A Thriller in Environmental Change

Chances are, many of us will recognize this dashing, extraordinary electric vehicle: Tesla. Founded in July 2003, this company has an ongoing mission to revolutionize the automobile and energy sectors. By enhancing sustainability efforts through the use of renewable energy, Tesla has the great potential to combat the effects of climate change by reducing reliance on nonrenewable energy sources.

Fossil Fuel Emissions

In an increasingly industrialized environment, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen from 280 parts per million to 416 parts per million in the last 150 years. These carbon emissions are largely associated with human activity, specifically with the burning of fossil fuels (coal, gasoline, oil, etc.). In the United States, the greatest release of greenhouse gases (29%) comes from transportation.

Thus, Tesla ultimately aims to create a zero-emissions future by combining performance, safety, and efficiency in an all-electric vehicle. According to the 2018 Tesla Impact Report, over 550K vehicles had been sold, and they had been driven over ten billion miles; along with that, over four million metric tons of CO₂ were prevented from being released into the atmosphere. In fact, because several automobile companies have recognized the environmental risks posed by internal combustion engines (ICEs), more electric vehicles are being produced everyday.

The Role of Batteries

The heart of the Tesla vehicle’s energy source is its battery power. Electric vehicles typically use lithium-ion batteries, which are also used to charge smartphones and other electronic devices. These batteries are generally pretty efficient, having a lifespan of about eight to ten years.

Based on the 2018 Tesla Impact Report, Tesla’s Supercharger Network “has delivered over 595 Gigawatt-hours (GWHs) of energy, saving the equivalent of over 75M gallons of gasoline.” In addition, the company utilizes a battery recycling program, in which the materials are refined to be reused multiple times. This method reinforces the valuable qualities of recyclable materials since Tesla batteries were still operating at over 90% of their original capacity after 160,000 miles of recycled battery use (April 2018). At the same time, the Yale School of the Environment reported a serious decline in coal burning on a global scale in 2019. These statistics indicate significant change in the energy sector as more companies are looking up to the implementation of renewable energy sources.

Challenges and Future Directions

Although Tesla has taken groundbreaking steps to encourage the wide adoption of clean energy, various challenges continue to arise.

  • Battery Disposal

This is a serious concern among environmental scientists since improper battery disposal can generate toxic waste. However, Tesla is looking into how lithium-iron phosphate batteries can be incorporated into its vehicles since these batteries do not rely on cobalt – a rare and expensive element that contributes to the high cost of electric vehicle batteries and discourages recycling. On the other hand, 90% of cobalt-free batteries can be recycled, as well as making vehicle production more cost effective. 

  • Evaluation of electric vehicles versus conventional vehicles

Comparing the effectiveness of both types of cars can become complicated since several factors have to be taken into account. These include vehicle size, the way electricity emissions are calculated, driving patterns, and the geographical location where the vehicle is driven. In other words, there is not a set method to determine the efficiency of both vehicles in a variety of circumstances.

Nonetheless, Tesla continues to be a global icon in sustainability initiatives and in mitigating the negative consequences of climate change through innovative efforts.

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The Environmental Future of Genetically Modified (GM) crops

With an increasing global population and the ongoing risks of climate change, effective human interactions with the environment are critical to nurture all aspects of natural life. One of these key interactions is the use of GM (genetically modified) crops, which strongly contribute to the agricultural food supply and the environmental outlook of our planet. 

What are GM Crops?

GM crops are plants whose DNA has been modified before using them in agricultural practices. GM crops were initially developed to increase resistance against certain pests, diseases, and environmental conditions. However, they have evolved to not only alter the nutritive value of various foods, but to also be incorporated into the production of biofuels and pharmaceutical products. The use of GM technology has dramatically increased overtime, with acreage rising from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2017.

The diagram above shows some of the foods that typically undergo genetic engineering.

Environmental Advantages of GM Crops 

According to a 2014 meta-analysis, GM technology has reduced the utilization of chemical pesticides by 37%. In addition, it has increased crop yields by 22% and has elevated farmer profits by 68%. These benefits are significant because decreased pesticide use has preserved the nutritional characteristics of various crops, while allowing more foods to be sold and consumed at the same time. Hence, GM crops have the potential to feed enormous amounts of people and will continue to harness changes in agricultural production. In fact, it is expected that about 9.5 billion people will be living on Earth by 2050, which is an increase of three billion people in less than 50 years.

Another critical benefit of GM crops is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This massive reduction was actually equivalent to removing 16.7 million cars off the roads in 2016 alone. Therefore, GM crops can play a significant role in mitigating the harmful effects of climate change, specifically global warming.

Environmental Disadvantages of GM Crops

Although GM crops have major advantages that can transform the global food supply and the rate of climate change, this form of agriculture also brings some risks.

Toxicity- This is a serious issue when it comes to the herbicides and pesticides that are often used in GM crops. More specifically, the toxins from these chemicals have indicated negative effects in non-target organisms, such as bees and monarch butterflies. Furthermore, these harmful substances can be released into the soil, leading to fewer soil bacteria that enable plants to grow in a natural and healthy way. Irrigation systems that help cultivate GM crops can also negatively different water sources and the overall atmosphere.

Insect Resistance and Invasive Species- There have been various instances of insects developing resistance to the harmful chemicals in certain GM crops, with the first case reported in Canada in 2019. Additionally, specific herbicides have contributed to the emergence of “superweeds” and other invasive species that are unaffected by these herbicides. As a result, invasive species can appear in their natural ecosystem, which can disturb the broader ecology of the planet.

What is the long-term potential of GM Crops? 

Considering the fact that GM crops have ground-breaking benefits as well as serious disadvantages for the environment, the long-term implications of GM crops remain complex and uncertain. Although regulations exist to ensure that these crops are safe, they must be evaluated individually since certain genetically-engineered foods can pose different effects on human and ecological health. In addition, the comparison of the risks and benefits of GM agriculture with other farming techniques will be able to illustrate the effectiveness of each method. Nonetheless, GM crops are an essential element as we look towards more global challenges, along with various resources to overcome them.

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