Building the World

October 27, 2017
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Microbeads

Microbeads: image, wikimedia commons

Tiny formulations of plastic, microbeads can be found in household cleaners, toothpaste, and cosmetics. After using such products, one might rinse the mop, expel the toothpaste, or simply wash one’s hands after applying makeup. But that is not the end; rather, it is the beginning of a journey made by a microbead into the water supply, perhaps culminating in an extra addition to your cup of tea. Microbeads have been found in every kind of water: lakes, rivers, oceans. Microbeads are part of advances in plastics, a substance just over 60 years old that has seen an increase of 560% since its inception. Cosmetic manufacturers like L’Oreal and and Colgate-Palmolive have taken steps to phase out the practice, using instead natural exfoliants such as apricot seeds and walnut shells. Legislation such as the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 helped. In the same year, Canada presented the Microbead Elimination and Monitoring Act.

The Thames River has come back to life, thanks to laws promoting clean water and plastic prevention. Image: wikimedia.

Can emerging and refining legislation on public water supply benefit from historic laws such as the Statutory Foundation of the New River, bringing fresh running water to the city of London, enacted in 1605? Recent efforts to clear the Thames River of plastic are promising: in 1957, the waterway was declared “biologically dead” in part due to lack of repair to Victorian sewers that were damaged by World War II bombing. As repairs began, awareness of other problems such as pesticides and fertilizers improved. There are now 125 species of fish in the Thames. But as one problem was cured, another began to emerge: plastic. In 2015, 70% of the flounder in the Thames had bits of plastic in their systems. Cleaner Thames, a campaign initiated in 2015, battles the plastic waste.

Great Lakes of the United States recently measured 446,000 micro plastic particles/km2 in locations near cities. Image: “Great Lakes from Space,” wikimedia

North American waters are in peril. Recent testing of the waters in the Great Lakes found that, while the average sample contained 43,000 micro plastic particles/km2, some areas near large cities measured more than 466,000 particles/km2. It’s not just drinking water that is polluted by microplastics, it is fish and marine animals. Aquatic life ingests not only large pieces of plastic but also microscopic bits. Next time you enjoy tea with sushi, will you also contribute to community efforts and organizations that may help to prevent microbead pollution?

Baldwin, Austin K., et al. “Plastic debris in 29 Great Lakes Tributaries: Relations to Watershed Attributes and Hydrology.” Environmental Science and Technology, 2016, 50 (19), pp. 103-77-10385. http://pub.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b02917.

Hardach, Sophie. “How the River Thames was brought back from the dead.” 12 November 2015. British Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20151111-how-the-river-thames-was-brought-back-from-the-dead/

Sierra Club. “How to handle microbeads.” http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-4-july-august/green-life/how-handle-microbeads

United States Congress. “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.” H.R. 1321. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1321.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 3, 2017
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Glass of Air

“A glass of water” by photographer Derek Jensen, Tysto, 2005. Image: wikimedia commons.

In a world where water is increasingly scarce, can the answer be in the air? In a time when streams may be endangered, where can clean water be found? Water has occasioned innovation from ancient times to present; China, Italy, England, Australia – the most arid country on earth – have all transformed their lands and economies through water innovations. Chilean innovator Hector Pino pursued a new idea when his baby daughter was born with a kidney condition requiring sodium-free water. Now, a parent’s love may change the world.

Pino and co-founders Carlos Blamey, engineer, and Alberto González, designer, are utilizing technology originally developed in Israel to draw water from air. It can run on solar, too. The 748 million people without water infrastructure could now draw clean water in amounts sustaining a household. In cities where old water systems leak lead or in streams once protected now compromised, where could consumers turn? The household FreshWater device produces 28 liters of water per day. A mochila version is in development, making air the ‘magic water bottle’ in your backpack.

For Fresh Water Solutions’ video: http://www.freshwatersolutions.org/#new-page

For more: “How to pull clean water from air.” Bloomberg, Businessweek, 12 January 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-12/pulling-clean-water-from-thin-air

For the Stream Protection Rule, protecting 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest, added as clarification to 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act:https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=OSM-2010-0018-10631

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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December 16, 2016
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Water Weal

“Una gota de agua.” Photographer: Jose Manuel Suarez, 2008. Image with permission: wikimedia commons.

