The 6 Most Ingenious Things Humans Are Doing This Week

Written by on November 23, 2014 in Climate Change, Eco-Friendly, Environment, Wildlife with 0 Comments

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It may not always seem like it, but this is a golden age of imagination and invention. That's not to say that the world isn't sick with violence, poverty and misrule. It surely is. But, long ago, our species of great ape left the others far behind, reinventing ourselves as explorers, builders, communicators, artists and dreamers. That's never been truer than today, as creative minds toil in the service of the planet and others.

Because climate change, poverty, and famine are complex worldwide problems, they're inspiring equally complex, world-changing solutions. It's now possible to pursue a career in, say, engineering, and make a good living, while also helping to reduce poverty, feed the hungry, preserve biodiversity, and rein in climate change. Never before have we been so dangerous to the planet and ourselves, or so capable of cooperating on peaceful solutions.

What has changed? Not one thing, but many. Thanks to globalization, local news trends worldwide in a flash. The sheer number of people on the planet means exponentially more brainpower; so, as a species, we're sparking many more ideas. Thanks to the digital revolution, people are busily batting ideas around the Internet, where they carom and entangle like subatomic particles.

The looming shadow of climate change, urgent and visible everywhere, is rallying people to action. There's been a groundswell of do-good capitalism (green start-up companies, big business switching to green practices), a crop of investment houses featuring only sustainability and humanitarian projects, and many for-profit social enterprises popping up. Unlikely partnerships are ensuing between corporate giants like IKEA and indigenous peoples.

Every week I learn of more jaw-dropping feats of creative problem-solving. Most are economically savvy, while also being environmentally adroit and compassionate. Here are my six favorites at the moment:

ONE.  Soccket, a soccer ball that generates electricity whenever it's tossed or kicked. One fifth of humanity, 1.2 billion people worldwide, either don't have electricity or rely on dirty power sources like kerosene and diesel that create health hazards and spew greenhouse emissions. They need cheap, clean, off-grid sources of energy that can be used anywhere. In play, as the Soccket ball spins round, an internal pendulum stores kinetic energy. Dribble and pass the ball for 30 min minutes and it will power an LED light for three hours.

Distributed in poorer areas of Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, it only weighs an ounce more than a regular soccer ball, is just as lively, and doesn't need to be inflated. The company also fields sustainability-gurus, who teach a curriculum of “out of bound” thinking, using local resources “to inspire social invention.”

I love that its design company, Uncharted Play, was founded by two juniors at Harvard, and their R & D is funded, aptly, by a kickstarter campaign. They state proudly on their website: “We make play products that generate renewable energy and inspire social invention. . . Doing good doesn't need to be boring.” Nor unhealthy.

They also make energy producing jump ropes. And, if you prefer, there are energy-storing teeter-totters. Powering the world during play — the brain's favorite way of learning — they provide cheap, clean energy, but they also help people stay active, healthy, playful, and self-reliant. Picture a playground of kids who know — however young or seemingly powerless — that they're bringing power and light to their families or neighbors.

On the same path, Solepower just came out with a thin shoe insert that you slip into your shoes like so many others. Except that this one builds up energy with each step and stores it in a small battery. Walk or hike by day, and you can light your way when night falls.

As with the Soccket ball, this design will no doubt have a vogue the world over, especially among people who can't be bothered traveling with cellphone chargers, but its target is poorer people and villages without power, while helping with climate change by reducing the need for kerosene, diesel and other pollutants.

TWO. What's not to love about a structure that eats smog? A hospital in Mexico City has unveiled its new façade of tall grey lattices pocked with round and oval portholes. Elegant and modern, the open framework easily passes for architectural chic. But, instead, picture a building that silently purifies the air all around it, neutralizing the pollution from up to a thousand cars a day. Picture sidewalks around it paved with the newly-invented smog-absorbing cement.


THREE. Another favorite of mine is the urban algae farm — a prototype for cities everywhere — that clung to a highway overpass in Geneva, Switzerland this year. A green slush of algae played through transparent pipes, thriving on all the carbon dioxide belched by the traffic below. Designed by the Dutch firm Cloud Collective, it shows how, even amid urban blight too bleak for conventional gardens, a wealth of food and biofuel and raw materials can be grown, unobtrusively, while also filtering CO2 from the air. The firm chose the site because it's “particularly violent and quite out-of-tune with the idea of the garden as a peaceful natural haven,” thus proving that even an expanse “of highways and car dealers — despite their anonymous and generic character — can play an important role” in the production of food and fuel.


FOUR.  Every week seems to bring new advances in solar energy. The world's first solar bike path will soon be opening in the Netherlands, along with the world's first solar highway. As we're swiftly becoming an urban species, think what turning most of the world's travel ways into cheap solar energy collectors could mean…

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