Building the World

February 20, 2019
by buildingtheworld

Building Better Coasts

Climate change is causing sea rise resulting in coastal erosion, flooding, and threatening ports and cities. Jakarta is in extreme danger: thirteen rivers run through the city, causing frequent flooding. The mega-city of 10 billion is doubly endangered: urban land is suffering subsidence, parts of Indonesia’s capital  (some predict 95%) could be deluged by 2050.

Reed beds revitalize polluted waters. Image: wikimedia

Even rivers like the Thames and Lea in London are not immune. But the city of London Bridge is responding. Thames21 is planting reeds that oxygenate rivers, restoring the habitat marred by pollution; reeds convert toxic ammonia to nitrate. Reed beds also provide habitat for aquatic life. In an echo of the Canal des Deux Mers, the canalized section of the River Lea will receive new reed beds every 300 meters over the length of the river coursing through London.

Indonesia, image: wikimedia.

Meanwhile, Jakarta is exploring response including artificial recharge, a method used a half-century ago by Tokyo in a time of subsidence; to support the program, groundwater extraction was halted and businesses were required to utilize reclaimed water. Jakarta would need to use only rainwater; could catchment systems help? The Dutch, formerly involved in the region, have returned: Institute Deltares reported on the efficacy of the current plan to build the Great Garuda Sea Wall (32 km) along with 17 artificial islands at the cost of (US$) 40 billion. Included in the plan is a new lagoon waterway that can be lowered during floods allowing water to drain. Another method: biopori – digging a hole of 100cm depth to allow rainwater to more easily absorbed into the land, replenishing groundwater. Indonesia may offer an example to many places in the world surrounded by water; how can we build better coasts?

“Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world.” 12 August 2018. By Tom de Souza, with interactive elements by Arvin Surpriyadi, Davies Surya, and Leben Asa.

“Project Reed Beds.” Thames 21.

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

February 2, 2018
by buildingtheworld

90% of Ocean Plastic comes from 10 Rivers

Plastic is a relatively recent innovation but disastrously successful. In 1950, 2.5 billion people on the planet generated 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, 7 billion of us produced 300 trillion tons. Five trillion is now in the oceans, with toxic effects. But there is hopeful news. The United Nations will soon meet to empower Communities of Ocean Action, furthering Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14. On the agenda may be a recent study finding that improving ten rivers could reduce ocean plastic by half. Here are the rivers, please see map:

Rivers near cities carry the most plastic. Will Los Angeles lead an effort to reduce microbead pollution? Image: wikimedia.







Pearl River




Inland rivers near cities are the major delivery systems of plastic to the oceans. If the trend continues, by 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish. Will the Yangtze River, part of the Grand Canal of China, develop a pioneering model to address the 727 million pounds of plastic carried by its water, perhaps creating a program in honor of the Grand Canal? The Yangtze is home to half a billion people: would a school-based program raise awareness and offer ways to reduce plastic? Also part of the Grand Canal: Hai and Yellow rivers. China may include the issue in the Maritime Silk Road. The United States is also a contender: it won the dubious honor of being the only industrialized western country to make the top twenty plastic polluters list.

Best, Shivali. “Shocking report reveals that 95% of plastic polluting the world’s oceans comes from just TEN rivers including the Ganges and Niger.” Daily Mail. 11 October 2017.

Sahagun, Louis. “Microbes a major problem in L.A. River.” Los Angeles Times. 25 January 2014.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Krauth, Stephen Wagner. “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Germany. 11 October 2017. Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 51, Issue 21, Pages 12246-12253. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est7b02368.

United Nations. “UN’s mission to keep plastics out of oceans and marine life.” 27 April 2017.

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

January 26, 2018
by buildingtheworld
1 Comment

Make Your Next Straw, The Last Straw

Make your next straw, the last straw. Image: wikimedia commons.

