Building the World

June 30, 2015
by buildingtheworld

It’s About Time

Prague Astronomical Clock. Wikimedia commons.

When Wordsworth talked about the magic of a “spot of time,” the poet may not have imagined what digital challenges would be required by the adjustment of modern clocks to the world’s slightly irregular rotation. June 30, 2015, will have one extra second. We owe thanks to Sandford Fleming, surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, who first suggested universal time standards. The International Prime Meridian Conference, held in Washington, DC, endorsed and inaugurated a worldwide system of time zones. What will you do with your extra second of time?

Wordsworth, William, The Prelude, Book 12

International Prime Meridian Conference

Extra Second on June 30, 2015

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 14, 2020
by buildingtheworld

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:

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.

Harris, Alex. “New projections show that South Florida is in for even more sea level rise.” 4 December 2019. The Miami Herald.

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.

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,

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

May 29, 2012
by zoequinn001

It’s All in the Timing

The Canal des Deux Mers was not a new idea by Riquet’s time, although he perfected it. The Archbishop of Toulouse headed a special commission chartered by King Henry IV (1553-1610) to study feasibility of a canal linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Henry IV was following a line of similar visionaries. Even Charlemagne wanted to build the canal. There is evidence of ancient Roman emperors trying to engineer the route. Charlemagne, to be fair, didn’t have the technology. But Riquet was able to conquer a rocky patch near Beziers by blasting a tunnel – measuring 157 meters (515 feet) long, 6.7 meters (22 feet) wide and 8 meters (27 feet) high – with black powder. It was one of the earliest uses of explosives in subterranean construction.

The tunnel as it exists today, from

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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.

September 15, 2020
by buildingtheworld

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.

Cool Technologies Database. “Sustainable Cooling Database.” Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Dutta, Meghna. “Top Air Conditioners that double up as Air Purifiers too.” 1 May 2018. The Indian Express.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “HFC-free Technologies: Putting the Freeze on HFCs: A Global Digest of Available Climate-friendly Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Technologies.

EIA. “Unlocking Kigali Amendment Climate Benefits.”

Ghosh, Pallab. “Climate change boosted Australia bushfire risk by at least 30%.” 4 March 2020.

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.

Noor, Dharna. “We Essentially Cook Ourselves if We Don’t Fix Air Conditioning, Major UN Report Warns. Earther.

Pearce, Fred. “Thirty Years After Montreal Pact, Solving the Ozone Problem Remains Elusive.” 14 August 2017. Yale Environment360.

United Nations. “The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.” United Nations Ozone Secretariat.

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,

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
by buildingtheworld

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.

Jacobsen, Rowan. “Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here,” 29 July 2016. Scientific American.

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.

Water Calculator.

Water Footprint Calculator. “Water Websites for Kids.” 13 November 2019.

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

March 22, 2020
by buildingtheworld

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,

Commane Atmospheric Composition Group.

European Space Agency (ESA). “Coronavirus: nitrogen dioxide emissions drop over Italy.”

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

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

January 25, 2020
by buildingtheworld

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.”

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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.

“Why the world is closer than every to Doomsday,” by Jerry Brown, William J. Perry, Mary Robinson, and Ban Ki-Moon. 24 January 2020,

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 7, 2020
by buildingtheworld
Comments Off on Year 2020: Climate Conservation Corps

Year 2020: Climate Conservation Corps


Regional Climate Conservation Corps: a response to rising seas? Image: “Continental North America,” wikimedia.

Preservation of natural resources and human resources were the goals of the original CCC, founded by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt just days after taking office as the 32nd president of the United States. The idea: putting the nation’s youth to work in forests, parks, and range lands. It was first called the Emergency Conservation Corps, but soon became known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In this new decade of 2020, it may be time to consider a new CCC: Climate Conservation Corps ©. Like the original organization, the goals are to preserve natural resources and human resources. Like the original organization, membership would be voluntary. Like the original organization, emergency response should be one of the critical purposes. Like the original organization, service could provide training that leads to jobs of the future.

