This story appears in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.
The Anthropocene. That’s the name that is starting to be used to describe the current epoch of Earth’s history. The “anthro,” of course, refers to how people have altered the planet. The dire effects of human activity—climate change and pollution, to name a couple—are well-known.
But we are also learning how to make the planet a better place, as the examples here demonstrate. Advances in technology have enabled people to farm more efficiently, reclaim water more effectively, and replenish distressed land. In his “Anthropocene” series, photographer David Ellingsen combines relics of the human and natural worlds. The works reflect both hope and concern about how our species is remaking the planet.
1. Tree delivery
Can drones fight deforestation? Engineers at U.K.-based BioCarbon Engineering have developed seed-depositing drones designed to plant a billion trees a year. More nimble than current aerial methods, the drones can reach places humans can’t.
2. Plastic cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit, has an idea to clear out the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the sprawling expanse of floating plastic and trash in the North Pacific. Using floating screens and anchors, the system will corral plastic on the water and hold it until it can be collected.
3. Flying above ice
San Diego Zoo Global, in partnership with Northrop Grumman, has outfitted an autonomous hexacopter with high-resolution cameras and sensors that can monitor sea ice and polar bear behavior. The project was devised to illustrate how the bears are adapting to longer summers and melting ice.
4. City appetites
Plenty, a Bay Area start-up, is using LED lights to boost growth in indoor hydroponic farms. Designed for hyperefficiency, a Plenty farm can achieve yields up to 350 times as great per square foot as conventional fields. The firm is exploring expanding to Chinese cities.
5. Crossing the road
Can the amount of roadkill be reduced? To mitigate the danger to both animals and drivers, Brazilian company ViaFauna is testing roadside sensors—similar to those used for speed traps—to identify disturbances on the road and then illuminate signs to alert drivers.