words by Willow Defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, which might just explain why we are seeing a surge of innovations surrounding the climate crisis as of late.


In Atmos Volume 01, we profiled a number of new companies who are using drone technology to combat resource depletion. One such startup, Droneseed, uses swarms of drones to identify ideal spots for growing new trees and then fires seeds into the soil from above. Another, Dropcopter, is responding to the honeybee decline with drones called “Worker-Bees” that fly over flowering plants and release pollen to help yield healthy crop growth. If this sounds like the future, that’s because it might be.


Some believe the future of humankind is among the stars. Our friends at National Geographic have catalogued not only a history of our fascination with space travel, but where we are today in terms of space-oriented innovations. While the United States, Russia, and China are racing to return to the moon, companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are closer than ever to bringing everyday customers to the edges of outer space. And Relativity Space is using the world’s biggest 3D metal printer and Dell technology, to 3D print actual rockets.


According to a recent study, 61% of companies incorporated AI (artificial intelligence) into their businesses in 2017. This offers an advantage in three capacities: assisting (understanding data), augmenting (beyond human analytical capabilities), and becoming autonomous (taking independent action). Of course, not all AI advancements are positive. Researchers are currently working around the clock on ways to detect “deepfake” videos—computer-generated clips feared for their ability to create actually fake news and influence the upcoming election. (Imagine a video of Bernie Sanders saying or doing something he never actually said or did.)


Meanwhile, a radical experiment is about to be underway in the Amazon, where ecologists from the University of Campinas in Brazil will be testing to see how trees react to increased amounts of carbon dioxide being injected into contained areas of the rainforest. The technology, Free Carbon Air Enrichment, has been around for decades (with mixed results), but has never been attempted in a tropical rainforest, which absorb massive amounts of CO2.


In the fashion space, Native Shoes has just launched what they are calling the world’s first entirely compostable, plant-based sneaker. While most sneakers are made from some combination of plastic and leather, The Plant Shoe is exactly as its name suggests, with ingredients that include linen, pineapple husk, eucalyptus, cork, and natural latex. You can even plant the shoe in your backyard and they will compost.


Speaking of plants, a new exhibition at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden called Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations gives people the opportunity to listen to the sounds made by flora. At the garden, artist Adrienne Adar has planted sensors that pick up the vibrations of vegetation typically inaudible to humans, and then amplify them. “People are more open to thinking about plants and how they exist on their terms,” Adar said of the concept. “Things don’t have to live like humans for us to understand them anymore.”


To invent is to “produce (something, such as a useful device or process) for the first time through the use of the imagination or of ingenious thinking and experiment.” The operative word here is imagination: We cannot be constrained by seeing only what is or what has been. We have to see beyond. If we are to build a better future, we have to be visionary.

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