How green is green technology?

Imagine an entire country enacts a law that requires the use of a more energy-efficient LED lightbulbs. Sounds good right? But what if I told you that in every country this law has been passed energy consumption went up?

The reason why could be a bit of a mystery, but it’s exactly why using green technology to solve problems can be incredibly difficult. It all boils down to two main reasons: The first is that a lot of what we consider to be the sustainable option, is only sustainable if a product is used in a certain way. The second is that people’s behavioral changes that come from introducing new technology are hard to predict. That’s what we call “rebound effects”. But what does that mean?

Like many people today, you might feel guilty about going to your favorite café because every time you buy a coffee, it comes in a disposable plastic cup that you know will somehow, someway, end up in a landfill and slowly make its way into the ocean where it may sit for decades or even centuries. What do you do? The easy answer for many of us is to purchase a reusable coffee mug that we take with us every day to fill up our coffee. Voila! You’ve circumvented the need for a single-use paper cup with a plastic lid. The purchase feels good knowing that we’ve done our small part to help save the planet. Problem solved… right?

A Woman Holding A Takeout Coffee Getty Images

But is any of this really true- that a reusable mug is “greener” than a disposable cup? As it turns out, it depends on how you use your reusable coffee container. This is because, in part, it requires more CO2 emissions to produce than a disposable cup. Just to make up for emissions, it might need to be used up to 100 times in order to balance the emissions of a disposable cup. And it gets even trickier: “Sustainability” doesn’t just mean reducing CO2 emissions, right?

All the materials that combined make up everything we buy come at an environmental cost. If we take into account the materials used in a reusable coffee mug, the water it takes to wash it after each use, the soap and more – it may take over a thousand uses compared to a disposable mug to balance the overall environmental impacts. If you’re anything like me and you tend to lose reusable mugs every now and then, this really calls into question whether it’s an environmentally friendly purchase.

Nowadays, this is why researchers are trying to understand the lifecycle of products – the environmental impacts starting from the extraction of materials from the Earth, through manufacturing, to the transportation to stores – all for increased understanding of the conditions under which a product might actually be considered “sustainable”.

The second, even more tricky issue, is that day-to-day human behavior may change when we exposed people to a new piece of technology. Going back to the coffee mug, for example, a consumer may drink 50% more coffee, simply because the volume of the mug is larger compared to a single-use cup. At first, it may seem like a small change, but on a large scale, an increase in coffee demand, simply from using a bigger mug, could easily lead to a huge number of unintended consequences: Increased coffee demand, for example, has long been linked to deforestation and economic inequality. These types of changes are known as direct rebound effects.

On the other side of that same coin are indirect rebound effects. Indirect rebound effects are even more difficult to quantify, and there can be many of them associated with a single new product or technology. In our coffee cup scenario, it could be that with your new purchase you start drinking more milk with your coffee – another driver of deforestation. It might mean you make more frequent trips to a café and increase your time driving which increases your annual CO2 emissions. You might start purchasing more snacks alongside each new coffee, increasing your net consumption of goods that were likely imported from all over the world. As you can imagine, those indirect rebound effects are extremely hard to track and basically impossible to predict in advance.

It’s amazing that even the example of the reusable coffee mug above can have so many unintended consequences on a global scale. It’s also important to note that these may be particularly prevalent in technological products that are individually owned, rather than something that is publicly owned. This is exactly why the problem gets even more precarious with initiatives like promoting an entire rehaul of the transportation system by electric vehicles (EV). Other options like making public transit and biking more accessible is more likely to have a net positive effect since both are options that are less materially intensive than an EV.

Electric car charging. Getty Images

The lifecycle of electric vehicles already requires rare earth metals that are more environmentally destructive than a comparable fossil-fuel-powered vehicle when being mined. In many places, they also have thin margins in terms of how much they actually reduce emissions compared to fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. This gets tricky because when people buy an EV, their behavior may change. In their excitement of driving a new, “sustainable” vehicle, they may end up driving it more often and actually emitting more carbon dioxide than the average diesel-powered vehicle – a direct rebound effect commonly associated with electric cars. Electric vehicle owners may also make other decisions differently: to use less public transport, car share less with others, or to use the tax rebate issued to promote electric cars (such as in California) to buy other products that, in the end, all contribute to increased emissions and environmental destruction. Of course, none of this means we should keep using huge amounts of fossil fuels in the face of climate change- it just means that the solutions to these problems may be even more difficult than we initially expected.

