Building the World

April 3, 2020
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WATER: Rebuilding Oceans

Rebuilding the oceans. Image: wikimedia.

Bridges can be rebuilt, but what about the water they span? There may be good news: oceans could return to vitality if we rebuild supportive habitats and conditions, according to a new study citing Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the United Nations. To save oceans, we will need to rebuild marine life support systems. Nature article authors include Carlos Duarte of King Abdullah University, Gregory Britten of MIT, and Robinson Fulweiler of Boston University, as well as worldwide team. Here are the key components:

Rebuilding oceans by restoring or preserving:

coral reefs

deep ocean environment and seabed

fisheries

kelp

mangroves

megafauna

oyster reefs

salt marshes

sea grasses

and – stopping and removing plastic pollution.

Finances will play a part: it will cost $10-20 billion per year to rebuild our marine environment by 2050. But there is a return on investment: for every $1.00 spent, there will be a return of $10.

International Seabed. It’s 54% of earth’s land, under the oceans. What is the future of that environment? Image: noaa.gov.

An area of concern that receives less attention than merited is the International Seabed. While waters up to 200 nautical miles (a nautical mile is 1.1508 statute (or land-based) miles) are the territory of  individual coastal nations, the waters and seabed beyond belong to everyone, even land-locked nations. Present explorations measuring valuable ore deposits like cobalt, copper, and manganese may soon lead to mining licensing by the International Seabed Authority. Recently, some rivers like New Zealand’s Whanganui River have been granted legal personhood rights: will similar rulings affect and protect oceans?

Some of Europe’s port cities. Image: wikimedia.

Oceans are transit ways of civilization; ports like Boston, Hamburg, Jakarta, Lagos, New York, Rotterdam, Singapore, Yangon, became centers of exchange and urban life. Coastal cities may lead the way in rebuilding urban architecture for sea-rise, and also take special interest in rebuilding the sea itself.

Duarte, Carlos M. et al. “Rebuilding marine life.” 1 April 2020. Nature, 580, 39-61 (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2146-7 and https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586=020=2146-7. Includes videos.

International Seabed Authority. Kingston, Jamaica. https://www.isa.org.jm

McGrath, Matt. “Oceans can be successfully restored by 2050, say scientists.” 2 April 2020. BBC.com/Environment

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

March 22, 2020
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ENERGY: A Sabbath for Earth?

Image: Manhattan Bridge, New York, without traffic. Image:wikimedia

Does it take a crisis to cause change? Since the coronavirus pandemic pushed the global pause button, emissions of CO2 have fallen by 50% compared with the same time last year. A drop in methane has also been noted. “This is the cleanest I have ever seen New York City,” noted Professor Roisin Commane of Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. It’s not just clearer skies over the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. Cities across the USA including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle are notably improved. Benton MacKaye, proposer of the Appalachian Trail, and Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park in New York and the “Emerald Necklace” series of linked parks in Boston, shared the vision of a city that can breathe. Parks help but may not be enough. Can we learn from the global pause to create new options to aid the environment?

Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” view of the Fens. Image: wikimedia.

European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite shows atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide, due in large part to car and truck emissions, were lower over Los Angeles, a city with some of the highest smog levels. Descartes Labs, a geospatial analysis firm, reports that quantifying effects of the global shutdown on pollution will encourage more study. INRIX, a research firm monitoring traffic data from vehicle and telephone navigation systems, reported that roads were seeing a 70% improvement in congestion and on-time arrivals. Far from an escape, space is proving to be a viewing window to see Earth as a system.

ESA Sentinel-5P. Space gives us an eye on the Earth. Image: wikimedia.

While any environmental improvement, even if short-term, is beneficial, this shut-down is not the answer to climate change. Traffic will rebound eventually, and the devastation of public health, the suffering of the afflicted, and the economic wounds of the shut-down will be serious. But meanwhile, can we use the period of the coronavirus to find ways to reemerge from this time with a new plan? What aspects of telework will prove viable? Some experts are calling for periodic pauses to give the Earth a Sabbath.

Ball, Sam. “Cleaner Water, Cleaner Air: The environmental effects of coronavirus.” Includes video. 20 March 2020, France24.com. https://www.france24.com/en/20200320-clearer-water-cleaner-air-the-environmental-effects-of-coronavirus

Commane Atmospheric Composition Group. https://atmoscomp.ldeo.columbia.edu/

European Space Agency (ESA). “Coronavirus: nitrogen dioxide emissions drop over Italy.” https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-5P

McGrath, Matt. “Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads.” 20 March 2020. BBC.com/Science & Environment.

