Building the World

September 15, 2020
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ENERGY: Fire, Air Quality, and Innovation

Fire fills the air with dangerous pollution. Innovation in air conditioning and filtration is needed now and in the future. Image: wikimiedia.

In California, Oregon, Washington and other states, Americans have recently seen a preview of climate change. Earlier this year, Australia suffered record bushfires. Africa experienced the worst drought in decades, threatening energy supplies and food security in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Longer, hotter, dry seasons set the stage for drought, and vulnerability to fires caused by a number of factors. Forest management and human actions are surely factors, but a warming climate intensifies the problem. Severe conditions will force climate migration, as many move to safer locations. World Weather Attribution consortium warns that if global temperatures rise by 2C, fires will occur four times more often.

Challenge: design a better air-conditioner. Image: wikimedia.

Building better fire mitigation includes addressing air pollution health hazards. Air-conditioners and air filtration systems are ready for a major leap in technology. In the 1980’s, we made the alarming discovery that refrigerants like those in cooling appliances were emitting chloroflourocarbans (CFCs), depleting Earth’s ozone layer. Response was a global accord, the 1987 Montreal Protocol, to stop using harmful pollutants in cooling devices. But now we still need something to replace CFCs, and so enter HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons. These are also problematic: HFCs accelerate global warming at 11,000 times the rate of carbon dioxide. Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol legislated the phasing out of HFCs. While 102 countries have signed on and ratified their participation, some countries have not. Sadly, those non-participants are some of the world’s biggest users of HFCs. It’s a missed opportunity because we could save 460 billion tons of dangerous emissions over the next 40 decades. If we doubled energy efficiency of air-conditioners, we could save $2.9 trillion by 2050. Here’s a searchable database of non-HFC cooling technologies. Global energy demand for air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050. Want to do well, while doing good? Build a better air-conditioner.

Carlowicz, Michael. “Drought Threatens Millions in Southern Africa.” 1 December 2019, Earth Observatory/NASA. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146015/drought-threatens-millions-in-southern-africa.

Cool Technologies Database. “Sustainable Cooling Database.” Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). https://cooltechnologies.org/

Dutta, Meghna. “Top Air Conditioners that double up as Air Purifiers too.” 1 May 2018. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/techook/top-air-conditioners-that-double-up-as-air-purifiers-too-5158512/

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “HFC-free Technologies: Putting the Freeze on HFCs: A Global Digest of Available Climate-friendly Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Technologies. https://eia-global.org/initiatives/hfc-free-technologies/.

EIA. “Unlocking Kigali Amendment Climate Benefits.” https://eia.-global.org/

Ghosh, Pallab. “Climate change boosted Australia bushfire risk by at least 30%.” 4 March 2020. BBC.com.https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51742646.

Litwin, Evan. “The Climate Diaspora: Indo-Pacific Emigration from Small Island Developing States.” 1 May 2011. University of Massachusetts Boston. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.1912859. Corpus ID: 128341843.

Lustgarten, Abrahm with photographs by Meridith Kohut. “How Climate Migration Will Reshape America.” 15 September 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/15/magazine/climate-crisis-migration-america.html?referringSource=articleShare.

Noor, Dharna. “We Essentially Cook Ourselves if We Don’t Fix Air Conditioning, Major UN Report Warns. Earther. https://earther.gizmodo.com/we-essentially-cook-ourselves-if-we-don-t-fix-air-con-1844416667%3Futm_medium=sharefromsite&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=bottom.

Pearce, Fred. “Thirty Years After Montreal Pact, Solving the Ozone Problem Remains Elusive.” 14 August 2017. Yale Environment360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/thirty-years-after-the-montreal-protocol-solving-the-ozone-problem-remains-elusive/

United Nations. “The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.” United Nations Ozone Secretariat.https://web.archive.org/web/20130420100237/http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/Treaties/treaties_decisions-hb.php?sec_id=5.

United Nations. “Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer,” Kigali, 15 October 2016. United Nations Treaty Collection, Chapter XXVII Environment, Registration 1 January 2019, No. 26369, Status: Parties 102. For the text of the treaty, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/2016/10/20161015%2003-23%20PM/Ch_XXVII-2.f.pdf/

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

 

September 4, 2020
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WATER: Beach Weekend? Biodegradable Flip Flops

“Pristine Beach on the Soline Peninsula,” 2011. Photographer Alex Proimos. Image: wikimedia.