Americans use 500 million plastic straws – every day. Just to get the picture: that’s enough to fill 127 school buses. Every day. Each person in the United States will statistically use 38,000 plastic straws between the ages of 5 to 64. Most straws end up in the oceans. Why? Even when recycled, most plastic straws are too light, dropping undetected through recycling sorting filters. All waters, even with straws and microbeads, flow to the oceans where 70% of seabirds now have plastic in their stomachs. Plastic bags have been the subject of concern for decades, but plastic straws are among the top ten items found in marine debris. It’s easy to say NO. Mention your preference during your order: “And, no straw, please.” If a straw is required (there are many important medical and special needs), compostable plastic straws may offer a sustainable choice.  Individually, many people carry a personal water bottle or coffee cup; why not consider BYO straw choices like bamboo or stainless steel? A personal straw could address the safety of sips. Here are some straw styles suggested by Strawless Ocean.

Grenier, Adrian. “The Strawless Ocean Initiative.” Interview with Project Earth correspondent Nicholas Ibarguen on how individuals and restaurants could stop using plastic straws.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Kraut, S. Wagner. “Export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea.” Environmental Science & Technology 2017, 51 (21), 12246-12253.

“Strawless in Seattle” demonstrates how a city can go strawless. Enter your town in the competition

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

March 24, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Rivers are people, too

“Reflection of the Taj Mahal on the Yamuna River.” Image: wikimedia.

The first country in the world to give rights to a river was New Zealand: the Whanganui, the country’s longest, has received the environmental protection long sought by the Maori. Now, India has given human status and rights to two sacred rivers. The Ganges is protected, as is the river of the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan acquired the land near the Yamuna to use the river as a ‘keel’ to balance the massive iconic monument. How are the rights of a river represented? New Zealand’s river will be represented in legal matters by one of the Maori people and one representative of the crown government. India anticipates environmental rights will now be protected, having declared the Ganges and Yamuna are “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities.” Bolivia decreed the rights of Earth in Ley 071 de Derechos de la Madre Tierra.

For New Zealand’s Whanganui River’s legal status: and To hear the Maori chant: “Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au.”:

For India’s Ganges and Yamuna Rivers and rights:

For Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, Law 071 of Bolivia:

For Pope Francis and environmental ethics:

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.

December 16, 2014
by buildingtheworld

Voice of the Future: River Communities


“Ceres,” vessel of Vermont Sail Freight Project, found resonance in many river communities and in New York City. Image: Vermont Sail Freight Project.

While the tiny nature of this initiative was evident to us as we passed under the huge Hudson River bridges like the George Washington and Tappan Zee, each of which was carrying thousands of times our cargo capacity per minute over the river in trucks, we still found it meaningful, and discovered that our initiative had surprising resonance in many river communities and in New York City. The river and harbor were once the preeminent conduit of life and trade, yet are now almost entirely overlooked for everything except recreation. With the addition of fairly modest docks and warehouses suited to this type of trade, we can envision not so much a re-enactment of our past, but more a carrying forward to meet contemporary challenges. The Vermont Sail Freight Project is now exploring avenues for the continuation and expansion of this work in the 2015 season, with some exciting new partnerships.

– Eric Andrus, founder of Vermont Sail Freight Project

Voice of the Future, 2014

November 19, 2014
by buildingtheworld

Voice of the Future, 2014: Erik Andrus


“An about-face on the subject of transportation and infrastructure,” Erik Andrus, founder of Vermont Sail Freight Project. Photo above: vessel “Ceres.” Image: courtesy of

Infrastructure. The word implies awesomeness, technical complexity, hard hats, and the oversight of engineers. For those not involved in its planning or creation, our built environment can seem largely the individual’s ability to participate or comprehend. The Vermont Sail Freight Project was conceived as an about-face on the subject of transportation and infrastructure, an attempt to borrow heavily on historical patterns and to utilize public commons to perform a service of contemporary economic relevance, and in so doing to set a mold for an alternate way of transporting and doing business that is more in tune with the limitations of our planet.