Plumer, Brad and Nadja Popovich. 22 March 2020. “Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronoavirus.” 22 March 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/22/climate/coronavirus-use-traffic.html?referringSource=articleShare

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

March 9, 2020
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ENERGY: Shaping the Future

Image: photographer Andrew MacMillan. wikimedia.

Electric vehicles are dependent upon batteries both for power and for design. That’s why General Motors’ recent announcement was a double break-through. A $20 billion investment in electric cars comes from a new kind of battery. Traditional EV batteries are a certain shape, determining the contours of a car. But GM’s new batteries can be stacked sideways, or even around curves, because the powerhouses are “soft, flat pouches.” (Valdes-Dapena, 2020). Tesla, by contrast, uses a hard cylinder. GM’s Ultium power cells may lead to curvy designs. Another advantage: Ultium uses far less cobalt that traditional EV batteries, significant because cobalt is becoming increasingly scarce. Finally, Ultium hits the desired metric: below $100 per kilowatt hour, the price point where electric cards are competitive with gasoline engines. According to estimates, electric vehicle sales in the USA will grow to 3 million units by 2030. Next-gen batteries enable driving ranges of 400  (and soon 600) miles. Longer range electric power means more highway trips, perhaps causing a redesign of the U.S. Federal Highway System, the Canada/USA Alaska Highway or the Pan-American Highway for a regional vision that could include a sportsway, maglev or hyper loop, in addition to vehicular paths. General Motors is partnering with LG Chem. With flexible batteries, look for different shapes to come.

Beresford, Colin. “GM Unveils Battery with Capacity Twice as Big as Tesla’s.” 4 March 2020. Car and Driver. https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a31226611/gm-ultium-electric-vehicle-battery-revealed/.

Beresford, Colin. “GM, LG Teaming Up to Build Batteries for GM’s Future EVs in Ohio.” 5 December 2019. Car and Driver. https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a30141005/gm-ev-battery-factory-ohio-lg/.

Valdes-Dapena, Peter. “GM’s new electric car battery tops Tesla’s.” 5 March 2020. CNN.Business. http://www.cnn.com/2020/03/04/business/gm-electric-car-battery-400-miles-of-range.html/ 

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

March 1, 2020
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CITIES: Reuse and redesign

1.5 billion chopsticks are discarded every week. Could these elegant materials be repurposed? Japanese chopsticks. Image: wikimedia

Vancouver, Canada is taking reuse and redesign to an artistic new level. The many excellent restaurants serving cuisine with chopsticks cannot re-use these wooden implements. But ChopValue can. Collecting 350,000 chopsticks – every week – from Vancouver restaurants, the company cleans and repurposes the bamboo utensils to make tabletops and wooden kitchenware. It’s an idea that has potential far beyond Vancouver: worldwide 1.5 billion chopsticks are discarded every week. How it works: chopsticks are collected from restaurants and taken to local micro-factories where they are fashioned into home products. ChopValue was conceived over a sushi dinner when friends discussed the problem, and opportunity, of construction waste. Suddenly one said: what about chopsticks? Four years later, there are ChopValue programs in Canada and the United States. Will the land of Shinkansen, hosting the Tokyo Olympics, take up the torch during the 2020 Games?

BBC.com. “Making chopsticks into house furnishings.” 28 February 2020.

ChopValue. https:chopvalue.com

I, Florence. “CHOPVALUE: A Movement to Extend the Life Cycle of Chopsticks.” 13 January 2019. Pendulum Magazine. https://pendulummag.com/business/2019/1/13/chop-value-creating-multiple-cycles-of-value/

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

February 24, 2020
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WATER: Time and Tide in BOSTON

Boston, a port city, is threatened by rising seas. Map of Boston Harbor, wikimedia commons.

Coastal communities around the world are preparing for rising seas. Boston, a port city built on landfill, with a harbor renowned for freedom and liberty, is fighting a war. Last century, the Atlantic shore of Boston saw a persistent nine inch rise, with predictions that sea-rise may triple by 2030. By 2070? Look for three more feet of water. Boston ranks as the world’s eighth most vulnerable city, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of more than 100 coastal cities.

