5 Big Climate Change Problems and the Millennials Trying to Solve Them
This year, amid political uproar in the U.S., the scientific community continued to issue dire warnings about the catastrophic effects of a seemingly inevitable acceleration of climate change. But millennials aren't letting the planet go down without a fight. The generation overwhelmingly believes climate change is real and demands action from business, government, and themselves. While many make personal changes—like swapping petroleum-based plastics for reusable bags and bottles—others are making a bigger investment in saving the planet, starting businesses to address some of climate change’s biggest culprits and removing hurdles to a greener tomorrow. Here are five climate change hurdles and the millennial-founded startups that are tackling them.
1. We Can’t Stop Emitting Carbon
According to data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, air pollution causes 5.5 million deaths per year (many of which occur in India and China). And carbon emissions have never been higher. While slashing emissions and focusing on renewable energy are two major international goals, in the short term, new carbon capture technology can help alleviate the effects of our current “dirty energy” era.
Arpit Dhupar, 25, and Kushagra Srivastava, 22, were still in college in India when they decided they wanted to take action against the growing air pollution problem in their country, and developed Chakr Innovation to “close the loop for black carbon in India.”
Their primary product, the Chakr Shield, can be fitted onto diesel generators and engines to capture carbon emissions, effectively controlling pollution without impacting the engine’s performance or the environment. The captured black carbon soot can then be converted into ink and paint. As of September, Chakr Innovation has installed over 30 Chakr Shields on large-scale generators around Northern India, covering over 3.3 megawatts of power and preventing over 900 billion liters of air pollution.
In 2016, the Chakr team won the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs Innovation Challenge in Delhi, a prominent competition geared toward finding ways to cut pollution. This year, they were finalists for Forbes Under 30 Impact Challenge for creative entrepreneurs, which awards $500,000 to companies driving social and environmental impact around the world. Most recently, Dhupar and Srivastava were included in the Forbes 30 under 30 for 2018.
2. Coral Reefs Are Dying
We’ve been hearing about the coral crisis for some time now. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “Coral ecosystems are a source of food for millions; protect coastlines from storms and erosion; provide habitat, spawning, and nursery grounds for economically important fish species; provide jobs and income to local economies from fishing, recreation, and tourism; are a source of new medicines, and are hotspots of marine biodiversity." They’re also dying at a rapid rate due to manmade issues like shifting ocean temperatures, acidification, and pollution—more than 30 percent of the world’s reefs have died over the last few decades, and 75 percent are expected to die by 2050.
Coral Vita, founded by Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher, both 27, works to restore damaged reefs by growing resilient corals on land and transplanting them into aquatic areas, reviving and protecting the dwindling reef eco-system. By growing corals on land, Coral Vita is able to accelerate growth rate by 50 times. Plus, land-cultivated coral has proven to be hardier and more resilient to rising temperatures and water acidification, and has a 90 percent survival rate once transplanted into the ocean. The startup’s first project uses land-grown coral to repopulate the reefs off the shores of the Dominican Republic.
3. Solar Energy Is Difficult to Implement
Despite the benefits of going solar, 80 percent of Americans can’t install the necessary equipment on their homes. Sometimes that problem is due to high installation costs or the inability to finance the steep upfront costs of solar panels, but oftentimes it’s a lack of roof space, not enough sun, or a structural obstruction—like a tree that creates too much shade.
Sandhya Murali, 32, and Steph Speirs, 31, founded Solstice to provide more homeowners the benefits of solar regardless of their financial or building limitations. With Solstice’s community-shared solar plan, residents can subscribe to a solar garden in their area and receive energy credits on their utility bills without having to install a roof array.
In Dover, Massachusetts, a 1.4-megawatt Solstice solar garden sits atop a landfill and supplies electricity to locals at a discounted price. The array’s output is expected to counter at least 1,300 metric tons of CO2 emissions each year—the equivalent to planting 1,250 acres of forest. Also, unlike the production of fossil fuels, Solstice creates local jobs for installation and maintenance in the communities where the gardens are located. In Dover, this project will help the city achieve Green Community status, meaning the city will be able to apply for additional grant money from the state.
4. People Don’t Have Access to Clean Energy
In rural India, 450 million people live without access to reliable energy, and villagers are forced to spend up to 20 percent of their incomes on kerosene, diesel, and other fossil fuels to power their homes. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, 160 million people receive less than four hours of electricity per day. It’s also the largest producer of crop waste in India.
Oorja Solutions turns crop waste and sunlight into renewable energy, then distributes it through a micro-grid to villages near its pilot location in Uttar Pradesh. This solution lessens the villages’ reliance on fossil fuels for energy while repurposing crop waste as biochar—a charcoal that can be used for carbon sequestration—instead of burning it into black carbon that pollutes the air.
With Oorja Solutions, 25-year-old founder and CEO Clementine Chambon believes his team has created a “virtuous cycle” that brings about both social and environmental change while reducing reliance to fossil fuels. The startup’s website claims that “in 5 years, we aim to impact 1 million people and to save 500,000 tons of CO2—that's equivalent to wiping out the annual emissions of one coal-fired power plant!”
In June, Oorja installed its first 8-kilowatt solar mini-grid in the village of Sarvantara. The grid provides affordable light, fan, and mobile charging to 1,100 people and powers irrigation pumps for farmers, which was previously done with diesel. It was the first time villagers were able to light their homes with the flick of a switch.
5. Gassy Cows Need Grassy Solutions
Grazing livestock—and all livestock, for that matter—are chief contributors to climate change. According to a Danish study, the methane produced from a single cow’s burps and farts does the same greenhouse damage as four tons of carbon dioxide. However, with proper grazing management, some argue that livestock could reduce carbon dioxide emissions. When correctly implemented, livestock manure—which contains carbon and nitrogen—can fertilize the soil and increase plant growth while sequestering more carbon and preventing the need for synthetic fertilizers, which damage the natural makeup of the soil and have negative environment impacts.
Christine Su, the 32-year-old CEO of PastureMap, believes a well-managed pasture has the potential to help the earth absorb and store atmospheric carbon while simultaneously helping build healthy soil and maintaining watersheds and agricultural eco-systems. The easy-to-use app is designed to take the guesswork out of grazing, which can allow ranchers and farmers to use their land in a more sustainable and cost-effective way by taking geo-tagged photos of their pastures and recording grass levels, among other features.
What’s next? How to actually reduce the methane emissions created by cows. PastureMap is currently working with Stanford on ways to make cows fart less, which—when you consider cows produce 70-120 kilograms of methane per year and contribute 28 percent of total emissions—would make a big difference.