Labor Day 2020: for many it’s a beach weekend in flip flops. Too often, beaches are strewn with broken or discarded flip flops that litter the sand and pollute the water. Enter an innovation: biodegradable flip flops from the University of California San Diego and the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.

“Algae in pond, North Carolina.” Photographer: Ildar Sagdejev, 2008. Wikimedia.

Formula: take pond algae, dehydrate to a paste, extract lipids, run through series of chemical changes to produce polymers, pour resulting material into a mold. Present product, manufactured in partnership with Algenesis Materials, is 52% biodegradable and 48% petroleum; by 2025, the flip flops will be 100% made from renewables. If you do leave your flip flops at the beach, they’ll biodegrade and compost in 18 weeks.

Biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in 2021. Image: wikimedia.

It’s the world’s most popular shoe. Over three billion people wear only flip flops, but the footwear lasts only for about two years and is then discarded, eventually entering the world’s waters. East African beaches see 90 tons of discarded flip flops each year. Three billion flip flops end up in waterways and oceans every year. UniqueEco recycles old flip flops into toys; Terracycle shreds them to use for manufacturing picnic benches.  DIY Dreaming uses old flips to make dog beds. Okabashi makes recyclable sandals, and Splaff and Sanuk use natural materials for footwear. But Algenesis may be the first to make flip flops from algae. The footwear industry generates $215 billion annually, and the plastic industry is worth $1.2 trillion. Algensis biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in January 2021.

California Center for Algae Biotechnology. https://algae.ucsd.edu/about/index.html

Elassar, Alaa. “Researchers create eco-friendly, biodegradable flip flops made of algae,” 23 August 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/23/us/uc-san-diego-algae-flip-flops-trnd-scn/index.html

Frerck, Robert. “Flip Flop Factos: Find Out.” Blue Ocean Network. https://blueocean.net/flip-flop-facts-find-out

Segran, Elizabeth. “How one lab is turning algae into flip-flops – and taking on Big Plastic in the process.” 8 August 2020. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90543908/how-one-lab-is-turning-algae-into-flip-flops-and-taking-on-big-plastic-in-the-process/

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

August 28, 2020
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ENERGY: Promethean Problem

“Prometeo trayendo el fuego,” Jan Cossiers, 1637. Museo del Prado. wikimedia.

Ever since Prometheus stole fire and gave it to humans, we’ve been the only species that can start and stop a fire. Darwin believed human capability to control fire was the greatest evolutionary achievement, second only to language. Now, that capability may be changing.

Wildfire Map of California, seen by NASA satellites. Image: nasa.gov.

Increase temperatures by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, decrease rainfall by 30%: it’s a formula for fire risk. Add occurrence of lightning strikes, like those in California recently, and there is a predictable crisis. According to Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center, the area’s temperatures are 3.5 degrees higher than a century ago. Lightning strikes have also increased: up by 12% across the United States. According to California governor Gavin Newsom, California experienced 10,849 lightning strikes in 72 hours in August 2020, amid record temperatures. In 2020, California has battled 40 percent more fires than in 2019. It’s not just a California problem. In Alaska, temperatures are increasing faster than anywhere else in the USA, with four of the ten largest fire years on record occurring in the past fifteen years, with 2 million acres lost in each major fire year. In Colorado, over 1 million people receive drinking water from the Upper South Platte Watershed, northwest of Denver: in the past two decades, fires have threatened the water utility. In Colorado this week, wildfires burned across 135,423 acres, causing the state to warn residents about air quality and banning campfires: the Grizzly Creek Fire closed Interstate 70 for more than one week. Some warned that after the fires, landslides may increase. Water levees across the Colorado River Basin have decreased, including reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In South America, wildfires also pose dangers. It’s a global problem that will increase with climate change. What can we do?

“Trees Torching: High Park Wildfire” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2017. Image: wikimedia.

World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international collaborative organization including the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford (ECI), Laboratories des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environment (LSCE), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, and Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), uses satellite data and other sources to monitor atmospheric pressure patterns and levels of water vapor to predict heatwaves, fires, droughts, among other weather threats. Study data on every global region from 2014 – 2020 can be found here. These studies provide both warnings, and the basis for sustainability litigation.

Wildfire Propagation Model. Image: wikimedia.