UMass Boston, waterfront campus, leads research on how to respond to coastal sea-rise. Image: wikimedia.

According to the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Woods Hole Group, options to prevent the damage of flooding include spending $11.8 billion for a macro harbor barrier such as that built in the Netherlands. New York City is also studying the potential for a barrier that might cost $119 billion. In the short-term, Boston will budget $30 million per year to combat sea rise, with new ideas including:

TRANSPORT: New watertight doors on the rail tunnel near Fenway Park; redoing blockage of underground rail ventilation systems near Aquarium MBTA station.

PARKS: Protective berm of 10 feet along shore of Joe Moakley Park, a 60-acre oasis in South Boston near the beach. The park itself will be raised, and chambers installed beneath playing fields that will be capable of holding 5 million cubic feet of storm surge water. Other parks undergoing similar change: Ryan in Charleston on the Mystic River.

BUILDINGS: New condo high-rise housing on Boston Harbor comes with an “aqua fence” or portable flood barrier. General Electric (GE) leased two historic brick buildings, elevating the first floors and moving all electrical equipment to higher levels than the traditional basement.

MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL ICONS: Boston’s Children’s Museum redesigned a lawn into a hill, with a playground surrounded by dense plantings.

FOOD SUPPLY: Most large supermarkets build loading docks below ground; if food supply is to remain available when a city suffers flooding, relocating loading docks could improve public health.

MUNICIPAL PERMITS AND REGULATIONS: New buildings must meet increasing strict environmental standards. A similar approach governs new construction in Paris, France.

INVITING INNOVATIVE IDEAS: Boston’s Museum of Science, with the support of General Motors and Greentown Labs, is holding a $3,000 competition for ideas in transportation to help achieve carbon neutrality.

Museum of Science, Boston, sponsoring Go Carbon Neutral: A Transportation Challenge, 22 April 2020. Image: wikimedia.

Boston’s Museum of Science is one of many educational design competitions; students worldwide may soon deposit capstones, and theses in an Idea Bank, and join Climate Conservation Corps service teams. Is your home community or school in a location vulnerable to sea-rise? What are you doing?  The best ideas are those that are shared.

Mufson, Steven. “Boston harbor brings ashore a new enemy: Rising Seas: Facing climate change, Boston must gird itself for an era of rising water – or be inundated.” 18 February 2020. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2020/02/19/boston-prepares-rising-seas-climate-change/.

Museum of Science, Boston. “Go Carbon Neutral: A Transportation Challenge.” https://www.mos.org/go-carbon-neutral/

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities.” 2013. http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/future-flood-losses-in-major-coastal-cities.htm

OECD. “Ranking Port Cities with High Exposure and Vulnerability to Climate Extremes.” https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/ranking-port-cities-with-high-exposure-and-vulnerability-to-climate-extremes_011766488208

Spang, Edward. “Food-Energy-Water Nexus.” Center for Water-Energy Efficiency. 4 May 2017. https://ie.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/38/2017/05/spang-o3MAY17.pdf.

Spang, Edward., and William Moomaw, Kelly Gallagher, Paul Kirshen, and David Marks. “Multiple metrics for quantifying the intensity of water consumption of energy production.” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 9 (10), 8 October 2018.

Appreciation to Charles E. Litwin, David H. Marks, and Cherie E. Potts for research suggestions.

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

 

February 14, 2020
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WATER: Time and Tide

“Sunset on Manila Bay,” by photographer Bobbe21. Image: wikimedia.

Rising seas may seem far off in time. Although global oceans may rise 4 feet, some say it is tomorrow’s problem. But in Manila, Philippines and Jakarta, Indonesia – tomorrow is today. It’s also tomorrow in Miami and San Francisco.

Manila and Jakarta are both capitals of their countries; both were built as ports. Both have become mega cities: Manila with a population of 14 million, and Jakarta, 10 million. Both cities have been tapping underground water aquifers to quench the thirst of a growing populace, thereby draining the land to trigger subsidence. Jakarta is the fast-sinking city on earth. The government has decided relocate Indonesia’s capital to Borneo, a solution similar to that taken by Brazil when Brasilia became the new capital, or when Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos inland to Abuja. In those cases, sea rise was not the reason; rather, crowded ports, security, and a wish to represent the whole nation, especially the indigenous peoples residing in the country’s interior, were paramount. Now, rising seas may become the leading cause of coastal city rebuilding and relocation. Manila is already requiring people move from some sections so constantly flooded that children go to school via boat.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. Photographer: D. Ramey Logan. Image: wikimedia commons.