Pollution Getty Images

While the idea of rebound effects applies most commonly to topics related to energy use, it’s conceptual framework can apply to almost any new integrated technology or product. As of now, all that researchers and policy-makers can do is monitor the impacts in the aftermath of introducing new “green” technology. In the face of these rebound effects, more and more people have been asking themselves whether or not the current technological solutions to climate change are the way to go, especially for individually owned products. Given the urgency of climate change mitigation, the environmental destruction many types of green technology causes because of their lifecycle is precarious. Added is the uncertainty of how rebound effects might actually reduce emissions benefits of EVs in the real world compared to theory. And, in the end, it’s why we can mysteriously advocate for energy-efficient lightbulbs and see energy consumption go up. Sometimes, “green” energy may be anything but.

Related articles:

The Guardian – Could the rebound effect undermine climate efforts?

World Economic Forum – Do fuel-efficient cars make us drive more?

A hodgepodge mix and a stroke of luck

#fromkurilswithlove was a coincidence, in many ways. A photographer (Renan Ozturk) does a commercial shoot for a company (Kaspersky) and they find a common interest (The Kuril Islands). The photographer finds a group of people that is as passionate about the idea as himself, and a year later they all board a boat.

Chris Burkard was one of those people and in this video he explains how this random mix of people ended up being a perfect crew.

Chris Burkard – Breaking Monotony

If you are a surf fan you probably heard of Chris Burkard. By breaking out of his daily routine he became not just one of the most famous surf photographers but also nature photographers. Neither he nor his parents thought so when Chris decided to quit his job at 19 to pursue his dream career and travel to exotic touristic destinations taking pictures of surfers in front of blue skies. Chris was seeking adventure – but all he got was a monotonous routine. The more he travelled to overcrowded places, the more he craved secluded wide and open places. And so began, as he calls it, his personal crusade against the mundane by searching for destinations that seemed too cold, too remote, and too dangerous to surf at.

Chris’ first trip took him to Norway, where in-between of harsh conditions and frozen chunks of ice he found exactly what he was looking for: the perfect surfing place in a naturally beautiful landscape. And he connected with the world in a way, he could never do on a crowded touristic beach. Validated by this experience he travelled all over the world to Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Russia, as well as the Kuril Islands, where he was part of the #fromkurilswithlove expedition, to seek the beauty and adventure the world has to offer and by this inspiring us to appreciate nature and ideally create a world where the environment doesn’t need protection.

Arrest by the sea

The Taiwanese police finds clues to the whereabouts of the head of the Carbanak group and coordinates with Europol. Can the group be stopped?

hacker:HUNTER Carbanak Trailer

Taylor Rees is one of the most exciting filmmakers around, making documentaries from forgotten volcanic archipelagos to red-hot reflections on the American civil war. Who is Taylor Rees and what other documentaries has she made that you must see?

Who is Taylor Rees?

Director. Adventurer. Photographer. Environmental documentary filmmaker. The list goes on, but this description gives you an idea of her versatility and talent.

Taylor Rees’ work focuses on environmental and humanitarian issues, exploring stories beneath the surface with insatiable curiosity, deepening public understanding of natural resource conflicts, climate change and human rights. Her middle name is Freesolo: No moniker but a lasting reminder of her parents’ love of free climbing.

Where did Taylor Rees start making films?

Her career dates back to a Masters’s degree from Yale in environmental management and anthropology. This is the foundation for her stories, giving them a rigorous scientific and social justice approach.

Taylor Rees’ filmmaking style

Stylistically, Taylor’s work uses the power of landscape – skies, mountain ranges and large expanses. She also looks at a landscape’s story – the intricacies of its beauty, connection and how life interacts within different places. For storytellers out there, her TED talk is a must.

Taylor Rees said in a recent interview with culture and adventure journalist Simon Schreyer, “The love of what’s beautiful to me is deeply personal and it gives me a lot of intention, desire and drive to find aspects of beauty within a human life, or in a landscape, or in a way to incorporate that beauty in my own life. It’s like an indescribable phenomenon, that we don’t even know how to talk about rationally.”