Like sea-rise that will continue to some extent after we solve the climate crisis, temperature increases, with resultant drought and fires, can also be expected. There are some options: limit building and development in fire-prone areas, manage forests, combat insect-borne disease, improve our power grid, strengthen data analysis on climate change, and develop early warning systems for wildfire smoke that can pose air pollution and health risk. Future environmental decisions will need collaboration among biologists, fire scientists, and landscape ecologists, according to Professor Van Butsic of UCBerkeley, who states “land sits at the nexus of ecological conditions and human decisions.”

“Eden Reforestation Projects Logo,” www.edenprojects.org.

Wildfire protection innovations include Elevated Rain Induced Solution (ERIS) developed by Wildfire Innovations with targeted, moveable, suppression systems. Early detection innovations like SmokeD by IT for Nature can detect fires and alert nearby businesses and residents, via a phone app. Verisk Analytics Inc. developed a fire risk management tool to evaluate fuel, slope, and access, generating a hazard score. Will reforestation help? According to studies, the cost of replanting may bring promising returns: one reforested acre will be worth $191, 110; 30 acres, $5,733.300. Eden Projects and MillionTrees help restore land and lives. Private investment may see an opportunity, with investor capital innovations like Blue Forest Resilience Bond (FRB) and  Encourage Capital. 

Butsic, Van, A.D. Syphard, J.E. Keeley, and A. Bar-Massada. (2017). “Can private land conservation reduce wildfire risk to homes? A case study in San Diego County, California, USA.” Landsc. Urban Plan, 157, 161-169. LUC LAB: Researching Land Use and Land Use Change, University of California Berkeley.

Darwin, C. The Descent of Man. London: 1871.

Doer, Stefan H. and Cristina Santin. “Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world. 5 June 2016. Philos Trans R Soc Lon B Biol Sci. 2016 Jun 5: 371 (1696): 20150345. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015. 0345 PMCID: PMC4874420.

Finley, Bruce. “Climate change hits home in Colorado with raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat: State faces continued increases in average temperatures for decades due to past burning of fossil fuels.” 25 August 2020. The Denver Post. https://www.denverpost.com/2020/08/19/colorado-climate-change-wildfire-drought/

Gowlett, J.A.J. “The discovery of fire by humans: a long and convoluted process.” 5 June 2016. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0164. Article ID: 20150164. Special issue on The Interaction of Fire and Mankind. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0149

Lenihan, Rob. “Innovation at the forefront of wildfire prevention.” 24 July 2018. Business Insurance. https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20180724/NEWS06/912322839/Disaster-management-innovations-at-the-forefront-of-wildfire-prevention#.

Lightning Maps. https://www.lightingmaps.org.

Mulkern, Anne C. “Climate Change Has Doubled Riskiest Fire Days in California.” 3 April 2020, Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-has-doubled-riskiest-fire-days-in-california/

NASA. Forecasting Fires in South America. VIDEO: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AForecasting_South_American_Fires.ogv

Newsom, Gavin. “CA has experienced 10,849 lightning strikes in the last 72 hours.” 19 August 2020. Twitter: @GavinNewsom.

Temple, James. “Yes, climate change is almost certainly fueling California’s massive fires.” 20 August 2020, Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/08/20/1007478/california-wildfires-climate-change-heatwaves/

Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Connection between Climate Change and Wildfires” published 9 September 2011; updated 11 March 2020. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/climate-change-and-wildfires

U.S. Global Change Research Program. “National Climate Assessment”. https://nca2018.globalchange.gov

World Weather Attribution. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/analysis/projects/

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

August 22, 2020
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ENERGY: August 22 – Earth Overshoot Day 2020

August 22: Earth Overshoot Day 2020. Image: wikimedia commons.

World time zones came to us via the Canadian Pacific Railway, and clocks are as old as the hourglass or the water clock famously given to Caliph al-Mansur, founder of Baghdad, by a visiting Byzantine emperor. But now there is a new way of reckoning time.

Earth Overshoot Day, calculated by the Global Footprint Network and the National Footprint & Biocapacity Accounts (NFA) with data from 2016 forward from the United Nations (15,000 data points per country, per year), is that day each year when humans have used up all the resources Earth can renew, that year. From Earth Overshoot Day on, the rest of the year racks up an “environmental deficit.