In the United States, 5 million people live within 4 feet of high tide levels. Factor in storm surges and flooding, and you can foresee where this is going. Miami, Florida and San Francisco, California are two cases in point. The choices facing both cities include building barriers to keep the sea out, such as the surge protectors of the Netherlands; restoring wetlands in seas and rivers such as those planted by Thames21, or even making people move, as in Manila. But pricey waterfront property near the Golden Gate Bridge is getting protection rather than relocation. The Bay Area approved a sea wall along the Embarcadero for $425 million. SFO airport is raising its sea wall at a cost of $587 million. In Miami, there are already frequent floods. More are coming: the Southwest Florida Climate Leadership Summit  of 2019 reported there will be 17 – 31 inches of sea rise by 2060. What will happen to all those waterfront condos? There’s new terms in developer’s lingo: “armoring” and “SLR” – sea level rise.

NASA developed space-based tools that measure the environmental impact of glacial melt to 293 port cities worldwide. Image: nasa.gov

Why are seas rising? Oceans absorb 90% of increased heat that is caused by emissions linked to human activity. Water expands as it heats, so the levels rise. Another climate-related cause, melting glaciers and icebergs. Coastal locations are set to generate $14 trillion in rebuilding by 2050. Innovations in city design, waterfront land and habitat, storm barriers, and new canal development will become leading fields in the next years. Tide is coming: do we have time?

Brennan, Pat “NASA links port-city sea levels to regional ice melt.” 21 November 2017. Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2658/nasa-links-port-city-sea-levels-to-regional-ice-melt/

Harris, Alex. “New projections show that South Florida is in for even more sea level rise.” 4 December 2019. The Miami Herald. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article237997454.html.

Sengupta, Somini and Chang W. Lee, with contributions by Jason Gutierrez. “A Crisis Right Now: San Francisco and Manila Face Rising Seas.” 13 February 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/02/13/cilmate/manila-san-francisco-sea-level-rise.html.

Walsh, John and Donald Wuebbles, Convening Lead Authors, with Katharine Hayhoe, James Kossin, Kenneth Kunkel, Graeme Stephens, Peter Thorne, Russel Vose, Michael Weher, Josh, Willis. “Sea Level Rise: Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.” National Climate Assessment, GlobalChange.gov. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/sea-level-rise.

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

February 6, 2020
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T-MEC: What’s in a Name?

Naming and framing the new agreement shared by Canada, United States, and Mexico. Image: wikimedia.

Finding common ground among nations joining in regional agreements is difficult enough: policies on issues from food to energy to trade must be deliberated. And then, there’s the name. While the “New Nafta,” launched 29 January 2020, was named top-down as USMCA (US-Mexico-Canada-Agreement) in the United States, Mexico took an inclusive approach. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known popularly as AMLO, announced a naming contest on Twitter. According to Dr. Amrita Bahri, co-chair of the WTO Chair Program for Mexico and Professor of Law, ITAM University, and Guillermo Moad Valenzuela, of International Trade Law, ITAM University, the naming contest stated four criteria:

NAMING AND FRAMING:

Name similar to the English and French versions;

Name begins with the letter “T” as in Tratado;

Name is easily pronounceable in Spanish;

Name reflects the spirit of cooperation.

On Twitter, Mexico received hundreds of suggestions, selecting two finalists for adoption: TEUMECA (Tratado Estados Unidos México Canadá) or T-MEC (Tratado México Estados Unidos Canadá). The winner, T-MEC, contains a review provision in six years. Perhaps the parties learned that lesson from the Colorado River Compact, when a failure to define all parties’ water rights resulted in subsequent lawsuits. Mexico and the Navajo sued and were awarded water rights with sovereignty not granted to American states. In T-MEC, Mexico specifically reserved “Direct, inalienable, and imprescriptible ownership of hydrocarbons” (chapter 8).

Regions may be the new nations. Viewed from space, the world shows no lines as seen on maps; instead, we observe that linked land shares common resources. Recognizing dual values of inclusion and diversity, how should we frame, and name, future agreements on shared resources?

