What impact has human progress had on planet Earth? Featured session presenter Dennis Dimick, a former National Geographic editor, shared his perspective on the ways in which technology and innovation have affected the environment in a visually stunning presentation on Monday morning. Dimick used dozens of photos from around the globe to illustrate the points he made in the session titled “The Human Age: Confronting the Innovation Conundrum.”
“We live in a world of more—more people, food, and growth,” he said. “And it’s all underpinned by more energy.” Today, 80% of the energy humans rely upon comes from coal, oil, and gas, Dimick said, noting that our dependence on fossil fuels has taken a harsh toll on the environment. The snowpack has diminished, fresh water sources have shrunk, forest fires have increased in scope, and temperatures have risen globally, he pointed out.
Increasing affluence, the acceleration of technologies, and dramatic population growth all play a role in climate change, he said. “We’re living on a planet that’s transformed. We’re becoming an urbanized world. …. And we’re doing it quite rapidly.”
Undoubtedly, he observed, the world has benefited from human innovation. “We’re all beneficiaries,” he reflected. “But there are also impacts. And we need to take stock of those. What we do here is going to determine our own future and the future of our civilization.”
For 10,000 years, Dimick said, the Earth has been a “Goldilocks planet” in which conditions have been neither too hot nor too cold. But that is changing, he said, noting that 17 of the world’s 18 hottest years have occurred since 2000, with the four hottest years being the most recent four. At the same time, the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment has increased and sea levels have risen. The impact of climate change has been dramatically illustrated with events like extreme precipitation and dramatic flooding.
There are options to help minimize the toll progress has taken on the environment, Dimick observed, citing examples that included more energy-efficient buildings, more reliance on mass transportation, and increased use of wind power. “We’re trying to keep the lights on, keep the wheels turning without adding more carbon to the atmosphere,” he reflected. Potential solutions include everything from nuclear power to biodiesel fuel from algae, Dimick said. “We have to figure out how to capture and store the CO2 that we’re putting into the skies.”
What can we do to help reverse climate change? Dimick shared a list of recommendations that included the following: refrigerant management; onshore wind turbines; food waste reduction; plant-rich diets; preservation of tropical forests; education of girls; family planning; silvopasture (the intentional integration of forested areas and pasture land); rooftop solar power; and regenerative agriculture.
The speaker also shared several recommendations for feeding the world without adding farm acreage. They include the following: freezing agriculture’s footprint; growing more on existing farms; using resources more efficiently; shifting diets; and reducing food waste.
Dimick concluded his presentation by challenging the audience with a provocative question: “What will we do with what we know?”