Building the World

August 11, 2022
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ENERGY: Mine your own business

Are old coal mines the new gold mines? Image: “Round Mountain Gold Mine” by Patrick Huber, 2008. Creative commons license: 2.0. Included with appreciation.

As we transition from coal, what will happen to those old mines? Two approaches are worth considering. One is a necessary expense; the other is a new kind of gold mine.

Days of the California Gold Rush (1848-1865) began an era of intense and often unregulated mining. In a frenzy of attack, 370 tons of gold worth (in today’s value) $16 billion were unearthed. In the United States, the 1872 General Mining Act regulated gold mines opened up by the Gold Rush, as well mines for extracting substances including lithium – needed today for batteries powering electric vehicles. Current competition for lithium mining rights is active across the United States, and the world. But what happens afterwards?

Will we soon see the end of coal mining? Image: “Coal mining,” illustration from The Graphic, 1871. Image: wikimedia. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

When a mine is depleted, it is often abandoned. In the U.S., there are 390,000 abandoned mines on federal land. More than 67,000 present physical dangers; 22,000 pose environmental risks. Mines seep metals and toxic materials into streams and rivers, polluting drinking water for humans and wildlife. Moreover, mines on sovereign land of original Native Indigenous Americans are insufficiently protected. From 2008 to 2017, the U.S. spent $2.9 billion addressing mining problems. Could cleaning up old mines become profitable? There is precedent. The Abandoned Mine Land Fund, instituted in 1977 as a mandate for the coal industry to clean up abandoned mines and upgraded by an addition proposed by Representative Liz Cheney, yielded not only improved environmental and health benefits but fees for future use; by 2020, more than $11 billion poured into the fund. What should we do with the money? Is there an incentive leading to opportunity?

Coal-fired plants are already wired to the grid. Close the mine but keep the infrastructure. Image: “Electricity Grid Schematic,” by M. Bizon, 2010. Based on Datei: Stromversongung. Image: wikimedia 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Coal-fired plants are essential for the future: not for coal, but for their existing infrastructure. Coal-fired plants are wired to the grid. Getting permit permissions is a lengthy process;  building grid connectivity infrastructure is expensive. Using existing wired infrastructure may be one answer. In the United States, former coal-fired plants are now being repurposed as battery, solar, and wind facilities. Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, and North Dakota are among states phasing out coal while turning plants into renewable energy centers. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, seaside coal plants already wired to the grid are now being connected to offshore wind energy. Worldwide, there are 8,000 coal-fired power plants: China has 1,000; India has 285; the USA has 240. All of those are candidates for energy reuse and revitalization.

Can we turn old coal mines into a new form of gold mine? Gold from the sun? Image: “Saulés elektriné” by Aiseinau, 2021. Creative commons license. Included with appreciation.

Mining is an ancient practice but its environmental safeguards need an upgrade, both in the United States and worldwide. New mines for lithium and other materials may develop. Coal mines will close but can serve a new goal. How can owners of coal-fired plants benefit from this opportunity? Repurposing coal-fired plants – already wired to the grid – to support renewable energy could turn what is now a liability into a new kind of gold mine.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Phoenix Rising: The future of coal-fired plants and coal mining.” Renewing the World: Energy. Forthcoming. For related information, https://renewingtheworld.com

Heinrich, Martin and Chris Wood. “This mining law is 150 years old. We really need to modernize it.” 28 July 2022. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/28/opinion/clean-energy-mining-pollution.html?referringSource-articleShare

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Queued up: Characteristics of power plants seeking transmission interconnection.” 2021. https://emp.lbl.gob/queues

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “Power plants seeking transmission connection – interactive data visualization link.” https://emp.lbl.gov/generation-storage-and-hybrid-capacity

McGowan, Elizabeth. “Federal funds to help turn Virginia coal mine into solar farm.” 8 March 2019. Energy News. https://energynews.us/2019/03/08/virginia-solar-farm-among-10-projects-to-receive-mineland-reuse-funds/