Bahri, Amrita and Guillermo Moad Valenzuela. “A new name for NAFTA: USMCA, TEUMECA or T-MEC?” 15 October 2018. El Universal. https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/new-name-nafta-usmca-teumeca-or-t-mec/

ACEUM text: https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cusma-aceum/text-texte/toc-tdm.aspx?lang=fra

CUSMA text: https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cusma-aceum/index.aspx?lang=eng

T-MEC text: https://www.gob.mx/t-mec/acciones-y-programas/textos-finales-del-tratado-entre-mexico-estados-unidos-y-canada-t-mec-202730

USMCA text: http://www.sice.oas.org/Trade/USMCA/USMCA_ToC_PDF_e.asp

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

January 25, 2020
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ENERGY: Doomsday Clock

Back in the good old days, when doomsday was just three minutes away. Now, it’s 100 seconds. Time to reset. Image: wikimedia

We are in humanity’s moment of greatest peril,” warn those who keep time on the Doomsday Clock, moving us to 100 seconds before midnight. Midnight means catastrophic global annihilation. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by those who worked on the Manhattan Project, when doomsday only meant blowing ourselves up with bombs, the Doomsday Clock now includes a second danger: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers – nuclear war and climate change – that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.” (Ban Ki-Moon et al 2020)

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, inventors of the Doomsday Clock. Image: wikimedia

The Doomsday Clock does not really tick but is set. It started at seven minutes to midnight in 1947. Its best year to date was 1990, when it was fixed at 17 minutes to midnight, indicating the world was hopeful and relatively calm. The clock held at 2 minutes to midnight through 2017 – 2019, but now it is closer than it has ever been. It’s only been reset 24 times since 1947.

Regarding this week’s setting of the clock to 100 seconds before midnight, the keepers of the clock note two action areas. First, due to expire in 2021, the only remaining bilateral agreement between two nuclear super powers (Russia and USA), the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), must be extended. Regarding the other existential threat, climate change, over 60 countries have committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. While the United States has not committed, California and New York have. That’s encouraging, but it’s still not enough, just 11% of world emissions.

Meanwhile, the clock is moving closer to midnight. Whether or not we suffer a nuclear war or an accident, certainly possible, climate change is not only possible but probable, and accelerating. We need to turn back the Doomsday Clock. What can you do to turn back the hands of time?

It is time to stop climate change, and reset the Doomsday Clock. Image: “Prague Astronomical Clock,” wikimedia.

ANIMATION: “Know the Time.” https://thebulletin.org/multimedia/know-the-time.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock

Sengupta, Somini and Nadja Popovich. “More than 60 countries say they’ll zero out carbon emissions. The catch? They’re not the big emitters.” 25 September 2019. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/25/climate/un-net-zero-emissions.html.

“Why the world is closer than every to Doomsday,” by Jerry Brown, William J. Perry, Mary Robinson, and Ban Ki-Moon. 24 January 2020, CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/24/opinions/doomsday-clock-emergency-moon-robinson-brown-perry/index.html/

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

 

January 17, 2020
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WATER: How an idea for Mt. Everest could help 4 billion people

Mt. Everest: could an idea conceived on the summit improve the health of 4 billion people? Image: wikimedia.

Mt. Everest – a mountain so legendary that everyone wants to climb it. But mountaineers bring more than gear: they leave  28,000 pounds of human waste. Some is dumped in open pits, threatening water supply safety. That’s when Zuraina Zaharin, Everest climber and environmentalist, came up with an innovative idea. Partnering with Imad Agi, inventor of a waterless sanitation system using microbes to turn human waste into fertilizer so safe it can be used as fertilizer in organic farming, the duo launched EcoLoo. The system could be a solution for the 4 billion people worldwide who do not have in-house sanitation. And as water grows scarce in climate change, cutting consumption (we use 141 billion liters of fresh water daily just to flush toilets), EcoLoo could provide an alternative. Bill Gates sponsors a prize to reinvent the toilet, saving 432,000 lives lost each year to disease caused by inadequate sanitation. Water and sanitation have been linked to many advances in civilization, from the Roman Aqueducts to the New River. EcoLoo is now installing systems in remote locations like mountain environments, island vacation retreats; there are several at UNESCO World Heritage site Petra, and the company is planning to make units available for disaster response.

