The Giant 3D Printer That Can Stop Climate Change

By Jeremy Radachowsky

In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next month, countries are promoting research into new climate-friendly technologies – things like capturing carbon emitted from smokestacks and storing it underground, increasing efficiency of energy use and the transportation sector, and even wilder ideas such as changing the reflectivity of earth’s surface.

Yet, there are two existing technologies that are ready to be acted upon today, whose collective impact could be larger than any future technological breakthrough.

The first technology is a 400-million-year-old solar-powered device that extracts CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it into material useful for construction, essentially “printing” solid materials layer by layer like a 3D printer until a finished product up to 300 feet tall is achieved. Once deployed, the device requires no human input – just water, sunlight, and molecules found in most soils.

This technology is called the “tree.”

A more recent technology extracts tons of carbon already trapped in vegetation and converts it into a small amount of protein-rich food for human consumption. Along the way, large quantities of climate-damaging gasses are emitted. In the moist tropics, the process also requires the clearing of climate-friendly forests and is ten times less efficient than many other methods of food production.

This technology is called the “cow.”

Cows were domesticated by humans more than 10,000 years ago and made sense in the context of a small human population and abundant resources. However, in an era of high population density and climate change, cattle are now an antiquated and obsolete solution to today’s environmental and food security issues. Trees, on the other hand, remain vital to our continued existence.

Today there are 7.4 billion humans, 1.5 billion cows, and 3 trillion trees on planet Earth. By 2050, the human population is projected to increase 30 percent —> Read More