Misciagna, Vanessa. “A county torn over lithium mining could set the tone as America looks for renewable energy sources.” 15 April 2020. The Denver Channel. https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/national-politics/the-race/a-county-torn-over-lithium-mining-could-set-the-tone-as-america-looks-for-renewable-energy-sources

Shao, Elena. “In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal in U.S..” 13 May 2020. The New York Times. https://nytimes.com/2022/07/15/climate/coronavirus-coal-electricity-renewables.html?referringSource=articleShare

State of Illinois. “Coal-to-Solar Program.” 2022. https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/Media/PressReleases/Pages/PR0220601.aspx

United States. Government Accountability Office. “Abandoned Hardrock Mines.” March 2020. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-20-238.pdf

United States, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. “Status of the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund (AML Fund).” Amendment initiated by Representative Liz Cheney. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2462/text

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

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August 3, 2022
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CITIES: Naming Heatwaves

Will Los Angeles be the first American city to name heat waves? Image: “Sunset on the city of Los Angeles, California.” by Censor, 2016. Wikimedia/Unsplash – CC0 1.0 dedicated to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

We name hurricanes and cyclones. Putting a face and name on the alert of coming danger helps people to prepare. We name wildfires for the same reason. Now, in this new normal of climate change, we are beginning to name heatwaves – in and for cities.

Cities are hotter, forming “heat islands.” Image: NOAA, public domain, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Because heatwaves are felt most vividly in cities, the idea of naming heatwaves is now being considered by Los Angeles, California. That city experienced 6 dangerous heatwaves between 1998 – 2000; now, there will be more, with 22 annually from 2020 to 2050. In 2020, hospitals saw a tenfold increase in emergency room visits during heat spells in Los Angeles.

How would heatwaves be named? Using the model of hurricanes, a number of factors would be assessed: heat overall, night-time heat, and temperature trends. With these factors, an impending heatwave would be declared along a 1-3 scale.

“3rd” no ascribed author. Public Domain. From wikimedia commons. Included with appreciation.

Each city would have different evaluations. When heat hits a city that rarely experiences scorching temperatures, people are less prepared. In Miami, Florida, USA, where “heat season” is already a term for the period from May – October, people are equipped with air conditioners and fans. In days before climate became a crisis, heat waves inspired songs. But the recent UK heatwave found many people in London without air conditioning, something rarely needed in the British Isles. London’s Luton airport had to suspend flights when July 2022 heat melted a runway.

Cities of London and Manchester suffered extreme heat in July 2022. Image: “UK heatwave weather warnings July 2022.” from Met Office, Open Government Licence v3.0. Included with appreciation,

Seville, Spain, where heat is common, has begun to name heatwaves. Seville is the first global city to do so. Seville decided to start at the end of the alphabet, rather than at the beginning as is traditional with hurricanes. Accordingly, “Zoe” arrived in July, with temperatures of 109F (43C), she was considered a category 3 – the highest designation. In the United States, four states are testing the heatwave naming system: Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Will Seville, Spain lead the way? Image: “La Plaza de Espana de Sevilla,” by Francisco Colinet, 2013. Wikimedia Creative Commons CC by SA 3.0 es. Included with appreciation.

Seville’s system was developed with the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. Seville’s former mayor Juan Espadas praised the system “encouraging other cities in the world to also undertake this great endeavor.” (Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center) What do you think about naming heatwaves? How should names be chosen?

MORE:

Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock). “Seville Mayor Juan Espadas announces heatwave naming and categorization initiative.” 18 October 2021. https://onebillionresilient.org/2021/10/18/seville-mayor-juan-espadas-announces-heatwave-naming-and-categorization-initiative/

Debusmann, Bernd, Jr. “Climate change: Will naming heatwaves save lives?” July 30. 2022. BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-62297346

Monroe, Marilyn. “We’re Having a Heat Wave.” YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1xe9gi2gIU

National Ocean Service. “Why do we name tropical storms and hurricanes?” NOAA. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/storm-names.html

National Public Radio. “How do wildfires get their names?” 26 August 2015. Audio and Transcript: https://www.npr.org/2015/08/26/434821450/how-do-wildfires-get-their-names-the-national-park-service-explains

Osborne, Margaret. “‘Zoe’ becomes the world’s first named heat wave.” 2 August 2022. Smithsonian Magazine.