~ Erik Andrus, Founder, Vermont Sail Freight Project

Voice of the Future, 2014

Voice of the Future



April 15, 2014
by buildingtheworld

Wedding of the Waters

DeWitt Clinton pours water from Erie Canal into Atlantic Ocean, marking “the wedding of the waters.” Artist: C.Y.Turner, 1905. Image credit:

Connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River, the Erie Canal created a trade route from the Great Lakes region to the Atlantic coast. The waterway facilitated development of the Midwest and accelerated leadership of New York City, located at the mouth of the Hudson on the Atlantic Ocean, as a world urban center. Credit for building the canal goes to DeWitt Clinton, political leader who served as a state senator, U.S. senator, and mayor of New York City, before becoming governor of New York State. On April 15, 1817, the New York State Legislature provided funding for Navigable Communications between the Great Western and Northern Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. How does the Erie Canal link to Atlantic Studies and to the Atlantic Rim Network, whose mission serves “global issues, local solutions, and regional connections?” What other areas of the world, with powerful lakes and rivers that could be connected to oceans, might arrange a beneficial “wedding of the waters?”

For more on the Atlantic Rim Network:

James H. Barron, Jessica C. McWade, “Toward a New ‘New Atlanticism’,” Parallax: Journal of International Perspectives, Vol. No 1, Fall 2003, pp. 75-89.

On the Erie Canal:

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.

April 2, 2014
by buildingtheworld

45.3N x 34.4E: Power of Ports

The Crimea. Image courtesy of wikimedia.

Popular with the ancient Greeks, who called its main river Borysthenes, favored by the Romans, Bulgars, Goths and Huns, the Crimea offers port access on the northern border of the Black Sea, with the advantage of also being on the western shores of the Sea of Azov. In medieval times, the Crimean Khanate united the area, but later it became the Taurida Oblast in 1783, and still later the Soviet Crimean Oblast, transferred to Ukraine in 1954. Finally, in 1991, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was born, only to be challenged in 2014. Why so many changes ? Advantageous port territory, milder winters, access to the Dnieper River (fourth largest in Europe). Today operating more than 12 seaports, the Crimea demonstrates the power of ports. The importance of waterways and ports can also be seen in the Canal des Deux Mers and the Erie Canal. Another famous port,  St. Petersburg, once the capital and Russia’s largest seaport, still carries the cultural imprint of its founder, Czar Peter the Great, in 1703. Can present day Crimea take inspiration from aspects of St. Petersburg’s success, including business monopolies? Perhaps in partial explanation of why the game’s greats are often Russian, St. Petersburg was once the only source of chessboards. What strategies for economic and cultural success should the Crimea envision for coordinates 45.3N by 34.4E?

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.

December 23, 2013
by buildingtheworld

Baghdad: Madinat-as-Salam

Peace Symbol. Courtesy: wikimedia commons.

Riding a white horse, Caliph al-Mansur lept from his steed, unsheathed his sword, and drew three concentric circles in the sands of the land shining before him, proclaiming: “Here we will build the City of Peace, Madinat-as-Salam.” Calendar year 145 (or A.D. 762) proved auspicious; the Caliph had indeed found advantageous terrain. On the Tigris River, a trade nexus was born, at one time the wealthiest in the world and one of the most beautiful. Since then, the world has known that city under a different name: Baghdad. It is a place now rebuilding: new infrastructure, new water and energy systems, and perhaps a new vision. New Baghdad has an opportunity to claim its destiny of Madinat-as-Salam, City of Peace.

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.

July 30, 2013
by buildingtheworld

Power in Egypt

Giza pyramids and Sphynx, Library of Congress at

As Egypt forms a new cabinet, will Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi consider rights — human and environmental? Electricity Minister Ahmed Imam, initially appointed by Morsi, must now address Egypt’s growing power needs ( Might Egypt draw lessons from the High Dam at Aswan?

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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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