Here’s four quick things that have floated by on the internet recently that offer a smidge of optimism that we are not wholly and entirely doomed. (Of course, the usual caveats that half of these are still in the research stage, lab conditions are not real world conditions, etc etc.)
1.) Someone figured out how to turn CO2 into ethanol. The researchers found that by applying a voltage to a solution of water and carbon dioxide in the presence of plates covered in nano-scale spikes, the CO2 is converted into ethanol. The spikes on the electrode constrain the reaction so that only ethanol is produced. The notion that the waste product of carbon-based fuels can then be converted back into fuel (to be burnt, to be converted to fuel, …) is amazing and promising. Here’s hoping it works when scaled up.
2.) Someone else figured out how to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria by busting up their cell membranes. Other than climate change, the thing I lose the most sleep worrying about is antibiotic resistance: it’s staggering and distressing to think that in the span of one life time, we’ve entered the antibiotic era and the post-antibiotic era. We found a way to avoid dying from an infected scratch, and we collectively mismanaged that gift so egregiously in a race to make chicken cheaper than socks that scrapes may well be potentially lethal again soon. Drug companies aren’t spending much money to go looking for new antibiotics, and even if they were, we need to overhaul how we use antibiotics for that to do anything other than push the end of the antibiotic era back a decade or two. However, these polymers kill the bacteria by physically ripping it apart, rather than poisoning it, and so it does not carry the same resistance issues as traditional bacteria do. I slept soundly the night after I read this.
(Also, while we’re on the subject, phage therapy is fascinating and I’m baffled that the West has largely ignored it.)
3.) Tasmanian devils are developing resistance to the contagious cancer that is devastating their population. The contagious face tumor was thought to be lethal in all cases (with the devils starving as a result of the tumor interfering with jaw mobility), though some individuals have developed ways to fight the cancer and survive. Since 80% of the devil population is infected, they are in serious danger of becoming extinct. If a significant portion of the population develops resistance, hopefully the species will be able to stabilize.
4.) Renewable energy methods now provide more global energy than coal. This is excellent news, and we need to keep it up. It may be possible to convert CO2 into ethanol in a lab, but we’re a very long way from being able to scrub our emissions effectively, and ultimately the only way we’re going to at least slow climate change is by pumping drastically less CO2 into the atmosphere.