It’s fair to say things aren’t looking good for the environment. As temperatures and sea levels rise, we face a dramatic transformation of the natural world, with mass extinctions and the collapse of entire ecosystems remaining a concerning prospect in the near future.
So in this, issue 36 of Factor, we’re looking at how science and the engineering of the environment could be vital to the survival of the world as we know it.
First up, technological advances in fields such as genetics are ushering in whole new approaches to conservation, and raising the possibility that even extinction might not be the end. We examine the science of de-extinction. But can we really bring back long-dead species, and even if it becomes possible, is it actually a good idea?
As part of our de-extinction triple bill, we look at how the much-lauded project to de-extinct a woolly mammoth is only a small part of a wider and more promising field, where the true value lies in modifying endangered species to survive the changing world.
We also consider the prospect of a real-life Jurassic Park. Is it possible, or are genetically modified chickens as close as we can get? And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also asking whether there would ever be a case for the de-extinction of our close cousins the Neanderthals.
At the heart of this is the gene editing technology CRISPR. We look at how the slow march of genetic engineering has led to this revolutionary technology, and discover some of the stranger projects being explored with the technology.
Of course, all of this would not be such an important topic without the spectre of climate change. At present, Donald Trump is enemy number one when it comes to refusing to take action, but with nowhere near enough being done in many parts of the world, we ask if the rest of us are any better.
Given we are unlikely to radically improve humanity’s efforts to curb climate change any time soon, we also look at how science can be used to mitigate its effects. Geoengineering could – at least in theory – be used to tackle the problem, but as we find out, it’s not without its own issues, while genetically engineered plants could at some point become a vital resource in the mission to keep our cities liveable.
And if that wasn’t enough, we also investigate the challenges of e-waste and unearth the secret history of the legendary videogame Earthbound.