Climate change affects regions, not nations. Rising seas will not stop at the Maine border, but will laps contiguous shores of Canada. Flooding shores of the Gulf of Mexico will reach both the USA and Mexico. The new regional trade agreement USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), CUSMA (Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement/ ACEUM (Accord Canada-Etats-Unis-Mexique), and Tratado enter Mexico, Estates Unidos y Canada (T-MEC) may provide a framework. Other regions would have a similar focus on their joint shores and joined missions. Perhaps in Europe, students in the ERASMUS (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) program linking many universities throughout the continent might participate in a service learning climate response. Will the Belt and Road Initiative provide common ground for youth climate conservation service in areas now joined in the world’s biggest infrastructure project, linking land and sea?

Differing from the original organization, the new CCC might go beyond national boundaries to address the regional reality of the environment and climate change.

Climate Conservation Corps -CCC: regional response to climate crisis. Image: North America from space: NASA.

The climate crisis calls for action in this decade. It is the youth of the world who most clearly see the dangers, protesting across the world, assembling at official gatherings like COP25 in Madrid, Spain demanding governments take faster action to stop climate change. Now, while there is still a chance to respond, the proposed new CCC, Climate Conservation Corps, would harness the energy, idealism, action-commitment, and innovative thinking of the very generation that must face, and solve, the climate crisis. It is the rising generation that will plant the new world.

“Reforestration: Lexington, Kentucky, USA, by CCC, 1935.” Image: FDR Presidential Library and Museum, 74-20 (1051).

To explore how the new CCC, Climate Conservation Corps, might develop, let’s take look at some case examples of mobilizations both ancient and modern. In this year-long topic, we’ll consider the Dycken Waren (Volunteer Dike Army) of the ancient Netherlands, peacetime Roman army, medieval guilds, militia companies organized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636, Civilian Conservation Corps, Peace Corps, VISTA, AmeriCorps, City Year, Teach for America, Gap Year, Erasmus, FridaysForFuture, World War Zero, and Anagarikas.

All mobilization models might build in four stages: purpose, structure, resourcing, guidance. As we explore ways in which people have moved forward together throughout history, we may find ways to mobilize a successful response to climate change.

Overview Sources:

Belt and Road Initiative.

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk. “Water, Energy, Cities, Transport, Space: Using your Capstone to Build a Better Future through Science and Service.” Seminar. February 2019, International School Yangon: ISY, Myanmar.

Davidson, Frank P. and George S. Viereck, editors. Before America Decides: Foresight in Foreign Affairs. Harvard University Press, 1938 and Harvard/De Gruyter, e-dition, 2014. ISBN: 9780674594852.


Gates, Bill. “My Plan for Fighting Climate Change: Electricity, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Transportation, Building.” 17 October 2018. Blogpost.

James, William. “The Moral Equivalent of War.” Speech delivered at Stanford University, 1906.

Kennedy, John F. “Peace Corps Act,” Executive Order 10924, March 1961, authorized by United States Congress 21 September 1962.

Litwin, George, John J. Bray, Kathleen Lusk Brooke. Mobilizing the Organization: Bringing Strategy to Life. London: Prentice Hall/Pearson, 1996. ISBN: 0131488910.

Marks, David H. “New Directions in Engineering Education.” International Conference on the Future of Engineering Education. National University of Mexico. School of Engineering Alumni Association, Mexico City, Mexico, January 15-17, 1992.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Greetings to the CCC,” 8 July 1933. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Volume 13. Contributors: Franklin D.  Roosevelt, author, and Samuel Irving Rosenman, author. New York City: Random House, 1938-1950.

Rosenstock-Hussy, Eugen. “Modern Industry as a Restoration of Nature.” 11 January 1935. Harvard University, Lowell Institute.


World War Zero.


DYCKEN WAREN + Rijkswaterstaat – DIKE ARMY + Water Management

Without dikes, the Netherlands would be flooded to this extent. Map by Jan Arkesteijn, 2004. Image: wikimedia.



Spring rains and flooding plagued the lowlands of the Netherlands. Bishop van Zuden, ruler of West-Friesland commanded: “Everybody shall come to work at the dike on instruction of the bailiff or dike reeve.” (“ende alman sal ten menen werke comen op den dijc, dares hem die Baeiliu, of die Dijcgrave vermaent.”)

  • Letter from the Water Board of the Lekdijk Benedendams, 1405.

