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Author touts small solutions to big environmental problems on Earth Day

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Brett Davis | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – In a world constantly clamoring for big solutions to big problems – including challenges related to the environment – Todd Myers advocates thinking small in addressing things like climate change, endangered species, and pollution.

In fact, it’s in the title of his forthcoming book, “Time to Think Small: How Nimble Environmental Technologies Can Solve the Planet’s Biggest Problems” that champions low-key, pragmatic environmental solutions over larger political fixes.

It's a follow up of sorts to Myers first book, “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment,” published in 2011.

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“I started thinking about how to solve the problems I identified in my first book and I started noticing that small technologies were allowing people to do some amazing things,” said Myers, environmental policy head at the Washington Policy Center, a free market think tank. “It was exciting and the more I thought about it, the more I noticed these kinds of small, but effective, environmental approaches.”

He continued, “Importantly, what we are seeing isn’t just the creation of cool gadgets. We have the opportunity for a fundamental shift in how we address environmental problems because small environmental approaches can solve problems that government simply isn’t good at addressing.”

Myers, who has been working on his most recent book over the last five years, presented several examples from around the world of the small-based approach to environmentalism.

“There are smart thermostats that help you save energy using artificial intelligence,” he said. “There are gadgets that connect to your water and tell you how you are using water and how to reduce waste. There is an internet-connected water pump in Africa that not only reduces water waste by charging users, but provides revenue to people so they fix the pumps when they are broken. It used to take months to fix a government-provided pump, now it takes a day.”

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Myers explained why bigger isn’t always better.

“The beauty of small environmental technologies is that they can be used in the U.S. or Ghana, or Vietnam,” he said. “Some of the best uses of small technology are appearing in developing countries where government solutions aren’t an option, so people get creative. It is really inspiring.”

He pointed to the technology of carbon capture and storage as something that can be positively impacted by a more modest approach.

Carbon capture is the process of capturing carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas that traps some of the heat that Earth might have otherwise radiated out into space – before it enters the atmosphere, transporting it, and storing it long term.

“There are some interesting technologies that have the opportunity to make a big difference in the future,” he said “Carbon capture is one of them. I tell a story in my book of a guy who wanted to use the carbon that was captured for a product. He used a crowdfunding site to sell products made from that carbon as a way to make carbon capture more economically attractive. So, even as people think of big technologies like carbon capture, little technologies are often there helping make them viable.”

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These technologies can have meaningful repercussions, according to Myers, beyond cutting costs for business and governments.

“The most simple are technologies that help people reduce their electricity use, saving money and reducing environmental impact,” he said. “This isn’t just about saving money; it can help prevent blackouts.”

He referenced Texas suffering a major power crisis in February 2021 as the result of three severe winter storms that swept across the country.

“The Texas energy crisis occurred because demand hit an all-time winter high,” he said, “If demand had been reduced by just 10%, the blackout could have been avoided and lives saved. There is technology that can help people reduce demand when prices are high, but too few people have it now. In the future, simple technologies like this can help prevent that kind of disaster.”

Myers penchant for small solutions doesn’t mean there is no role for government in dealing with environmental challenges.

According to Myers, however, where government is concerned, “the Hippocratic Oath is in order – first do no harm.”

“But there are many opportunities to improve our policies to make prices more transparent and create incentives to conserve when prices are high,” he added.

“Time to Think Small” will be released November 1.