We can live three weeks without food, but only three days without water. A Texas town has closed schools, and issued a warning not to use tap water to drink, cook, wash, or irrigate. The cause? Back-flow of industrial chemicals, petroleum-based. A crisis of water pollution spurred building of the Roman aqueducts; in 1846, the world’s first water treatment plant was invented in England, due to a cholera crisis. England had long practiced water weal (as in common weal or commonwealth). When King James I of England and Hugh Myddleton, entrepreneur (and formerly jeweler to His Majesty) collaborated, in 1605, to bring fresh water to London, the New River transformed the fate, and future, of the metropolis. How can we bring safe water to over one billion people who lack access? Innovations, such as filters developed by Askwar Hilonga or the team of Annan, Kan-Dapaah, Azeko, and Soboyejo, can lift the billions who suffer from access. Will aging infrastructure, in places like Flint, Michigan, lead to responsible stewardship? Initiatives such as Jardine’s MeterSave, may help to sustain this most precious resource. Water is one of five failures facing the future. Today, what can you do to protect water?

Annan, Ebenezer, Kwabena Kan-Dapaah, Salifu T. Azeko, Wole Soboyejo. “Clay Mixtures and the Mechanical Properties of Microporous and Nonporous Ceramic Water Filters.” Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering 28 (10):04016105, May 2016. http://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/(ASCE)MT.1943-5533.0001596

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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April 27, 2016
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Year of the Tree

Earth Day 2016 dedicates the year to planting more trees; 7.8 billion in the next five years. Image: wikimedia commons.

Earth Day is the largest secular observance in the world, having grown from “a national teach-in on the environment” in 1970, sponsored by Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, in partnership with Pete McCloskey from Congress, and Denis Hayes of Harvard University: 20 million took to the streets to protest the abuse of, and protect the future of, the environment. Soon, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded; the Clean Air, Clean Water (amended in 1972 from an earlier version) and Endangered Species Acts were made law. In 1990, Nelson and Hayes took Earth Day global: 200 million in 141 countries united around the planet. Environmental provisions were part of the New River, built in England in 1609; the Canal des Deux Mers in France begun in 1666; and Boston’s Central Artery depressed underground while a Greenway graces the former traffic surface. Nature is an increasingly precious resource; 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service of the United States, including the Appalachian Trail. The theme for Earth Day 2016? Trees: 7.8 billion to be planted in the next five years. New England universities including Roger Williams may lead the way. Earth Day April 22 2016 also made history: the largest number of nations ever to sign an international agreement on the same day gathered for the Climate Signing Ceremony at the United Nations.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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March 22, 2016
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World Water Day

March 22 is World Water Day. Image: wikimedia commons.

We can live three weeks without food, but only three days without water. Our world faces a water crisis. Alarmingly, every 90 seconds a child dies of a water-related disease. Both developing and developed global areas suffer water problems; Flint, Michigan shocked the United States into awareness, revealing more problems with lead in drinking water discovered in all 50 states. Marine life also suffers: more than 2,000 species are now classified as endangered or threatened. When water safety imperiled ancient Rome, the aqueducts brought fresh spring water from hills to city. The New River, an engineered waterway, similarly saved London. Half of the world’s jobs involve water. How can we respond to the goals of the Paris Agreement COP 21 to improve climate, and water?

Join the discussion:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/white-house-water-summit

https://www.facebook.com/UnitedNationsWater

http://ceowatermandate.org/

Thanks to the Comisión Nacional del Agua of México for world and regional water statistics, and to Cherie E. Potts for U.S. statistics.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 

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January 23, 2016
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Skin Flint

Can Flint rebuild water health and safety, with an new vision? Image: Flint River, pre-crisis, 1979. United States Army Corps of Engineers, wikimedia commons.

Flint, Michigan has made world news for a sad reason. In a temporary cost-cutting measure, authorities switched the city’s watersupply from Lake Huron (via Detroit) to the Flint River, known to contain corrosive minerals. Absent filters or other safeguards, river water coursed though antiquated pipes, leeching out lead. Residents noticed immediately: smell, color and taste had changed. A similar crisis, with a healthier solution, caused Rome‘s response to degradation of the Tiber River; aqueducts were built to bring safe water to the city. Flint health experts including pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha noted an increase in illness in children whose tests revealed the presence of lead. But it would be over a year until action was taken. Blame might be shared by many; response after the fact is problematic. Plumbing can be changed; water can be filtered; but what about those whose health is now threatened, perhaps for many years in the future? Medical treatment for 6,000 to 12,000 children affected is estimated at $100 million. Temporary measures: filters, bottled water? $28 million. Cost of fixing the aging pipes? $1.5 billion. Such costs, most seriously the health of a new generation, could have been avoided. As Flint rebuilds, might leaders create a regional water resource, connected to the Great Lakes, perhaps modeled upon England’s New River, to bring healthy drinking water, and greenway exercise paths, with a new vision for Michigan?

More: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/21/us/flint-lead-water-timeline.html?_r=0

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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December 29, 2015
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Groundwater Loss/Sea Rise

Depleting groundwater increases sea rise. How should we balance water resources to achieve sustainability? Image: Perhelion, wikimedia commons.

