic when it fails. From radiation damage to nuclear waste, this is a climate technology of which to be terrified and I can only hope that international leaders do not choose this as their one major solution. Moving forwards, the focus has to be on immediate, safe and reliable practices rather than huge technology because the international discrepancies on finance, funding, and weather do not facilitate a one-size-fits-all solution. From different access, different climates, resources and even individual pathogens within a certain ecosystem, large-scale technology is not the answer. Since the establishing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, the UN has encouraged western countries in particular to share their climate technologies, but there is a significant disadvantage which stubbornly remains for most poorer countries. As I see it, climate technologies continue to widen the international economic divide. The arguments in favour of them are not convincing enough to disregard the damaging cost and waste they overwhelmingly produce and, three months into 2023, time is running out to find reliable long-term strategy.

Moving forwards, the focus has to be on immediate, safe and reliable practices

Ultimately, investing in these technologies is a dangerous gamble. By the time advanced climate technology is widely available and in operation, it will likely be too late.