Taylor Rees films

Down To Nothing (2015)

Her first film Down To Nothing follows a five-person team who set out on an ambitious trek to find out whether Burmese peak Hkakabo Razi is really Southeast Asia’s highest point.

Life Coach (2017)

Alaska’s Ruth Glacier is a climber’s dream. When director Taylor Rees and climbers Renan Ozturk and Alex Honnold choose a specific route to the top, unfortunately – or perhaps, fortunately – the weather puts a swift stop to their expectations. What follows is remarkable.

Watch Taylor Rees’ film Life Coach

Mentors: Hilaree Nelson (2018)

Is there room for glamour in the testosterone-filled world of ski mountaineering? Taylor and her team ask big questions as they follow ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson in a stunning depiction of masculinity and femininity in sport.

Watch Taylor Rees’ film Mentors: Hilaree Nelson

Ashes To Ashes (2019)

Both Black history and US history, Ashes to Ashes is one of Taylor Rees’ more poignant and at times horrific explorations of humanity. She follows Winfred Rembert, an artist and rare survivor of a Jim Crow-era attempted lynching, as he explains a dark past.

From Kurils With Love (2020)

When the guardian of an almost unreachable archipelago in the Far East of Russia hitched a ride with Taylor and her team, no one expected the result. From Kurils With Love’s team includes Rees’ spouse and fellow filmmaker Renan Ozturk. They set out to make a classic adventure story but what they got was something far more powerful.

The Ghosts Above (2020)

Taylor’s most recent work is set on Mount Everest and narrated by Renan Ozturk. The big question: Who was the first to reach the summit? Rees directs this gripping and sometimes strained look at the history of Everest expeditions, the fraught relationship between indigenous guides and the commercialization of a sacred mountain.

What will Taylor Rees do next?

If her previous work is anything to go by, the future is bright. To make sure you don’t miss her next project, keep up to date with Taylor’s adventures on her Instagram or the Taylor Freesolo Rees website.

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Machine learning beneath the sea

All around us, it seems like things are changing too fast to keep track of. From social media bombardments, constantly updating news cycles, and daily reminders about the threat of climate change, usually accompanied by images that are hard to look away from. Temperatures are rising. Ice caps are melting. Ecosystems everywhere seem to be threatened by local impacts and global climate change.

Climate change illustrated


It is all so overwhelming that by the time we look away from our screens, we are so consumed by the big picture impacts that we overlook the smaller – yet not less important – parts of our planet that are also affected by climate change. The parts of planet that are both figuratively, and literally, hidden from us.

In many ways, it’s these tiny, invisible worlds that keep our ecosystems – and us as humans that rely on them – moving along and functioning. But they’re hard to see and even harder to study. It’s what keeps these tiny organisms, that form our planet’s foundation, largely a mystery to scientists who have spent decades studying them.

Phyto… what?

This is exactly the case for phytoplankton, tiny plant-like organisms that photosynthesize in the ocean and produce most of Earth’s newly supplied oxygen. Most of them aren’t strong swimmers, and they simply drift along ocean currents. Phytoplankton make up the very bottom of marine food web, meaning that the health of everything else – from fish, octopus, squids, and mammals like dolphins, otters, and whales – all directly or indirectly depend on them.



In the past, tracking how these organisms change has been extraordinarily difficult. First the plankton were captured by passing water through small filters. Then tens to thousands of them would be manually counted underneath a microscope by a trained professional who spent years learning to correctly identify them. In the 1930s scientists managed to automatically capture plankton over long oceanic distances by equipment dragging behind volunteer merchant and research vessels. However, even with these technological advances the plankton would still have to be processed in a lab under a microscope.

A Continuous Plankton Recorder

Making the invisible visible

This type of research formed the foundation of incredibly important ocean science, but its cost and labor intensity limited researchers’ ability to assess phytoplankton communities in detail. For example how the communities responded to long-term ecological changes like global warming, seasonality, and even day-to-day differences driven by weather, precipitation, or ocean currents.

In other words, their size made most patterns in phytoplankton communities hidden from researchers. All this has started to change with a new wave of ocean technology that has been combined with advances in machine learning. Opening up new possibilities and finally allowing ocean scientists to make what was once invisible to us, visible.

