Building the World

March 17, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Green Toasts need to be Greener

Green beverages need to be greener: microplastics found in soda, beer, and bottled water. Image: wikimedia.

It’s a day when you may toast with a green beverage. Or perhaps you might drink bottled water, as a convenience or maybe to avoid polluted tap water? Bad news: tests on branded water drinks found 10 plastic particles per liter. SUNY Fredonia’s Professor Sherri “Sam” Mason evaluated major brands, finding plastic in virtually all the samples. Bottlers and processors responded with assurances that their factories use the best filters. Mason commented “It’s not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it is really showing that this is everywhere. Plastic is pervasive and it is pervading water.” The New River of England addressed Thames water in a public/private venture: will new cooperative initiatives remedy the findings of the Natural Environment Research Council? The SUNY-Fredonia study evaluated waters marketed by Coca-Cola, Gerolsteiner, Nestle, Pepsi.  Types of plastic found: polypropylene, nylon, and polyester. Over 500 billion beverages in plastic bottles were sold in 2016: one million bottles per minute. There are, as yet, no regulations on microplastics. Previous studies revealed plastic in tap water, soda, even beer. So if you are one who raises a glass of green today, take note.

Mason, Sherri. “Beads of destruction.” TED Talk on micro plastics in the Great Lakes.

Shukman, David. “Plastic particles found in bottled water.” 15 March 2018. BBC

Tyree, Chris and Dan Morrison. “INVISIBLES: The plastic inside us.” Orb Media

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

February 20, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Straws that Filter Bacteria and Parasites

“Bunch of drinking straws.” Photographer: Nina Matthews. Image: wikimedia commons.

Over two billion people in the world don’t have safe drinking water. Death from water-borne diseases takes more lives than violence and war. The answer may be in the humble straw, fitted with a filter. LifeStraw, for example, looks like a regular drinking straw, but inside are filters that can catch anything larger than  two microns, enough to block 99% of parasites, and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid fever. LifeStraw was started by Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen who inherited his grandfather’s uniform manufacturing factory; instead, Fransen rebuilt the machines to make a straw with the steel mesh filter that was successful in wiping out guinea worm disease, which went from 3.5 million in 1986 to 25 in 2017. Partners include the Carter Center. The New River of England delivered clean water to London when the Thames needed help; Rome’s aqueducts saved the future of Rome when the Tiber became threatened by poison. LifeStraw has been used in disaster relief in Ecuador, Haiti, Pakistan, and Thailand. Present projects include an initiative to bring clean drinking water to students in locations including Kenya. LifeStraw won a design award at MoMA.

Carter Center. “Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease.” March 2014.

CFEG. “Mikkel Westergaard Frandsen: 17 Next Generation Family Enterprise Leaders to Watch in ’17” Cambridge Family Enterprise Group

Garvett, Zaria. “The miraculous straw that lets you drink dirty water.” 5 March 2018. BBC Future.

Katayama, Lisa. “Fighting Water-Borne Disease in Africa, and Making Millions in the Process.” 25 March 2011. Fast Company. 


February 16, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Do you sing in the shower?

Take the 2 Minute Shower Challenge. Image: “Animated waterdrops,” wikimedia.

Do you sing in the shower? Studies indicate 80% of us do. That quirk of human hum might help to save Cape Town, and maybe other places, too. South Africa’s famous city is suffering from three years of scant rainfall, coupled with rapid urban expansion. While solutions to the water crisis such as desalination of sea water, improved ground water collection, and other water engineering innovations are in development, residents have been asked to limit water use to 50 liters (13 gallons) per day. Cyrene, ancient Greek city-state, was founded in response to persistent drought on Thera (Santorini). Climate migrants fled the parched land to build a new city abundant of water and replete with potent silphium, a magic plant that appeared to foster science, arts, and even amatory expressions. Rome, when suffering a water crisis, built aqueducts to bring water to the city, enough for drinking, bathing, and water sculptures, honored by composer Resphigi in The Fountains of Rome. Music now inspires South Africa’s vision for honoring and saving water. “People like to sing in the shower,” observed Mariska Oosthuizen, head of brand at Sanlam, South African investment firm, that invited musical artists to create two-minute songs, free for download:


  • Kwesta, “Boom Shaka Laka
  • Mi Casa, “Nana
  • GoodLuck, “Taking It Easy
  • Fifi Cooper, “Power of Gold
  • Francois Van Coke, “Dit raak Beter
  • Jimmy Nevis, “Day Dream
  • Rouge, “Deja Vu
  • Desmond & the Tutus, “Teenagers
  • Youngster, “Wes Kaap
  • Springbok Nude Girls, “Bubblegum On My Boots

80% of residential water use happens in the bathroom. Showers use 10 liters (2.6 gallons) per minute.  Do you sing in the shower? Take the 2 Minute Shower Challenge and join the chorus in praise of water.