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century C.E., saw and described the peoples who, for half a millennium, had inhabited much of the present terrain of the Netherlands. Pliny recorded what had been established a hundred years before the traveler’s arrival: inland farmers had begun to construct dams in the tidal creeks to protect their land against high water. Pliny may have observed the Caninefates or Batavians who settled along the western coast; the Frisians lived in the northern portion along the Rhine and Meuse Rivers. About the time Pliny wrote, the Frisians had established something called “the dike peace,” a strongly enforced consensus that whenever a dike was endangered, family feuds and civil disturbances must cease forthwith so that all available people could be mobilized to reinforce the dikes Anyone who failed to respond was forced to renounce their property forever. Every family was allowed to keep one able-bodied person at home in times of response. In addition to those allowed to remain to defend the family’s home, also excused were the infirm, the clergy, and the bakers – people have to eat. It might be noted that maintaining a fire is easier than starting one, as the vestal virgins of ancient Rome learned. Bakers, who tended the village fire, may be said to be descendants of Prometheus.

Local communities came together to form Water Boards, which had, by common consent, wide powers of inspection, discipline, and governance. Examples of agreed stipulations of these water boards were the power to call out the local dike army whenever needed. The water board, a democratic organization, took root and remains even today a basic element and defense of the Netherlands. The water boards slowly received formal charters from the rulers of various districts. Because each village contributed to the upkeep of the dikes, the local committees were an efficient instrument of self-taxation.

God created the Earth, but the Dutch built the Netherlands – Proverb. Polders are pieces of land in low-lying areas that have been reclaimed from water by building dikes and drainage canals. Polders are found in coastal areas, and also near inland lakes and rivers.  Polder shown here is in an area otherwise below sea level. Image; wikimedia

Not all flood disaster response was local. Over time, the seven provinces of the area found the lack of a common river policy could be improved by establishment of a central water authority. In 1798, the Rijkswaterstaat, or water authority, became the planner and builder of macro flood-protection infrastructure consisting of dikes along shores and main rivers. The Rijkswaterstaat also managed land-reclamation projects. One of such achievements was the reclamation of the Lake of Haarlem. The lake had steadily increased in size over the centuries, threatening and sometimes flooding the nearby cities of Amsterdam and Leiden.

“Amsterdam at dusk.” Image: wikimedia commons.

In 1836, storm surges once again flooded Amsterdam and Leiden, causing deliberations about what kind of response would be most effective. In 1852, the Lake of Haarlem was finally drained using three steam-driven pumps. Today Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is situated on the very site of the former lake. The name Schiphol, meaning “ships’ hell” was used because of the many ships wrecked at this spot.

The hydrodynamic security of the Netherlands has been a continuous and intricate process. The two chamber of the States-General, the supreme legislative authority, continue to oversee the budget for water management, which requires one percent of the national income in an average year.

Netherlands’ budget for coastal flooding protection. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Netherlands may serve as an example for people living in low-lying coastal areas – totaling at least 60% of the world’s population. Rising seas will make coastal management an increasingly difficult matter. Will climate change require all coastal nations to allocate one percent to manage sea rise? Some estimate the costs will be higher. All the engineering masterpieces that protect coasts – dikes, dams, storm-surge harriers, pumping stations – must be designed, built, maintained, and sometimes rebuilt. Beaches and dunes must be conserved by replenishing and nourishing the sand, giving the coast its natural protection. And that is just maintaining.

Disaster response is very different from maintenance. Rising seas will cause periods of flooding that may call for temporary armies. Coastal communities could form Dike Armies, as part of a Climate Conservation Corps, for disaster response to sea rise. Should schools and universities in coastal locations encourage students who study water as an aspect of their capstone or thesis to strengthen knowledge by service learning as part of a water militia?


Cunniff, Shannon. “What we can learn from 1,000 years of Dutch flood management.” 19 August 2015. Environmental Defense Fund.

Huisman, Pieter, Frank P. Davidson, and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. “Protective Dikes and Land Reclamation.” Chapter 5, pages 47-62, Volume I, Building the World. Greenwood/ABC-CLIO 2006, ISBN: 0313333548.

Institute of Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Rijkswaterstaat, Netherlands. “Two Centuries of Experience in Water Resource Management. ” Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 2014.

“God created the world, but the Dutch built Holland.” Typology of Dikes: Sea, River, Polder, Lake, Canal, Defense, Dams and Storm Surge Barriers, Emergency Dikes.