Al-Aidroos, Amani and Tom Page. “How a poop on Everest inspired a toilet that could save lives.” 4 December 2019. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/04/health/ecoloo-waterless-toilet/index.html

EcoLoo. http://www.ecoloogroup.com

World Health Organization. “Sanitation for All by 2030.” https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/01-10-2018-who-calls-for-increased-investment-to-reach-the-goal-of-a-toilet-for-all

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

January 13, 2020
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CITIES: Trees

Boston’s Greenway. Image: Greenway Conservancy.

American cities lost 36 million trees in the last five years. Without trees, cities will get hotter and suffer more periods of air pollution. Why are we losing trees? Hurricanes and tornadoes tear them from the earth, fires burn them to the ground, insects and diseases weaken and kill trees. Those are some of the reasons we can’t easily control.

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. Image: wikimedia.

But there is one factor we can influence: city development. Cities are on the rise, rapidly growing into megacities with populations of 10 million or more. The United States, with 80% of the US population living in urban areas, especially in forested coastal regions along the West and East coasts, has a unique opportunity to preserve and enhance urban forests. It’s well worth it. Trees bring environmental and economic benefits.

URBAN TREES:

Provide shade for homes, schools, office buildings, cooling surface temperatures;

Reduce pollution through absorbing carbon and filtering pollutants from the air;

Reduce energy costs by reducing air-conditioning use – economics of $4 billion per year;

Improve water quality by filtering rainwater, absorbing nitrogen and phosphorus in to the ground;

Protect against urban flooding, absorbing surface water;

Reduce noise pollution by absorbing urban sound;

Enhance city soundscape by adding birdsong, and the whisper of wind through leaves;

Protect against UV radiation, absorbing 96% of ultraviolet radiation;

Improve health, physical through cleaner air and shade to exercise outdoors, mental health of being in nature;

Increase tourism and real estate values.

The New River passes through Bowes Park. Image: wikimedia.

Case studies of successful historic urban forestation reveal strategies. In the year 1600, so many people crossed London Bridge to live in the burgeoning London town that water supply became strained. One of the world’s first artificial or built rivers combined two elements: drinking water and trees. Constructed from 1605 to 1639, the New River stretches over 20 miles from Hertfordshire to Islington, just uphill from London, terminating in a water reservoir ready as needed. All along the route, tree-lined walking paths add protection and shade. Today, the New River is run by Thames Water PLC, managing water supply, and maintaining the walking paths traversed by urban hikers including the Ramblers Association. It is interesting to note that Hugh Myddleton, who partnered with King James I to build the New River, was the regent’s former jeweler and may be related to a member of the present House of Windsor.

Boston had a similar idea with Olmstead’s “Emerald Necklace” with recent Rose Fitzgerald Greenway extension of the urban breathing ribbon of green. The Greenway replaced what was formerly the Central Artery that ran traffic anthrough town; the road was placed underneath in a tunnel and the surface became a park. For an even earlier urban greening, some would point to the City of the Eiffel Tower where Haussmann widened tree-lined boulevards to breathe air and design into Paris. Presently, the city of light requires new commercial construction to have either solar or living green roofs.

“Terrasse panoramique @ Le Printemps Haussmann @ Paris.” by Guilhem Vellut, 2017. Image: wikimedia commons.

By 2050, 70% of the world’s people will live in cities. As cities grow, rebuilding better water systems, developing flood prevention plans, redesigning roads to accommodate electric and autonomous vehicles, how can trees become part of the plan? Will the proposed Climate Conservation Corps (CCC) plant trees in cities? A pilot project at Roger Williams University, or an initiative by World War Zero, might lead the way. There may be considerations of legal import: should trees have standing?

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk and Zoe G. Quinn. “Should trees have standing?” Building the World Blog. University of Massachusetts Boston. http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2019/03/01/should-trees-have-standing/

Chillag, Amy. “US cities are losing 36 million trees a year. Here’s why it matters and how you can stop it.” 18 September 2019. CNN.https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/20/health/iyw-cities-losing-36-million-trees-how-to-help-trnd/index.html

Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition. https://sufc.org/

New River, http://www.thames-water.com

Ramblers Walking Paths of the New River, http://www.ramblers. org.uk/info/paths/newriver.html.

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

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