Big data becoming meaningful

Scripps Plankton Camera, built by the Jaffe Lab, anchored to a pier piling at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography collects tens of thousands of images every day. Image courtesy of the Jaffe Lab.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California are using new underwater microscopes, that can spend weeks below the surface with little maintenance. The system captures images of particles floating pass by the camera, including phytoplankton. They are imaged at an impressive rate of up to 8 pictures per second.

“Over the last four years, the camera collected nearly 1 billion images of suspended particles drifting onto the microscope. Collection of such a huge amount of data, as exciting as it is to any scientist, comes with a lot of challenges related to data storage and processing,” said Dr. Kasia Kenitz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on the ecology of phytoplankton communities in the ocean.

“The next challenge is identifying which organisms are depicted in every single image and how can we use this information in a way that will provide meaningful insights into the ecology of these tiny organisms. This is where recent advances in computer vision and machine learning become an integral part in collecting biologically meaningful data.”

The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier hosts an abundance of scientific research equipment to collect data and help solve mysteries of our planet’s processes. Image by Rishi Sugla.

Perhaps it is not as bad as looking at a billion samples of phytoplankton slides underneath a microscope, but looking at a billion of images on your computer by hand is still next to impossible. Researchers like Dr. Kenitz have started using machine learning to train image classifiers to automatically identify subgroups of different phytoplankton.

The underwater images of phytoplankton highlight the complex forms of phytoplankton and how beautiful and diverse the invisible can be. This also represents a challenge for automatic object identification since their unique forms are unlike anything else we see in the visible world. Dr. Kenitz and her colleagues have manually inspected tens of thousands of these images to train classifiers to correctly recognize phytoplankton species and calculate their relative abundance through time.

In other words, these methods are revolutionizing our ability to see how these species, which influence every other living creature in the ocean, may change in years to come.

The diversity of phytoplankton. (Images taken by the Scripps Plankton Camera courtesy of the Jaffe Lab).

​So what comes next?

Dr. Kenitz expects that this line of research will become increasingly relevant to humans and how they interact with oceans. “These new underwater technologies have revolutionized the way we observe these tiny-but-mighty organisms. It’s especially important to start using these tools for coastal populations that rely on seafood, as uncontrolled growth of some phytoplankton can produce toxic substances, generate huge economic losses and lead to public health issues. We’re now working with a community of experts in plankton identification to help us build better, cost-effective ecosystem monitoring.”

In the end, this new technology helps us remember that some of the most spectacular parts of our planet are hidden from us. These images, taken in a way previously impossible, help us understand that we can’t afford to forget about the people, plants, and tiny organisms living in worlds we aren’t able to see.

Even in the midst of what sometimes feel chaotic, we all have a chance to understand the effects of the smallest change in our world just by staying curious.

More about Rishi Sugla you can read here or follow him on Instagram.


That’s weird!

Everybody knows happy evenings like these: sitting on the couch with friends, reminiscing about the old days and what the future might hold. Then one gets this brilliant idea which starts everyone raving about, because it is just what the world has been waiting for. As a matter of fact, you all wonder how you could have survived so far without it.

After you brainstormed, produced an arsenal of potential solutions and covered it from every angle imaginable, everyone goes home and the same counts for your ideas. However, some people out there did bring their random couch ideas to life and we simply can’t keep our favorite weird technological inventions from you.

Getting the kids out of bed

Same game, different day: your kids won’t wake up to go to school. The solution is so simple, yet so brilliant. Extreme bed shaker is a voice-activated… well… extreme alarm clock or as the creator calls it Wake Up Machine. You can build it into your kid’s bed and connect it to Alexa or any other smart device and then watch them being shaken out of bed. They might hate you a bit but you won’t stop laughing, so totally worth it.

Pushing the right buttons

Being in a relationship with a gamer is usually quite fun. But not when you want to spend some time together and your significant other ‘can’t pause the game’. 🙄 Students at the University of Art and Industrial Design Linz have the answer to your problem: The Massage Me. A hack which allows you to connect your PS3 controller with a massage vest so you can get your massage while your girlfriend / boyfriend continues his game. Win-win! Did we mention that you can DIY at home? Find the instructions here.