Climate change is hard to grasp, because it is gradual. How can we “tell climate time?” The Doomsday Clock (maintained since 1947 by atomic scientists) is one way; it started as a nuclear threat measurement but now includes climate change. Earth Overshoot Day may help us to learn how to reset that clock. In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was three weeks earlier: in other words, 2020’s pandemic and resultant decrease in resource-consumption and energy emissions reduced our carbon footprint and bought us some time. No one would wish to repeat the pandemic, but considering planned ways for Earth to take a Sabbath might help us apply lessons learned in 2020 to rebuild back better.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. “The Doomsday Clock.” https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/past-statements/

“Energy: A Sabbath for Earth?” 22 March 2020, Building the World Blog, University of Massachusetts Boston. http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2020/03/22/energy-a-sabbath-for-earth/

Global Footprint Network. “Earth Overshoot Day is August 22, 20202: more than three weeks later than last year.” https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2020/06/05/press-release-june-2020-earth-overshoot-day/.

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

August 10, 2020
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SPACE: Here’s looking at you, Earth

Eye of a Chameleon. Image: wikimedia.

Eyes in the sky, Earth Observation Satellites monitor environmental conditions by reporting hot spots and testing efforts to mitigate climate change. OHB-System has just signed a contract to build a new satellite network to monitor carbon dioxide, helping countries achieve goals of the COP 21 Paris Agreement. Part of the Copernicus System, the first OHB spacecraft will launch in 2025; it will be called CO2M.

Scenographia Systematis Copernicani” engraving circa 1660. Image: wikimedia.

CO2M will join the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation program, a system of satellite sensors called Sentinels that watch the Earth from space. Marco Fuchs, CEO of Germany’s OHB-System, oversees the contract with the European Space Agency. Thales Alenia Space (TAS), a French-Italian company, is a sub-contractor, designing carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide spectrometers. Belgian partner, OIP Sensors, will provide a cloud imager. CO2M will track carbon dioxide to a resolution of 2km by 2km across a span of 250 km. Satellites will carry both a CO2 detector and also secondary sensors that can differentiate between human-produced emissions and those occurring naturally.

TAS logo. Image: wikimedia.

Looking for employment or investment opportunities? Check out satellite enterprises: OHB, TAS, OIP

Since COMSAT launched the first communication satellites, space has become the place that allows us to transmit video, communication, and weather information about Earth. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are leaders. Here’s a look at NASA’s program:

NASA’s Earth Science Division Operating Missions. Image: wikimedia/nasa.gov.

ESA’s Sentinel satellite system is comprehensive, and will expand when CO2M joins the initiative. For now, here’s the Sentinel array and specific capabilities:

Sentinel-1: monitor Earth’s surface in all weather conditions

Sentinel-2: monitor land changes

Sentinel-3: observe oceans

Sentinel-4: measure atmospheric gases

Sentinel-5: monitor air quality

Sentinel-6: measure rising seas

When CO2M becomes operational, joining the Sentinel series, it will track CO2 around the whole globe every five days. CO2M’s data, along with other Sentinel reporting, and NASA’s initiatives as well as others, will help meet the climate goals established by COP21 also known as the Paris Agreement. The Eiffel Tower displayed the message: now we must meet the goals. Space, looking at Earth, can help.

“#1Heart1Tree” image on the Eiffel Tower, Paris, during COP21 where climate goals were agreed by most nations of the world. Earth Observation Satellites will help meet those environmental goals.  Photo by Yann Caradec, image: wikimedia.

If you are interested in learning more about Earth Observation Satellites, join the Copernicus Academy’s MOOC, beginning in September 2020.

Amos, Jonathan. “European Sentinel satellites to map global CO2 emissions.” 1 August 2020, BBC.com.

Copernicus Earth Observation System. https://www.copernicus.eu/en

Copernicus Academy, 160 members fromthe EU 28 plus Iceland and Norway, sharing research and providing training on Earth Observation. Join the MOOC starting in September 2020.https://www.copernicus.eu/en/opportunities/education/copernicus-mooc

OHB Magazine. https://www.ohb.de/en/magazine/

NASA, Edited by Andrew J. Butrica. “Beyond the Ionosphere: Fifty Years of Satellite Communication.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1997. https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4217/sp4217.htm

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

July 28, 2020
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WATER: How much do you use?

How much water do you use? Image: “Blue question mark,” wikimedia commons.