Rome maintained an army. During peacetime, troops built infrastructure like roads and aqueducts. Pictured here, what Roman soldiers might have worn, displaying the signifier of the Eagle. PhotographerL Matthias Kabel, 2005

Modern military forces around the world represent considerable investment in resources both financial and human. Many attribute the power and strength of the Roman empire to its army. It was large – with 5,000 soldiers per legion, and as many as 50 legions stationed from the Tiber to points as far away as one could march, or ride in chariots or upon horses. Three legions were stationed in what is now the United Kingdom. There were also auxiliaries, recruited from groups of non-citizens that lived within Rome’s stated empire. This was a large pool of applicants: 90% of the Roman Empire’s population in the first century ce  were non-citizens. Finally, ranks included “number” who were allied units that fought as mercenaries, often led by aristocrats from neighboring tribes. The army lived together in settlements called “castra” that became a permanent part of the Roman landscape stretching form Yorkshire, England, to Masada, Israel.

Roman “castrum” army settlement barracks, Masada Roman Ruins, Masada, Israel. Photographer: David Shankbone. Image: wikimedia

With that many troops, Roman had a problem: when not waging war, how could these soldiers earn their considerable wages? Legion members were highly paid, provided with living quarters, benefits, and bonuses. When not at battle, soldiers trained, drilled, and practiced formations. Some served as Rome’s police force, keeping towns and settlements free from crime. But most of their time was spent building the infrastructure that allowed Rome to expand and prosper.

Bridges, canals, docks, aqueducts, roads, theaters – all these essentials of civilization were built by the peacetime army. It wasn’t just building. Soldiers did mining and worked in quarries. Soldiers cleared forests and drained marshes and swamps. They built new towns, temples, public buildings. Many craft-experts were recruited and hired; it was more economical to pay one workforce, the army, and have them do what would otherwise have been the work of private contractors. Because the Roman army could live on job-sites, they really were more of an armed construction crew. After they built the roads, soldiers worked as assistants to the toll-collectors on the public roads. Those who used the roads for commerce were expected to pay a fee whenever crossing a toll line. Military spending amounted to 50% of the government’s budget, so it was important to use human and financial resources to optimum effect.

What can we learn from the ancient Roman peacetime army that may apply to today’s large military budgets? Looking at the United States, numerically it is ranked 1 or 138 of countries in the world maintaining an army. In 2020, the American military budget called at $748 billion. Numbers of soldiers may be segmented into deployed  (210,000) and reserve (845,000). While the USA outspends any other country, China has more military people, with an estimated ground force of 975,000 and a total force of 2 million. China is second in spending. On the other end of the spectrum, the country with the smallest army is Vatican City with 110 who form the Swiss Guard.

Where can we get the human power needed to combat climate change? How will we response to sea rise and other climate disasters? The Dutch Dike Army is one model, voluntary disaster relief teams assembling when needed. Another model is the Roman Peacetime Army, legions of paid military who can function as “armed onsite construction crews.” In countries the have a standing army, and the expense of maintaining such a force, the Roman model might be effective. In the United States, nation that spends the most on military, maintaining a very large army might be a source of response to climate disasters impacting aging infrastructure: roads in need of rebuilding, bridges crumbling, rivers overflowing into flood plains, lakes and reservoirs like Lake Mead shrinking in times of drought. Where will we get the human power to combat climate change? the answer that may come into focus when staring down the barrel of a gun.

Duncan-Jones, Richard. Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy. 1990

Duncan-Jones, Richard.  Money and Government in the Roman Army. 1994.

Holder, Paul. Auxiliary Deployment in the Reign of Hadrian. 2003



Bank on Castle Street, London. Image: wikimedia.

We need a million new ideas to solve the climate crisis. Where will we find these innovations?

What if ideas to solve the future came from the very generation that must face and conquer climate change? Every year, 1.8 million graduates in North America complete a thesis or capstone. These brilliant ideas, some of the best and most refined work achieved as the culmination of an educational success, could be deposited into an idea bank. It would be a database the likes of the ancient Library of Alexandria, said to contain all the greatest ideas in the world at that time. Some of the most significant inventions and innovations were achieved by those consulting the scrolls of Alexandria’s depository. Is it time to create a digital equivalent? An idea bank?

Rising seas: Puerto Escondido, Mexico may lead the way with guidance from the University of the Sea (UMAR). Image: wikimedia.