World Meteorological Organization. “Tropical Cyclone Naming.” https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/focus-areas/natural-hazards-and-disaster-risk-reduction/tropical-cyclones/Naming

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

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July 29, 2022
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ENERGY: Agreeing on a better future

 

U.S. leaders finally agree on climate. Image: “Handshake icon” by Masur, 2007. Wikimedia creative commons public domain. Included with appreciation.

The largest energy investment in United States history just made history. Climate and energy policy, worth $369 billion, has been agreed. Incentives and actions in the bill are estimated to lower American carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

“High Park Wildfire, USA.” Image from U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012. Wikimedia public domain, included with appreciation.

It’s not a minute too soon. At a time when Americans are battling drought, wildfires, flooding, heatwaves so intense that roads are melting, climate policy has grown urgent. And costly. The insurance industry reports costs of $39 billion in climate-related damage in the first half of 2022; that’s up from $31 billion just a year ago. Germany is turning off hot water in public taps, and all of Europe is bracing for a winter without Russian energy. The UK announced sea-level rise increased faster and more than expected. Nations, and regions, must work together to share energy resources and transitions.

The Manhattan Project marshaled the cooperation and resources of a nation. Image: “Manhattan Project Map” by Liandrei, 2011. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Americans have risen to the challenge of urgent energy response before. The Manhattan Project, spurred by fear of disaster and damage yet unknown to humankind, marshaled the resources of a nation. The result was a new form of energy.  The Clean Air Act of 1990 was the last big American environmental legislation: this will top that, bringing a plethora of incentives, subsidies and taxes. Some environmentalists lament one provision allowing drilling on 2 million acres of public land and 60 million acres of offshore seabed before use for renewable energy. While there are EV credits, the bill lacks similar encouragement for bikes, especially ebikes, knocking off an earlier credit of $900 in the earlier plan.

Here are some bill provisions, still pending passage:

POWER PLANTS – tax credits for zero-carbon power including battery, geothermal, nuclear, solar, wind.

CARBON SEQUESTRATION – tax credits for carbon capture.

EV – Buy a new electric car and get $7,500 off; buy a used Ev and get $4,000 off.

ENERGY EFFICIENT HOMES – the bill allocates $9billion for new energy-saving appliances, solar roofs, new air conditioning, heat pumps.

CLEAN MANUFACTURING –  for domestic production of batteries, or key minerals like lithium, solar panels, or wind turbines, there is $60 billion waiting, plus an additional $500 million to assist with heat pumps and key minerals.

METHANE MITIGATION – plugging leaks from gas and oil wells, pipelines is key to stopping methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. This provision works by penalty – $900 per metric ton of emissions over federal limits by 2024, moving to $1,500 in 2026. On the plus side, $20 billion for farmers to reduce cow burps and agricultural gases.

DOING GOOD IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD – $60 billion for communities unfairly burdened by climate change.

In November 2022, the world will reconvene for COP 27 to report climate action steps. If passed into law, this new agreement will advance climate response for the United helping to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #13 – Climate Action.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal – CLIMATE ACTION. Image: United Nations, 2016. Wikimedia public domain. Included with appreciation.

Environmental Protection Agency, United States (EPA). “Clean Air Act.” 1990. https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/clean-air-act-text

Nilsen, Ella. “Clean energy package would be biggest legislative climate investment in US history.” 28 July 2022. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/28/politics/climate-deal-joe-manchin/index.html

Shao, Elena and Brad Plumer. “Seven Key Provisions in the Climate Deal.” 28 July 2022. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/28/climate/biden-climate-deal-key-provisions.html?referringSource=articleShare

Zipper, David. “There’s a maddening omission in the Senate Climate Bill: Congressional Democrats cannot imagine a world in which fewer people drive cars.” 29 July 2022. Slate.com. https://slate.com/business/2022/07/climate-bill-manchin-schumer-senate-ebikes-evs-cars.html

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

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July 22, 2022
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TRANSPORT: Heat melts airport runway

“Aircraft landing at Zurich International Airport” by Kuhnmi_DSC-3711.2, 2014. Creative Commons license 2.0, wikimedia. Included with appreciaiton.

