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Green Technology can hurt the Environment

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    16th Jul, 2022

Context

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, has highlighted the potential negative impacts of green technology adoption on the environment and in particular marine ecology.

Background

  • The study highlighted the emerging threats that could have a major impact on marine biodiversity over the coming decades.
  • A multidisciplinary team of 30 experts has used a technique called ‘horizon scanning’ to make their conclusion.

Horizon scanning:

  • Horizon scanning, which is also known as environmental scanning is “a technique for detecting early signs of potentially important developments through a systematic examination of potential threats and opportunities, with emphasis on new technology and its effects on the issue at hand”.

Analysis

Detrimental Impacts of Green Technology on Environment:

  • Growing Footprint:
    • Renewable energy often requires more land than fossil fuel production, with infrastructure fragmenting or even eliminating high-quality wildlife habitats.
    • It can also lead to a variety of other impacts on wildlife, including behavioral changes and direct mortality.
  • Biodegradable Polymers:
    • In the backdrop of growing public pressure, there has been an attempt to replace fossil fuel-based plastic with biodegradable polymers, such as the ‘biodegradable plastic bags’ made of plant starches. The point of concern is that the researchers are claiming that these materials do not biodegradeunder natural conditions in the ocean and their widespread adoption can causemarine litter as well.
  • Lithium-based energy storage systems:
    • Lithium extraction inevitably harms the soil and also causes air contamination. The common environmental side effects of lithium mining are water loss, ground destabilization, biodiversity loss, increased salinity of rivers, contaminated soil, and toxic waste
    • Deep-sea ‘brine pools’:The deep-sea ‘brine pools’ of more saline water, contain higher concentrations of lithium and could become future sites for extraction. These ecosystems support diverse species, many of which are largely undiscovered. The rising demand for lithium-powered electric vehicles could put these environments at risk.
    • Additionally, the majority of batteries are not properly recycled, causing the impacts on the environment to be costly.

Mining for copper, needed for electric wires and circuits and thin-film solar cells, and mining for lithium used in batteries, has been criticized in Chile for depleting local groundwater resources across the Atacama Desert, destroying fragile ecosystems, and converting meadows and lagoons into salt flats.

  • Impact of solar energy:
    • The environmental disadvantages of solar energy include habitat loss, alteration in land use, the strain on water resources, exposure to hazardous materials, and pollution of soil, air, and water resources.
    • The photovoltaic manufacturing process employs toxic chemicals such as:
      • hydrochloric acid
      • sulfuric acid
      • nitric acid
      • hydrogen fluoride
      • 1,1,1-trichloroethane
      • Acetone
    • Concentrating solar: Concentrating solar plants known as “power towers” produce beams of sunlight intense enough to incinerate insects and birds.
  • Impact of Wind turbines: Wind turbines, both land-based and offshore, kill millions of migratory birds and bats each year from collisions.
  • Impact of Hydroelectric dams:
    • It blocks migration routes for fish, preventing them from breeding and causing high juvenile mortality rates.
    • Flooding land for a hydroelectric reservoir destroys the forest, wildlife habitat, agricultural land, and scenic lands. For example, in the Three Gorges Dam in China, entire communities had to be relocated to make way for reservoirs.
    • Hydroelectricity is hydrology-dependent. The system depends on precipitation levels, which can fluctuate from year to year, causing instability.
  • Impact of growing demand for Biofuel:
    • The production of biofuel feedstocks, particularly food crops like corn and soy, could increase water pollution from nutrients, pesticides, and sediment.
    • Increases in irrigation and ethanol refining could deplete aquifers.
    • Global decline in food production-As more land is directed towards biomass production.
    • Habitat Loss: The habitat loss following land conversion for crop production, for example from forest or grassland.
    • Loss of agrobiodiversity: the intensi?cation on croplands, in the form of crop genetic uniformity. Most biofuel feedstock plantations are based on a single species which increases the susceptibility of these crops to new pests and diseases.

Required measures

  • There is need to reconsider maritime influences and technologies.

Green curse" refers to a situation when a country's increased investment in renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, generates a new set of resource and energy-related violent conflicts.

  • India can adopthorizon scanning as part of a larger foresight process to gather information on relevant trends and developments (monitoring) and explore their possible implications.
  • India can play a pivotal role in breaking the "green curse" by persuading South Asian countries to adopt sustainable practices in mining critical minerals needed for solar power devices.
  • India should look at more sustainable mining models based on low carbon technology.
  • REEs (rare-earth elements) like neodymium and dysprosium are needed for magnets in electric generators and wind turbines that involve mining practices that are environmentally damaging and need to be revamped.

Conclusion

Green growth has become one of the best alternative strategies for sustainable development. Although environmental technologies play a fundamental role in green growth, further investigations are required to understand whether and how environmental technologies affect green growth.

In the absence of rigorous studies, the long-term impact on the environment remains unknown and can lead to a fresh set of problems. It requires a mindful approach to avoid various environmental pitfalls in the transition from nonrenewable energy resources to renewable energy resources.

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