Graduate students and professors of the University of the Sea, in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, are working with the team of Building the World to develop and launch an Idea Bank. The basic premise is that students would include in their thesis an environmental impact analysis of one of the five key factors in determining the future: water, energy, cities, transport, space. Working with a common text, a new book presenting problems and potential solutions to these five factors for the future, students would explore using a shared framework including case studies, systems models, laws, and research sources. Upon completion of their theses, students would deposit their findings in the Idea Bank, their deposit then becoming a virtual passbook that allows access and networkingwith like minds. The University of the Sea (UMAR) vision includes webinars, streaming conferences, and featured works of the month. There would be an annual prize awarded for the best thesis, its merit determined by its potential impact to build a better world.

Recognition for the Steering Committee of the Idea Bank, with appreciation for their vision and guidance includes: Iris Lissete Zárate Bustos, Juan Francisco Alarcón Hencio, Lourdes Yesenia Angeles Mendoza, Miguel Alejandro Orozco Rojas, Valery Itzxchel Estrada, chaired by Faculty Professor Charles E. Litwin.



Costa Rica is the location of the Earth Charter Initiative and the University for Peace. Here: “Playa Langosta” wikimedia.

Begun as a conversation and developed over a decade in the “most open and participatory consultation process every conducted in connection with an international document,” and now housed on a mountain top in Costa Rica, the Earth Charter was approved at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in March 2000 in Paris, France. While some might opine the focus is on the environment, it is both the “what” and the “how” that the Earth Charter addresses, seeing protection of the environment as part of rights, equity, and peace. The environment is the context for a major shift in civilization, a “transition to sustainable ways of living in a global community with the values of respect and care for the community of life.” (

The government of the Netherlands funded the startup of the Earth Charter Initiative, with $1.5 support, but now the Earth Charter Fund receives donation to an Earth Charter Bank Account managed by the University for Peace in Costa Rica.

University for Peace, Costa Rica. Image: wikimedia.

The University for Peace was created by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 35/55, with an alumni population of over 2,000 from 120 nations. UPEACE offers masters and doctoral programs. It’s headquartered in Costa Rica, a country that disbanded its army in 1948. Costa Rica also hosted first permanent international tribunal that permitted individuals to initiate legal action against states, nations, and countries that violated international law and human rights. Discussion of a University for Peace were owned by President of Costa Rica Rodrigo Carazo. In 1980, on 5 December, the United Nations adopted Resolution 35/55/ also known as the International Agreement for the Establishment of the University of Peace and the Charter of the University. University for Peace is located on a mountaintop in Costa Rica.

The University for Peace may be one of the few educational institutions with a dedicated global mission. With only 20 years completed and 2,000 alumni, the University for Peace may become increasingly central to the future, of education and of world sustainability.

How can alumni, students, and faculty of the University for Peace develop increased leadership?





November 22, 2019
by buildingtheworld

ENERGY: Building with the Sun

“August 31, 2012 Solar Corona CME.” Image: NASA Goddard Flight Center, wikimedia.

Heliogen: using solar to build the future. Solar roofs are not new: houses and office buildings often top with photovoltaic panels. Paris has decreed that new construction must have either a solar or green roof. Solar panels also are common in space. But until recently, it has not been possible to use solar technology to generate the extreme heat needed to produce building materials – cement, steel, glass. Heliogen, founded by CEO Bill Gross, backed by Patrick Soon-Shiong (physician and owner of the Los Angeles Times) and Bill Gates (Microsoft), uses artificial intelligence and mirrors to capture sunlight in such concentrations that high heat needed for industrial processes can now be generated by the sun. It’s clean, and the sun’s energy is free: both factors far outshine using fossil fuels for industrial construction that requires extremely high heat. In fact, Heliogen’s technology will be equivalent o 25% of the heat found on the surface of the sun itself. Building houses, schools, hospitals, and offices generates 20% of global emissions. Heliogen may soon go public, and is now seeking customers like cement companies who want what the company calls “green heat.”

Egan, Matt. “Secretive energy startup backed by Bill Gates achieves solar breakthrough,” 19 November 2019. CNN Business.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Glaser, Peter E. “Solar Power from Space: US3781647A – Method and apparatus for converting solar radiation to electrical power.”

Heliogen. “Replacing Fuel with Sunlight.”

