28 Ingenious Solutions To Our Climate Woes

Geoengineering, urban adaptation, waste management, and more. These crowdsourced ideas might change our future.

28 Ingenious Solutions To Our Climate Woes
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Three years ago, MIT’s Climate CoLab attempted an ambitious feat: crowdsourcing an international climate agreement, with the results presented to the U.N., Congress, and the Department of Energy. The 2011 entrants were given a different challenge (figuring out how to evolve the economy to deal with climate change), but with the same promise of presenting ideas to influential governmental organizations. This was back in the good old days when people still had a shred of hope that national governments could come to some sort of reasonable climate agreement. Those days are long gone.


This year, Climate CoLab (part of the the MIT Center For Collective Intelligence), took a different approach, which reflects the general public sentiment that climate action won’t come from some sort of grand climate bargain. “Our new approach is breaking problems down into smaller pieces. We have items more focused on a sector, a particular problem,” says Robert Laubacher, the acting executive director at the Center for Collective Intelligence.

To that end, Climate CoLab has 28 winning proposals from its 2012-2013 crowdsourced competition, which asked entrants to come up with world-changing proposals in 18 categories, including geoengineering, transportation efficiency, urban adaptation, waste management, scaling renewables in major emerging economies, and reducing consumption.

Nearly 400 proposals were submitted and voted on by visitors to the competition website. In the end, a popular choice and judge’s choice were chosen in each category (in some cases, the judge’s choice and popular choice were the same, and in others, there was more than one popular choice).

Some of the highlights:

  • A plan to create a cheap nuclear fusion reactor with help from “an international consortium of funders and research projects.”
  • A “Cool Food” rating system and app to help consumers recognize foods that have a low impact on the climate. The rating system would be like a traditional nutrition label, but for the climate.
  • A proposal for a U.S. map of how property owners would be impacted by the fires, floods, storms, and droughts caused by climate change over the next 20 years.
  • A “smart mobility” app that tells commuters the best way to get somewhere based on trip time, comfort, cost, safety, health, waiting time, comfort, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • A program for turning defunct shale gas wells into CO2 storage sites.
  • A proposal to turn CO2 from power plants into dissolved calcium bicarbonate, which naturally exists in the ocean (and combats acidification).

All of the winning ideas will be presented in early November at the Climate CoLab Conference, where the winners will have the opportunity to connect with investors, nonprofits, and policymakers. “We have a couple projects [from past years] that have gotten small grants from foundations, but we don’t have any big success stories. That’s what we’re trying to do at the conference,” says Laubacher. “We want to connect the winners with people who can give them advice.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more