Kammies, Kieno  “MiCasa releases 2 minute shower song to save water.” 17 November 2017.

Sanlam.”SA’s biggest artists are singing to save water. Are you?”

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

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

January 1, 2018
by buildingtheworld

2018: Celebrate the 8’s

“Green 8 in a Sea of Blue.” Earth Observatory Image:

Seen from space, the Americas look a bit like a green 8 in a sea of blue. One glance reveals our planet is made of regions, not nations. Rivers do not stop at lines arbitrarily drawn on a map: transboundary waters are shared resources. Another interconnection: land use, including transport. Great rail systems of history such as the Trans-Siberian or Canadian Pacific railways redefined connection through rapidly advancing transit technologies. Now, electric highways, autonomous vehicles, and hyperloop transit could link continents in innovation.

In 2018, Canada, Mexico, and the United States debate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Negotiations should include transboundary water resources; legal precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations. Nafta truckers could pioneer automated highways that might steer negotiations. But Nafta may be too small to address macro issues.

Is it now time to extend the north american discussion, to a broader regional scope? Afta Nafta. Decisions about water quality in one nation may impact another; transit links continents, not countries. Oceans may ultimately determine the fate of cities: from Natal to New York, many are coastal. What if everyone in the Americas learned at least one of the languages of their neighbors? Language-based education and cultural exchange might stir innovation in areas such as shared water resources, intelligent highways, public health, and rights. Could there be a regional tour of beauty, instead of a tour of duty? Xchange students and volunteers could form corps maintaining readiness for disaster response (by definition, regional) while practicing environmental service, in an updated CCC of the Americas. Potential logo? Green 8 in a Circle of Blue.

It might be noted that 8, viewed on the horizontal plane, is the infinity symbol. System scientists may suggest that two interconnecting loops could form a renewing system. The infinity symbol was the creation, in 1655, of John Wallis (he also served as chief cryptographer for Parliament). Whether it remains infinite or not, our shared environment depends upon our actions. Perhaps it is time to dedicate at least one year, per decade, to improvement of our shared resources: celebrate the 8’s by honoring interconnection.

“Infinity Symbol” Image: wikimedia commons

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 22, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Sinking Cities

Jakarta: originally Jayakarta or “Victorious City.” Muhammad Rashid Prabowo, photographer, Wikimedia commons.

Jakarta is sinking; sections of Indonesia’s capital city have lost 2 inches per year. Buildings in this dense city of 10 million people weigh down coastal land. Residential and business development increased demand for drinking water. Drilled wells, legal and illegal, caused the city to sink further. Draining urban underground aquifers is “like deflating a giant cushion.” Experts warn Jakarta must fix the problem within this decade. Climate change is worsening the situation: sea-rise could bring water even closer, as much 36 inches. Other cities may take note. Subsidence plagues Mexico City, built on a drained lakebed. Boston, shaped by landfill, contends with subsidence as well as sea-rise. New York is vulnerable to storm surge. The Erie Canal linking New York to the Great Lakes may hold promise as inland waterways play a new role in water protection. Inland Waterways International may offer innovations.  Coastal cities might find guidance from the Urban Harbors Institute in Boston. The East Coast of the United States is particularly vulnerable to sea-rise because of the steep sea-level slope just offshore that keeps the Gulf Stream channeled. Climate scientists place New  York, Boston, Norfolk, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami on the watch list. Put a price on it? Coastal storm “Sandy” flooding New York and New Jersey in 2012 cost $50 billion. Sea-level rise brings inundation, flooding, erosion, wetlands loss, saltwater intrusion, and damaged sanitation systems. Meanwhile, Jakarta is sinking faster than any city on the planet. As goes Jakarta, so may go other coastal communities. When the problem is solved, Jakarta will give new meaning to its original Javanese name: Jayakarta or “Victorious City.”