Rodgers, Lucy. “Climate change: The massive CO2 emitter you may not know about.” 17 December 2018,

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

July 14, 2019
by buildingtheworld

CITIES: Dangers in Deltas

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. “KatrinaNewOrleansFlooded” by Kyle Niemi, U.S. Coast Guard, 29 August 2005. Image: wikimedia commons.

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA: it’s an unprecedented situation. New Orleans, a city on the Mississippi River Delta, is under threat. The river, normally about 7 feet high in the summertime, sits presently at 16 feet, the result of spring flooding along the waterway. Add to that a virulent storm barreling towards the city, driving a surge of 2 to 3 feet. If so, the river may crest at 17 feet. On land, there may be as much as 10-15 inches of rain from the storm, a dangerous followup to the 9 inch downpour that inundated the area the same week. Storm storage, high rivers, and rain – it’s a deadly combination. Delta cities, like New Orleans, may be in peril with climate change.

Cities, throughout history, have been built on coasts, offering access to trade through ports and waterways.  Singapore may be the quintessential city upon the waters, developed as one of the first Specialized Economic Zones. New York (and Brooklyn) became leading business centers when their place on the Atlantic Ocean became linked to inland towns, the the Great Lakes, through the Erie Canal. But now, rising seas, threaten coastal cities. In 2019, the Northeast Atlantic will experience a 140% increase in coastal flooding, compared with two decades ago. Worse still, the Southeast will suffer a 190% flood increase, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And that’s just the USA.

Maeslantkering, floodgates in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Image: wikimedia.

Worldwide, cities are sinking and seas are rising; Jakarta, Indonesia may suffer some of the the worst effects of climate change; Indonesia’s capital might need to relocate. According to the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2019, 90% of all coastal areas in the world will be affected by climate change; some cities will combat sea rise 1/3rd above mean level. The bigger the cities (more heavy buildings), deeper sinking.

Delta cities, like New Orleans, are in danger; the list includes:




Ho Chi Minh City

Hong Kong




New Orleans

New York




Source: Muggah, 2019. World Economic Forum 2019 states “Even if we keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade by 2050, at least 570 cities will be damaged.” That means people, drinking water and sanitation, mass transit, power, roads, homes, businesses, hospitals, schools.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, a Delta City. Image: wikimedia.

It’s a sad business but a big one: coastal flooding could threaten 2 million homes in the United States, worth $882 billion. Worldwide, rebuilding or relocating coastal cities will take cause spending of $100, 000 Billion – per year. Is there any hope? Some historians observe that change and innovation  often are the result of crisis, citing examples as diverse as the Roman Aqueducts in response to a water crisis when the Tiber became not only polluted but endangered by terrorism (a threat of an enemy poisoning of the city’s water supply) to the intense research and development of the Manhattan Project resulting in the harnessing of Atomic Energy. Today, we face a similarly serious threat: will innovation save the day, or the century?

Rising seas, increasingly intense storms and hurricanes, are among forces eroding coastal cities, like New Orleans (or Jakarta). Saving sinking cities will demand significant innovations in urban harbors and cityscapes; cities with canals may lead the way to a better future. According to Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Netherlands and team leader of Rebuild by Design, “Worldwide, water is the connecting issue, the number one global risk and the opportunity for comprehensive cultural change.”

Andone, Dakin, Paul P. Murphy, Brandon Miller. “New Orleans faces a never-before-seen problem with Tropical Storm Barry. July 12, 2019. CNN.

Brown, Justine. “Innovative Plans Help Cities Effectively Live With Water.” 9 September 2014. Recovery: Emergency Management.

Kusnetz, Nicholas. “Sea Level Rise is Creeping into Coastal Cities. Saving Them Won’t Be Cheap.” 28 December 2017. Inside Climate News.

Lemperiere, Francois and Luc Deroo. “Peut on éviter les inondations à Paris?” January 2018. Symposium du DCBR: comité français des barrages et réservoirs.

Lou, Michelle. “High-tide flooding is only going to get worse, NOAA says.” 10 July 2019. CNN. html.

Muggah, Robert. “The world’s coastal cities are going under. Here’s how some are fighting back.” 16 January 2019. World Economic Forum.

NOAA, “2018 State of U.S. High Tide Flooding with a 2019 Outlook.” June 2019.

Radford, Tim. “Coastal flooding ‘may cost $100,000 BN a year by 2100.” 11 February 2014. Climate News Network.


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


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