Only 1% of water on Earth is drinkable (actually, it’s 2.5% but only 1% is readily accessible). The rest of the water on the planet rests in the sea, but it is salty and therefore requires desalination to use for drinking or agriculture.

New River, a fresh water supply and a fresh idea. Image: wikimedia.

Ever since the most ancient times, humans have invented ways to find, distribute, use, and power with water. From the Roman Aqueducts and the New River of England that brought fresh water to the growing cities of Rome and London, respectively, to the water use agreements of the Colorado River of the USA and Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric of Australia, the story of civilization is the story of water.

With populations growing and climate changing, water will become more scarce and more important for uses for drinking, agriculture, industry, and energy. While macro systems that deliver water to our taps are large in scale, each of us can do something to protect and conserve water.

 

Take this quiz to calculate your WATER USE.

Attenborough, Sir David. “Fresh Water.” Episode 3. Our Planet. BBC One/Netflix. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2DU85qLfJQ/

Jacobsen, Rowan. “Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here,” 29 July 2016. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/israel-proves-the-desalination-era-is-here/

Spang, E., E. R, K.S. Gallagher, P.H. Kirshen, D.H. Marks. 2014 “The Water Consumption of Energy Production: An International Comparison.” Environmental Research Letters, Volume 9, 105002. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002/meta/

Water Calculator. https://www.watercalculator.org/wfc2/q/household/

Water Footprint Calculator. “Water Websites for Kids.” 13 November 2019. https://www.watercalculator.org/resource/water-websites-for-kids/.

Thanks to Sierra C. Lusk for research and inspiration.

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

July 4, 2020
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Sand Castles: rebuilding the desert

“My home is my castle,” photographer J. Triepke, 2014. Image: wikimedia.

Summer holidays, like the traditional Fourth of July, may be observed in different ways by diverse communities, but many people enjoy a refreshing visit to the beach. Some build sand castles. Now, there may be something more permanent. Architect Magnus Larsson proposes combining sand with bacterium Sporosarcina pasteurii (formerly known as Bacillus pasteurii); the process can produce biological cementation. You can build with it. Larsson wants to build a biologically-grown structure in the Sahara, perhaps in combination with the Great Green Wall of the Sahel. The architecture would support plantings, maybe even people, and won recognition from the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.

Could generative architecture rebuild the desert? Image: “Mojave Desert Cave,” by photographer Joshua Sortino. Wikimedia.

Globally, 1/3 of all arable earth is dry, and vulnerable to drought and eventually turning to sand. The Gobi desert of China and the Sahara of Africa are especially threatened, but deserts like the Mojave in North America seek sustainable solutions. “One billion grains of sand come into being – each second,” states Larsson. Innovations related to deserts and desertification, like Jason DeJong‘s findings and Larsson’s sandstone walls and habitats, or the Great Green Walls of the Sahara and Gobi, may help to rebuild the world.

DeJong, Jason. “Geo-Technical Engineering and Innovation.” Geo-Institute of ASCE and University of California, Davis. https://youtu.be/Jvm-D9INVWs

Larsson, Magnus. “Turning dunes into architecture.” TEDGlobal 2009. https://www.ted.com/talks/magnus_larsson_turning_dunes_into_architecture/.

LafargeHolcim.  Headquartered in Switzerland, the company employs more than 70,000 people in the development of cement, aggregates, and innovation in building materials. https:/www.lafargeholcim-foundation.org.

Swayamdipta Bhaduri, Nandini Debnath, Sushanta Mitra, Yang Liu, Aloke Kumar. “Miocrobiologically Induced Precipitation Mediated by Sporosarcina pasteurii,” Journal of Visualized Experiments. 2016; (110) 53253. doi: 10.3791/53253/. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4941918/

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

June 26, 2020
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Regreening the Sahel: Water, Land, and Renewal

Sahara Desert. Image: wikimedia.

Sahara, sea of sand, desert of legend, is ever-advancing. Over time, the Sahara Desert has expanded into the Sahel, a transnational ‘shore’ of African countries. Population in the Sahel has increased 120% in the last three decades: now, 64% of the population is under 25%. The encroaching Sahara, along with climate change induced heat and drought, is choking crops; 3.7 million people suffering the effects of crop loss, with shortages of millet and sorghum, staples. Famine, conflict, migration threaten the area. The Sahel reaches 3,360 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, all across the southern belt of the Sahara Desert. What can be done? Two answers may be emerging.