Airline woes have lately taken a toll on passengers, crew, aircraft maintenance, and profits. But during this week’s heat wave, an airport runway melted. When London, England, UK suffered a temperature rise to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), Luton airport had to suspend flights to repair a runway damaged by intense heat. Transport infrastructure is made of materials susceptible to heat. Roads buckle, and airport runways are specialized roads.

“Hammersmith Bridge, 1827.” Original drawing scanned by Project Gutenberg. Public Domain, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Bridges are also vulnerable. City of famed London Bridge saw some structures falling down. Hammersmith Bridge was wrapped, Cristo style, in a cooling material designed to reflect sunlight away. The temperature control system, costing about half-million dollars (420,000 Pounds), is designed to keep the 135-year-old bridge from melting and placing an untenable load on its support pedestals that are made of cast-iron, also vulnerable to heat.

“Three Rail Tracks” by photographer G-Man, 2003. Dedicated to the public domain. Wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Railways become hot grids when sunlight sears the rails. With the high ambient temperatures combining with sun rays on the rails, the heat reaches 48 Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). The solution? Painting the rails white.

Wildfires cause damage to people, animals, plants, and also to the atmosphere. “Carbon Monoxide from Amazon Wildfires in 2019.” NASA/JPL-Caltech. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

In Europe and the UK, heat is causing wildfires: 27,000 acres scorched in southwestern France, causing 32,000 people to leave their homes. Spain’s wildfires caused the state railway to suspend service; in Portugal, one person died every 40 minutes between July 7-13. In the United States, over 100 million people are sweltering in record-breaking heat. In China, heat melted the roof of the museum housing cultural treasures of the ancient Forbidden City. Sadly, each season brings the same dangers and the same warning: according to World Weather Attribution (WWA), the 2021 heat wave was “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.” In addition to human and natural resources suffering, heat waves damage economies: projected economic impacts in Europe by 2060 are expected to increase five-fold (García-León 2021).

“How a heat wave forms.” by U.S. weather.gov. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons. With appreciation.

Bad as that news is, it is also an indication of the potential savings – in human, natural, and economic resources – of innovations that can halt and reverse climate change – and also innovations in materials more suitable to a warming world. Even with climate goals met, warming will continue for some decades. Aging transport infrastructure is due for rebuilding: bridges, roads, and runways need an upgrade. What kinds of materials can be developed for a changing climate?

García-León, David, et al., “Current and projected regional economic impacts of heatwaves in Europe.” Nat Commun 12, 5807 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-26050-z

Hammersmith & Fulham Council. “Keeping Hammersmith Bridge cool- and open – in the heatwave.” 13 July 2022. https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/articles/news/2022/07/keeping-hammersmith-bridge-cool-and-open-heatwave

National Weather Service, NOAA. “WetBulb Globe Temperature.” https://www.weather.gov/tsa/wbgt

Vera, Amir. “It’s so hot, roads are buckling, they’re putting foil on a bridge, and roofs are melting around the world.” 22 July 2022. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/21/weather/global-infrastructure-its-so-hot-extreme-heat/index.html

World Weather Attribution (WWA). “Western North American extreme heat virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.” 7 July 2021. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/western-north-american-extreme-heat-virtually-impossible-without-human-caused-climate-change/

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

 

 

 

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July 12, 2022
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SPACE: Webb Opens New Window to the Universe

“Webb’s First Deep Field image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.” 9 July 2022. Image from NASA, public domain. Included with appreciation to NASA and Webb team.