Depletion of underground aquifers accelerates global sea rise. According to a study published in Nature by a team of researchers including Yoshihido Wada of NASA Goddard Institute at Columbia University and Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University, groundwater use is rapidly increasing, with the consequence of contribution to 20% of sea rise. Aquifers and aqueducts helped support Rome; England’s New River fostered London’s growth while improving public health via walking paths. With aquifers being tapped for everything from drinking water, agriculture, industry, and hydraulic fracturing, groundwater is a stressed resource. Especially important are shared water resources: how should transnational aquifers, such as those shared by México and the United States, be sustained? What should be added to laws and policy regarding world water?

Special appreciation to Cherie E. Potts for reference and suggestion.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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December 1, 2015
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Mega Cities, Macro Solutions

São Paolo, Brazil is among the world’s megacities. Image: wikimedia commons.

Urban centers with populations over 10 million, megacities are the greatest consumers of resources, especially water. When London reached limits to growth, the New River allowed the city to expand. At a time when the Tiber threatened health and safety, Rome built the aqueducts. Over 2000 years ago, Chengdu, China engineered the Dujiangyan irrigation system. Today, Paris is among the world’s cities utilizing non-potable water to power systems and control climate. Megacities are responsible for 70% of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. What can the megacities of the world do improve and sustain the environment? Will Africa lead the way? As world water becomes more precious, how can cities use water wisely? UNESCO considers this question in conjunction with COP21.

Special appreciation to Rachael M. Rusting for Dujiangyan references and suggestions.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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November 18, 2015
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Water of Life

Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water. – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. Water Act! may lead the way. Image: www.komendenver.org.

Water is life, some would state. Water resources determined success of some of the world’s greatest cities: Baghdad, London, Rome, Singapore.  Environmental consequences of climate change can be observed in water resources: floods devastate; drought strangles. Earth, the water planet, may be running out of water. Will “Water Act!” convened in Paris by the Fulbright Association produce consensus and action regarding world water?

As water becomes more scarce on earth, the element begins to be discovered in space. Earth’s solar system contains 23 oceans. Europa, Jupiter’s moon, may house a sub-surface ocean “vigorously convecting” with Hadley cells and ice plumes 124 miles high. Water movement on Europa may mean life; circulating from equator to poles, as evidenced by plumes, moving water may create the fertile environment for life. Findings of Krista Soderlund of University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and colleagues may indicate it is more likely to find life in Europa’s ocean than its land surface: water is a life-giving medium. Planetary Resources is aiming to harvest minerals, and water, from asteroids. Finding water in space may bode well for building a better future; perhaps Gerard K. O’Neill’s vision will be realized, guided in part by the United Nations Outer Space Treaty and Unispace.

Meanwhile, on earth, the world seeks to protect and preserve what water we still have. California continues to address change; citizens successfully met Governor Edmund G. Brown’s challenge to reduce water usage 25%. Differentiating water utilization for people, agriculture, building, industry, and technology might be the way of the future, as suggested by Régine Engström, Executive Director of Eau de Paris, proposing “non-potable water systems may help build tomorrow’s sustainable city.” The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference convening in France will seek goals of ambition, fairness, post-2020 financing, and pre-2020 actions regarding climate change and environment. What should COP21 recommend regarding water?

Special appreciation to Cherie E. Potts for Solar System Water references and suggestions.

On Europa:

Wenz, John. “Jupiter’s Moon Europa is Bursting with Icy Geysers.” Popular Mechanics, 12 December 2013. deep-space/a9830/jupiters-moon-europa-is-bursting-with-icy-geysers-16260205/

On Water in 23 Places in our Solar System:

Wenz, John. “23 Places We’ve Found Water in Our Solar System.” Popular Mechanics, 16 March 2015. http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a14555/water-worlds-in-our-solar-system/.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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June 8, 2015
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RXercise: Building Public Health

 

Parkland Walk, Islington, New River, England. Image: wikimedia.

“Take two walks and call me in the morning,” might be among future prescriptions. Pediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr has created a database of 350 parks and green spaces in Washington, DC, integrating data into Unity Health Care’s system; doctors can enter a patient’s zip code and create an exercise plan. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at the G7 in June 2015, called for three priorities: environment, infrastructure, and public health. When England built the 1613 New River, a public/private water system, walking paths were created. Visionary architect Benton MacKaye advocated the salutary effects of outdoor exercise, leading to the Appalachian Trail. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign promotes public heath. Boston’s Greenway replaced a highway with a park. How can green spaces be more effectively integrated into health care systems?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

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