The Sahara Desert, seen from space by satellite. The Sahel is just south of the desert. Image: wikimedia.

The Sahel has some of the largest aquifers in the continent, as much as 100 times annual rainfall and other renewable sources. But the Law of Transboundary Aquifers is still in draft. Sahel countries need to decide the use of shared water for drinking, agriculture, and industry. Agreements should also monitor extraction; some of the aquifers are sizable but slow to refill and replenish. Precedent for water sharing might include the Colorado River Compact, especially amendments. A future exploration of the Sahara itself may tap water resources under the sands, and a proposal by Frank P. Davidson for Lake Hope (2012).

Stopping Saharan desert expansion is important. The possibility of planting a green wall across the boundary of the Sahara to stem desert invasion of fertile lands adjacent is said to have been pondered by Richard St. Barbe Baker OBE during a study expedition to the Sahara in the mid 20th century. There was talk of building a test model of 30 miles at that time. But the present vision of green wall across Africa of 4,722 miles (7,600 kilometers) didn’t take root until 2002, when the Green Wall was re-introduced at the summit in Chad of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. Support grew. Three years later, the concept was approved by the Community of Sahel-Saharan States; two years after that, in 2007, the African Union endorsed the “Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative.” The Great Green Wall hopes to restore and renew 100 million hectares by 2030, reduce CO2, absorbing 250 million tons, and create 10 million green jobs. Ethiopia has already restored 15 million hectares.

Great Green Wall of Africa. Image: wikimedia commons.

But results are still to be judged. Some point out that desertification is not just the fault of the Sahara, but instead may be due to deforestation and denuding of land. Observing success in applying traditional water conservation and harvesting methods, and nurturing of trees that appear naturally, the project is evolving into something that is working, in a different way. There are some who warn against some methods of afforestation, and choice of plantings is critical to success. Recent progress in Burkina Faso with building zaï, a grid planting method promoting water retention is one example. Another: increased respect for Faidherbia albida, an indigenous tree that defoliates during the rainy season, dropping leaves that fertilize soil, and also permit full sun during the subsequent early growing season. Other factors might be considered like walking paths, as envisioned by architect Benton MacKaye, resulting in the Appalachian Trail. Some suggest the Green Green Wall of Africa could become a model for a new CCC. The work of John D. Liu combines regreening with camps. Other green walls of afforestation include China’s Three-North Shelter Forest Program, China began the project in 1978 to stop the Gobi desert from advancing; while monoculture and some tree loss are problems, forest size has increased from 5% to 13.% with 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of trees planted (an area the size of western Europe). China will complete the afforestation project in 2050. India’s Green Wall of Aravalli, proposed by Vijaypal Baghel at COP 14 would build 1,6000 km of green; and Great Hedge of India, originally related to customs control line for 1870’s salt tax, and later grown into a living hedge. Progress of green walls can now be tracked through Earth Observation Satellites. ESA’s Prova-V monitors the Sahel.

Gobi Desert and Three-North Shelter Forest of China. Image: wikimedia.

Macroengineering endeavors involving transboundary resources may require an organizational form that allows for coordination of many different and interacting systems. As climate change affects regions, not just nations, will we see more macro solutions? The advancing Sahara desert does not stop at the Mali border but threatens the whole southern edge of the desert. The rising Atlantic ocean does not stop at Maine in the United States but continues to lap the coast of Canada. Africa’s Great Green Wall may set an example.

When completed, the Great Green Wall of the Sahel would be the largest living structure on Earth – three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.  The 7,600 km (4,000 plus miles) natural wonder of the world may be visible from space. As the Great Green Wall evolves to benefit from traditional water conservation measures, countries of the Sahel may work together to rebuild and strengthen the fertility of the land and its treasured water resources, the Sahel may build more than a wall, but also a foundation.

Re-greening the world. Image: “Nursery stock of spruce for afforestation.” Wikimedia commons.

“Building the Great Green Wall,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v-cphSne_HIPA. Accessed 24 June 2020.

Davidson, Frank P., Kathleen Lusk Brooke, with Cherie E. Potts. Building the Future. pages 35-59. Cambridge: 2012.

