An innovation is a new idea, technology, or process that improves the effectiveness, efficiency, or sustainability of an existing process, or fulfills a new need. Human innovations include the engines that burn fossil fuels to produce mechanical energy, and the machinery that has allowed us to plow and pave more than half of Earth’s surface. Our ability to innovate has allowed us to dramatically change the Earth system at unprecedented scales and rates, especially over the last century. Looking ahead, we must consider how to maintain the resources necessary to sustain the health of future generations.
As we recognize how we are changing the Earth, we can also develop technology and solutions that can sustain human life and ecosystems. Innovations in renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, can provide energy we need for modern life without contributing to global warming. We will need both technological and social innovation to help us support the world’s populations. Our ability to innovate will hopefully allow us to mitigate climate change, sustain ecosystems, and be resilient in a changing world.
There are many kinds of innovations that will help mitigate climate and environmental changes include:
- Developing more efficient technology to use renewable energy, such as solar, wind, biofuel, hydropower, and geothermal energy.
- Reducing food waste, thereby also decreasing deforestation and habitat loss for agricultural activities.
- Constructing urban environments that are energy efficient, provide public transportation, and recycle waste water.
- Reducing the amount of pollutants and waste, including refrigerants which are potent greenhouse gases, released into the environment.
- Recycling water to decrease freshwater use and global water stress.
Can you think of additional cause and effect relationships between innovations and other parts of the Earth system?
Visit the burning of fossil fuels, agricultural activities, renewable energy, and urbanization pages to learn more about how human innovations affect global climate and ecosystems.