The global environment has a remarkable ability to recover — forests can regrow, rivers can replenish, the air can clarify, and soil can regenerate. But countries have to facilitate this recovery; otherwise, the economic status quo that insists on overexploiting natural resources will lead to environmental ruin.

All around the world, Indigenous groups, community organizations, scientists, conservationists, and grassroots activists have been pushing countries toward greater ecological awareness and engagement. 

They’re mostly relying on the tried-and-true methods of harm reduction — removing sources of harm like strip mining and industrial pollution — and guided rehabilitation by planting new vegetation.

But sometimes new or more refined techniques and practices emerge that help to repair and restore environments. Over the past year, Global Citizen has written about countless efforts to heal the global environment, from the esoteric to the surprisingly simple. 

Here are 10 of our favorite stories that taught us how to better protect the planet in 2021. 

1. Growing Coral on Land 

Coral reefs are being wiped out by rising ocean temperatures and various efforts are underway to ensure their survival. A team of scientists in The Bahamas discovered how to grow coral on land 50 times faster than it would normally grow in the ocean. Once grown, they’re able to then plant the coral in marine environments to kickstart new reefs and restore marine ecosystems. 

Read more about this effort here

2. Generating Electricity From Food Waste

Humanity generates a lot of waste that goes on to pollute the global environment and fuel the climate crisis. In parts of India, food waste is now being converted into electricity to ease pressure on landfills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save people money. 

Read more about this initiative here

3. Generating Electricity From Yarn

We need to develop clean sources of energy as fast as possible to end humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels. A team of scientists with this goal in mind created a high-tech yarn that can generate electricity when twisted or stretched, a breakthrough that can help power wearable devices and other small gadgets. 

Find out more about this technology here

4. Crowdsourced Funding for Environmental Protection 

A lot of people want to help save the planet but are unsure what to do beyond altering their consumption habits. The app Milkywire is providing well-meaning people like this with an opportunity to financially support individuals and groups who are making a significant impact on ecosystems around the world. This sort of crowdsourced financing allows the people working on the front lines of ecological restoration to spend less time fundraising and more time saving the planet. 

Find out more about Milkywire here

5. Capturing Carbon From Trucks

Global transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and trucks that transport goods thousands of miles are a major reason why. A group of students devised a way to capture carbon dioxide from the exhaust of trucks, which can then be stored in tanks and deposited at drop-off locations for later use in cement. Forms of carbon capture and sequestration like this have a big role to play in helping countries achieve net zero emissions. 

Read more about their technology here

6. Battling Fires With Artificial Intelligence 

We’ve entered the era of the super fire. Rising global temperatures, prolonged droughts, misuse of water resources, and bad fire management policies have created the conditions for enormous fires that incinerate millions of acres of land. Now scientists are leveraging the power of machine learning to better anticipate, defend against, and overcome these powerful blazes. 

Find more about their efforts here

7. Enhancing the Microbiomes of Coral Reefs

Like all animals, coral rely on a vast network of bacteria and other organisms known as a microbiome to survive. A team of scientists discovered how to optimize the microbiome of coral to better withstand rising temperatures and other hazardous conditions. If deployed on a large scale, these interventions could prevent the mass extinction of coral. 

Read more about this intervention here.  

8. Deploying Robot Jellyfish to Protect Coral Reefs

Another team of scientists has developed a robotic jellyfish that can safely explore, analyze, and potentially restore damaged coral reefs. 

Find out more about this technology here.

9. Using Satellites to Track Endangered Animals 

Animal conservation faces a range of challenges, from a lack of funding to habitat loss to widespread attacks on species. It’s also challenging to keep track of endangered animals in the wild. Now, conservation groups are using satellite imagery and machine learning programs to identify and track animals on a real-time basis. This heightened form of surveillance allows conservation groups to more efficiently allocate resources in the effort to save animals.  

Read more about this technology here

10. Ending Poverty 

OK, this isn’t a discovery. But the world is paying more attention to the fact that reducing poverty and meeting people’s basic needs can actually reduce energy use and ease pressures on local environments. Of course, there would be an even bigger impact if wealthy countries and the richest 1% of the global population altered their jetsetting and highly destructive lifestyles. 

Find out more about how poverty reduction helps the environment here

Because of powerful economic interests, it’s often challenging to do the most sensible and obvious things to protect the planet, such as phasing out fossil fuels, letting forests and rivers simply exist, and ending industrial agriculture.

When the financial profit of a few are put before the well-being of all others and the planet, those who love nature are forced to innovate solutions for its protection. 

But the natural world is incredibly resilient. With a little help from humans and their advanced forms of technology, Earth could have a better tomorrow. 

Global Citizen Life

Defend the Planet

10 Ways We Learned to Protect the Planet in 2021

By Joe McCarthy