Gallo, Alexandro. “China: the Green Wall which will stop the desert advancing.” 10 July 2019. ecobnb https://ecobnb.com/blog/2019/07/china-the-new-green-wall-which-will-stop-the-desert-advancing/

Great Green Wall. “The Great Green Wall: Growing a World Wonder.” https://www.greatgreenwall.org/abot-great-green-wall

International Tree Foundation. Oxford, UK. https://internationaltreefoundation.org/

Litwin, George H., John J. Bray, Kathleen Lusk Brooke. Mobilizing the Organization: Bringing Strategy to Life. London: 1996.

Liu, John D. “Green Gold.” FILM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBLZmwlPa8A

Liu, John D. Ecosystem Restoration Camps. https://ecosystemrestorationcamps.org/update-from-john-d-liu-founder-of-ecosystem-restoration-camps/

Meirelles, Fernando. “Great Green Wall.” Film from creator of City of God and The Constant Gardner, Oscar Nominee, and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, with Inna Modja and music collaborators Didier Awadi, Songhoy Blues, Waje, and Betty G. FILM LINK: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/film

Morrison, Jim. “The ‘Great Green Wall’ Didn’t Stop Desertification, But It Evolved Into Something That Might.” 23 August 2016. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/great-green-wall-stop-desertfication-not-so-much-180960171/

Moxam, Roy. The Great Hedge of India. London: Constable & Robinson, 2001. ISBN: 1841194670.

Saeed, Khalid. “The Sahel and System Dynamics,” correspondence discussion, June 2020.

St. Barbe Baker, Richard. My Life, My Trees (2nd edition, 1985) Forres: Findform. ISBN: 0-905249-63-1,

The Stream. “Why is Africa building a Great Green Wall?” 17 September 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LK6FUv4fhmo

United Nations. United Nations Convention To Combat Desertification: In Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa. See especially Article 3: “Principles” and Article 10: “Organizational framework of subregional action programs.” https://www.unccd.int/sites/default/files/relevant-links/2017-01/UNCCD_Convention_ENG_0.pdf

United Nations, Convention to Combat Desertification. “The Great Green Wall Initiative.” https://www.unccd.int/actions/great-green-wall-initiative/

United Nations. Law of Transboundary Aquifers. https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/brief/enhancing-knowledge-of-groundwater-usage-in-the-Sahel.  and for the draft articles: https://www.un.org/en/ga/sixth/71/transboundary_aquifers.shtml

Wang, X.M., and Cicheng Zhang, Eerdun Hasi, Z.B. Dong. “Has the Three-North Shelterbelt Program solved the desertification and dust storm problems in arid and semiarid China?” January 2010. Journal of Arid Environments. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.08.001. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248568946_Has_the_Three_North_Forest_Shelterbelt_Program_solved_the_desertificatino_and_dust_storm_problems_in_arid_and_semiarid_China.

World Bank Group. “Burkina Faso: The Zaï Technique and Enhanced Agricultural Productivity.” 2005. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/10754

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

June 17, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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ENERGY: Old wells, new problems, emerging solutions

Could biogas drive the future? Image: wikimedia.

Could the next vehicle you drive be powered not by gas from a drilled well but by a cleaner form of energy known as biogas or biomethane? Climate improvement may be encouraged by a solving a problem.

Oil well pump, Midland, Texas. Image: wikimedia.

Oil wells – part of the 20th century landscape – are not only becoming a relic of the past, they are now a menace to the future. Old wells, once dry of oil, continue to emit pollution. More recently, other kinds of wells have been opened for hydraulic fracturing, sometimes called fracking, uses water to power invasive drilling to release oil and gas locked in rock formations. Drillers use underground water, promising to seal off the well. But what happens when the fracking site is no longer productive? Millions of older fracking wells are now starting to leak pollutants. And now, with the renewable energy becoming competitive in price and superior in environmental quality, wells are becoming antiquated. Moreover, the fossil fuel energy industry is stressed by dropping oil prices due to the 2020 viral pandemic: people are driving less; planes are parked in airports. Energy company bankruptcies are growing. Sometimes companies sell the wells to a new owner who then resells, and finally when it is no longer productive, the well is abandoned. No one is responsible for clean-up, since the original builder of the well has long since moved on.

Methane, a dangerous and long-lived pollutant in the atmosphere, is one of the greenhouse gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol. Image: wikimedia.