Brown, Sally, Robert J. Nicholls, Collin D. Woodroffe, Susan Hanson, Jochen Hinkel, Abiy S. Kebede, Barbara Neumann, Athanasios T. Vafeidis. “Sea-Level Rise Impacts and Response: A Global Perspective.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl. Springer, 2013.

Climate Central. “These U.S. Cities Are Most Vulnerable to Major Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise” 25 October 2017. 

Crowell, Mark, Jonathan Westcott, Susan Phelps, Tucker Mahoney, Kevin Coulton, Doug Bellow. “Estimating the United States Population at Risk from Coastal Flood-Related Hazards.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl, pp. 245-66. Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-94-007-5234-4.

Kemp, Andrew C. and Benjamin P. Horton. “Contribution of relative sea-level rise to historical hurricane flooding in New York City.” Journal of Quaternary Science 28.6:537-541.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater.” 21 December 2017. The New York Times

Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” 11 June 2013.

Yin, Jianjun, Michael E. Schlesinger, ad Ronald J. Stouffer. “Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States.” Nature Geoscience. 15 March 2009. DOI:10.1038/NGEO462.

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

November 24, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Water Park

Marine life will be protected in Mexico’s new ocean preserve. Image: wikimedia commons.

Mexico created a macro water park; the Revillagigedo Archipelago will be the largest ocean marine reserve in North America. It’s a ban on all fishing in a protected zone of 57,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers). Another prohibition? Extraction of natural resources. The grouping of volcanic islands is located on the crossing of two ocean currents, making the reserve a meeting and breeding site for marine life including whales. Mexico’s preserve avoids further hotel building. Another approach, in Singapore, is a marine life park within a resort, preserving 800 species. Marine reserves in the Pacific include a preserve of 193,000 square miles in Palau. As the oceans become increasingly challenged by many factors including overfishing, acidification, and plastic pollution, Mexico’s marine reserve is a gift to the future.

BBC. “Mexico creates huge national park to protect marine life.” 25 November 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

October 27, 2017
by buildingtheworld


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.

Hardach, Sophie. “How the River Thames was brought back from the dead.” 12 November 2015. British Broadcasting Corporation.

Sierra Club. “How to handle microbeads.”

United States Congress. “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.” H.R. 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

October 14, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Capital Idea: New Nafta

Seeing earth from space, individual countries fade in the reality that regions may be the true nations. Image: wikimedia.

NAFTA is in the news, but it may soon be history. Now is the time for developing visions for a better, stronger, more sustainable, and kinder, regional alliance. One look from space shows not a troika of nations but a connected region. One aspect that should be added to current negotiations among Canada, Mexico, and the United States: water. The precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations of shared water, especially transboundary aquifers? Another eau de vie, education: might scholarly and cultural exchange mingle the waters?

A new capital could signal the vision. It is timely. Recent earthquakes affecting Mexico City reopened conversation about the current capital built on a lakebed, not far from volcanoes. Should Mexico consider moving the DF? A federal district, such as Mexico’s capital or Washington, DC, is by definition its own moveable feast. If Mexico were to move the DF, could the new capital symbolize a regional vision embracing Canada, Mexico and the United States, in honor of shared resources? What architects should design the new city?

What’s in a name? Could TLCAN-ALENA-NAFTA become TAN? Image: wikimedia.

Finally, if Nafta emerges from current talks, it is time to unite nomenclature. How can there be a common vision when, at present, there are three acronyms for the same entity:

TLCAN – Tratado de libre comercia de america del norte

ALENA – Accord de libre-échange nord américain

NAFTA – North American Free Trade Agreement

The new name might honor a letter from each treaty, resulting in a shared word with meaning in all three languages – TAN. Or initial the countries: cam or mac. But perhaps the alliance that really matters is bigger, representing the land as seen from space. Will these and other issues be debated at the XVII Congressional NAFTA & Border Issues Conference at the Library of Congress in Washington on 26 October 2017?

For more:

Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or Buried Hope? The Status of Mexico-U.S. Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011), Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

McHugh, James T., editor. Toward a North American Legal System. (2012), Palgrave Macmillan.

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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