July 1969, humans first set foot on the moon. James Webb led NASA through the decade of the 1960s, preparing rockets, orbital spacecraft, and lunar landers that would deliver Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (with Mike Collins flying the spacecraft that would circle while the two explored) and bring the whole crew back to Earth. The James Webb telescope, Hubble’s successor launched in December 2021, features 18 mirror segments and multiple scientific instruments that are able to coordinate views of the universe into one high resolution image. One of the most important instruments is MIRI (Mid-Infrared) that has a camera and a spectrograph that can see light in the mid-range infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum wavelength of 5-28 microns. That range allows Webb to see red-shifting light of new stars, distant galaxies, and even the edge of the Kuiper Belt of the outer Solar System, just beyond Neptune. Watch NASA’s event, revealing the first Webb views of the universe, here:

Bartels, Meghan. “Gallery: James Webb Space Telescope’s 1st photos.” 13 July 2022. Space.com. https://www.space.com/james-webb-space-telescope-first-photos

Brooke, K. Lusk and Zoë Quinn. “SPACE: Journey to the beginning of the universe.” Building thee World Blog 28 December 2021. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2021/12/28/space-journey-to-the-beginning-of-the-universe/

NASA, “Webb Reveal,” 12 July 2022. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-updates-coverage-for-webb-telescope-s-first-images-reveal

NASA, “Mid-infrared instrument (MIRI).” https://webb.nasa.gov/content/observatory/instruments/miri.html

NASA, “What is the Kuiper Belt?” https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/kuiper-belt/en/

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July 9, 2022
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WATER: Po River Crisis

Po RIver of Italy. Illustration from wikipedia. Public Domain.

How can you grow the bountiful produce so treasured by Italy, and the world, in salty water? The worst drought in 70 years, caused by lack of snow and dearth of rain in Italy’s Po River valley, is choking once-verdant farmland. The Po River is 450 miles (650 kilometers) long, birthed in the Alps and running to the Adriatic Sea. One-third of Italy’s population lives near and depends upon the Po River, savoring the bounty of its farmland. Coursing fresh water from the Po usually overwhelms any drifting waves from the Adriatic, but with the Po’s drought, salty seawater is entering at a rate driving inland as far as 18 miles (30 kilometers). Crops are suffering, and so are cucina povera specialities like manzo all’olio or pisarei e faso.

“Italian cuisine,” by photographer who dedicated this image to the public domain and remains unknown. From wikimedia.

Warming weather and drought have also wreaked havoc elsewhere in Italy. The Marmolada glacier in the Italian Alps collapsed on 4 July 2022, killing seven hikers, including two experienced mountain guides. in an avalanche of melting snow mixed with rocks. Prime Minister Mario Draghi stated the cause of the tragedy was climate change. Temperatures in the area have reduced glaciers by half since warming began. More avalanches are feared.

“View of the Marmolada Glacier” taken by photographer of the Italian army circa 1915-1918. Source: www.esercito.difesa.it. Creative Commons license 2.5. With appreciation to the Italian Army.

Hydroelectricity is also affected by drought. One-fifth of Italy’s energy comes from hydroelectric facilities, mainly located in the mountains. In the first four months of 2022, hydro power fell 40% (compared with 2021) due to drought. A water plant in Piacenza was closed on 21 June due to low water levels of the Po, the river that provides the water for the hydroelectric plant. At a time when Europe is trying to reduce dependence on imported energy, hydro power is essential.

Keeping the lights in Piacenza’s magnificent cultural treasures, homes, and businesses.  Image: “Teatro Piacenza,” by photographer Lorenzo Gaudenzi, 2010. Creative commons license 3.0. With appreciation.

What can be done? For now, a state of emergency declaration will truck water to 125 towns that must ration drinking water. In agricultural areas, drought-tolerant crops may become the new normal. Hydroelectricity may need a rethink and redesign: the Colorado River, Lake Mead, and the Hoover Dam have recently shown hydroelectric threats. Regarding melting glaciers, there is no quick fix. Water systems may be ready for Italian creativity and innovation, like those developed by ancient Romans who built the Aqueducts. Starting in 313 bce, Romans built 11 aqueducts, yielding about 200 gallons (750 liters) per person per day. That is more than the average American has: in 1975, the average was 150 gallons (563 liters) per day; in 2021, it was down to 115 gallons. Ancient Rome had such an abundance of water that the city became known for its fountains; composer Respighi’s Fountains of Rome.