According to the Groundwater Protection Council, “orphaned wells” are beginning to leak methane. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) flagged methane from abandoned oil and gas wells as an emerging global risk, in an April 2020 report. Worldwide, there may be 29 million abandoned gas and oil wells. Canada, where oil sands mining prevails, reported 313,000 abandoned wells emitting 10 kilotons of methane. The United States has 2 million abandoned wells: most were never properly sealed. China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia (the three other large oil and gas producers, along with Canada and USA) have not revealed their methane leakage from wells. Even small amounts of methane pose dangers. The United States reports methane as the cause of 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, but methane is 84 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in the first two decades of release, and 28 times over a century’s timeframe. Methane is one of the seven greenhouse gases regulated under the Kyoto Protocol: the list includes carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (JFCs), per fluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphurhexaflouride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NFc). These gases are dangerous because they are stable, meaning they stay in the atmosphere once released. Methane has been identified as responsible for 25% of global warming.

Capturing methane in a biogas sytem. Image: wikimedia

Yet methane is a valuable energy source, when harnessed. One possible solution: biogas (biomethane). Biomethane is formed by decomposing organic substances like agricultural or animal waste, even sewage. With upgrades, biogas can achieve an energy productivity equal to natural gas. Biogas can be recovered from waste treatment plants and refined to renewable natural gas (RNG) to generate electricity or even power car. Another method: fuel cell technology using waste; there is no combustion, so no exhaust and related pollution. A sample project using biogas to power fuel cells can be found in Fountain Valley, California; Apple uses fuel cell energy from Bloom Energy.

As the world emerges from the coronona virus pandemic, countries are funding re-entry for businesses, cities, and states. Is 2020 the time to seize the opportunity to capture methane from old wells as the energy sector rebuilds?

Dlouhy Jennifer A “EPA Seeks to Abandon Regulation of Methane Leaks From Oil Wells.” 29 August 2019. Bloomberg News. TransportTopics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/epa-seeks-abandon-regulation-methane-leaks-oil-wells.

Groom, Nichola. “Millions of abandoned oil wells are leaking methane, a climate menace.” 16 June 2020. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-abandoned-specialreport/special-report-millions-of-abandoned-oil-wells-are-leaking-methane-a-climate-menace-idUSKBN23N1NL

Kyoto Pr

The World Energy Foundation. “Methane Capture and Use as a Clean Energy Source.” 16 June 2015. https://theworldenergyfoundation.org/methane-capture-and-use-as-clean-energy-source/.

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

May 20, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Spring Cleaning

Satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Image: wikimedia

When COMSAT began a new era in communications, emphasis was on getting satellites into orbit, not how to get them down. One option: a “graveyard” orbit where old tech circles endlessly in a geriatric retirement lap; another solution, crash and burn; a third, shoot them, causing space junk to become space debris, now tallied at 50,000 pieces hurtling at 17,500 miles per hour and causing hazards to active spacecraft. The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects established some guidelines, but so far humans are better at launching satellites than retrieving or fixing them, and many satellites are getting old. But there has been a breakthrough.

Intelsat. Image: wikimedia.

In April 2020, Intelsat 901, beaming Internet to airplanes and ships, was running out of steering power but still functioning. Northrop Grumman built a spacecraft called the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) to fly to Intelsat 901, latch on and supply propulsion and steering. This is the first time in history that two commercial spacecraft have docked together in space, proving that in-orbit service is possible. Existing satellites are getting on in years, and may need servicing. Space will see more communication satellites, along with observation technology monitoring Earth’s climate. Northrup Grumman and Intelsat plan to continue in-orbit service, a new industry.

Davenport, Christian. “In historic first, an aging satellite is resurrected by another in a technology that could reduce junk in space: A Northrup Grumman spacecraft latched on to a communications satellite, extending its life.” 20 April 2020. The Washington Post. Includes video. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/20/new-technology-creates-fountain-youth-aging-satellites-potentially-reducing-space-junk/.

European Space Agency. 6th European Conference on Space Debris, 2013. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Operations/Space_Debris/

Henry, Caleb. “Intel-901 satellite, with MEV-1 servicer attached, resumes service.” 17 April 2020. Space News. https://spacenews.com/intelsat-901-satellite-with-mev-1-servicer-attached-resumes-service/

Intelsat. https://intelsat.com. Ticker symbol: I

Northrop Grumman. https://www.northropgrumman.com. NYSE: NOC.

United Nations. Office for Outer Space Affairs. “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.” September 1972. http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introliability-convention.html/

Thanks to David H. Marks for sharing research and suggesting this post.

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

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