Smart Fashion

Get your life together with the smart jeans from SPINALI DESIGN. They connect to your smartphone and vibrate when you get notifications. You can also choose what kind of messages you want to receive on your jeans. So you don’t have to check your mobile every time Sarah sends you pictures of her kids – I mean, we get it, Sarah. Your kid is cute, but have you seen that adorable kitten trying not to fall asleep? – And the best part: the jeans are compatible with maps. If you need to take a left turn, your jeans will vibrate on the left and if you need to take a right turn, they will vibrate on the right. The future is now!

Mini Mini Desktop USB Washing Machine

Be honest. How often do you actually wash your glasses, rings, buttons or any other mini stuff on your desk? If you’re anything like me, not that often or maybe even never. But behold, a little tiny helper was designed to make our things cleaner and probably less disgusting: The Mini Mini Desktop USB Washing Machine. All you need is water and the washing party can start. Watch as your things get swirled around and cleaned. Looks like magic but it is just simple technology.


Ever went on a jog and then this deep craving for tomatoes just instantly occurs? Then Tomatan is the robot for you! This little robot has a cute tomato-shaped head with a dashing red skin, sits on your shoulders and with just one simple push of a button, he feeds you – drumroll – tomatoes! 🍅 If you haven’t been the talk of the town yet, you definitely will be now. Not because everyone is making fun of your new shoulder-sitting buddy, but because of honest envy. I mean, who doesn’t want some tomatoes to keep that energy level high while working out?


60 seconds about space travel

Nicole Stott is a retired NASA astronaut turned artist. She spent several months at the International Space Station – and so we spoke to her about space travel. We kept it brief.

She speaks about international cooperation in multi-planetary settlements, permanent presence on the moon, travelling to Mars and staying there and preserving life on earth. And discusses if we will be so stupid to destroy our planet.

This is the first video in our new series “60 seconds with…” in which we very briefly discuss a topic with an interesting person.

Tell the world or not?

Many people in the last days asked us why we are trying to raise awareness for the Kuril Islands; and if it wouldn’t be better if they stayed hidden. We spoke to Renan Ozturk about this topic before the expedition left. In this video he sums up what the local representative of one of the world’s biggest environmental conservation groups told him in a meeting a few hours before this interview.

How technology protects animals

The expedition was set up to have two scientists on board: Rishi Sugla, who is an oceanographer, and Jeff Kerby, who researches in plant life and animal interactions in extreme environments. So these two were the scientific backbone of the crew – until last minute we received a request to take someone on board who wanted to check his timelapse cameras around the islands and bring replenishments to some of his team on Tyulenyi.

It was Dr. Vladimir Burkanov, most likely the most knowledgeable person when it comes to life on the Kuril Islands. He has HD timelapse cameras all around the islands to monitor the development of the populations. “When I started 30 years ago, we had a compass”, he says. “We use lots of computers and satellite navigation now. Only few years ago, new technologies popped up, showed up in our field research – drones.” His team is now using drones to monitor and count the wildlife populations on the island of Tyulenyi.

“Everyday, researchers and students working with scientist Vladimir Burkanov (@bigdaddivladi) fly drones over these populations and feed the resulting photographs into computer vision (that uses a type of AI) models that count all the pups and adults on the island with high accuracy. It is absolutely mind blowing to get a count of tens of thousands of pups from imagery flown earlier in a day (plus a map of where each one is located!!!!!)”, Jeff Kerby explained the approach.

For Rishi Sugla “this rugged place is one of the most interesting locations I’ve ever seen science being done.”

For him, it was a reminder of how important international cooperation in research is. “Climate change doesn’t care much for the borders we’ve created as people. But these borders and barriers, whether they are social, political, economic, cultural, or geographic will determine our capacity to deal with its impacts”, he said. “Increasing each other’s capacity to do important work at the grassroots level, pulling from our institutional resources, is part of how we build something different. I hope I can work to support the scientists I’ve met here. Not because they needed saving or anything dumb like that, but because solidarity will mean survival going forward.”Increasing each other’s capacity to do important work at the grassroots level, pulling from our institutional resources, is part of how we build something different. I hope I can work to support the scientists I’ve met here. Not because they needed saving or anything dumb like that, but because solidarity will mean survival going forward.”

A "catastrophic drone failure"

During the #fromkurilswithlove expedition, the team lost two drones because of the difficult wind conditions they had. Filmmaker and photographer Chris Burkard talks about “the catastrophic drone failure” and trying to find it in one of the most “remote and harsh climates in the world”.

See and read more here.