Blackman, Deane R. and A. Trevor Hodge, eds. Frontinus’ Legacy: Essays on Frontinus’ De Aquis Urbis Romae. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

Brooke, K. Lusk. Renewing the World: Water. Cambridge: Harvard Book Store, 2022. ISBN: 9798985035919. https://renewingtheworld.com

Evans, Harry B. Water Distribution in Ancient Rome. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Parker, Jessica. “Italians wait for rain where longest river runs dry” BBC 8 July 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-62096162

Patel, Kasha. “”Scenes from Italy’s worst drought in 70 years.” 7 July 2022. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/drought-italy-po-worst-water/

Respighi, Ottorino. Fountains of Rome. Performed by Berlin Philharmonic. https://youtu.be/eGZ9oslaeak

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

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June 29, 2022
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SPACE: Sunny Side UP

“Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) Shows Sun’s Rainbow of Wavelengths.” NASA, 2013. Image based on SDO data. Wikimedia. Public Domain. Included with appreciation to NASA.

It’s summer, season of the sun. On June 29, 2022, Nasa‘s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), usually monitoring the sun for signs of solar radiation that affect Earth, saw something new. A solar eclipse cloaked 67% of the orb, backlighting mountains on the moon. The sun is a central part of our system, both on Earth and in space: hence the name (from Latin for sun, “sol”) solar system.

“Solar energetic particles” by NASA STEREO. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation to NASA.

Space weather affects Earth in many ways. One example is the impact on satellites, or even terrestrial power lines, when the sun’s corona releases charged particles. As we send more satellites into orbit, the sun’s particle emissions and radiation will become increasingly important.

“Aurora Australis From ISS.” Aurora Borealis and Australis can be seen from the International Space Station (ISS). This image was taken by ISS crew on 21 June 2010. Image: wikimedia, public domain. With appreciation to ISS.

On a more aesthetic note, these are the same particles that cause the Northern Lights.

Dobrijevic, Daisy. “Space weather: What is it and how is it predicted?” 24 June 2022. Space.com. https://www.space.com/space-weather

Howell, Elizabeth. “NASA sun mission spots stunning solar eclipse in space.” 29 June 2022. Space.com. https://www.space.com/solar-eclipse-seen-from-space-june-2022

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June 24, 2022
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TRANSPORT: Metaverse Navigation Coordinates

“Mixed Reality with a Virtual Reality Headset.” by Pierre-Faure, 2017. Dedicated to public domain use, wikimedia. With appreciation.

The Metaverse has established a forum for shared standards. What is the role of standards in technological advancement?

The Grand Canal of China transformed a region into a nation, partly by transport and partly by shared standards. The internal waterway, begun in 600 bce and stretching 1, 118 miles (1,800 kilometers), resulted in a communication network linking formerly disparate states, with a shared waterway. Along with the network came a newly standardized written language to be used for governance, trade, and by all navigating the waterway. Some say the Grand Canal was the internet of its time – both a new thoroughfare and a new standard.

The Grand Canal resulted in a new standard for written language. “Chinese characters for Grand Canal,” by White Whirlwind, dedicated to the public domain. Wikimedia. With appreciation.

Our present internet is also the result of shared communication standards. On 29 October 1969, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn built upon the packet switching capability, developed by the United States Department of Defense’s network called ARPANET, to introduce new standards: Internet Protocol address (IP address) and Domain Name System (DNS), coordinated by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Soon, another standard, World Wide Web, was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at Cern in 1989, becoming the world’s most used software platform. The World Wide Web entered into to public use in 1991: Cern opened universal access to code and protocols royalty-free in 1993. Berners-Lee is now director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and director of the World Wide Web Foundation.

The term “metaverse” was first seen in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Image: wikimedia and Bantam Books, with appreciation.

The term “metaverse” came into parlance (a combo of “meta” and “universe” described in a 1992 science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson called Snow Crash. In that novel, the metaverse is a wide road called the Street. Since then, the term has become associated with virtual reality, and supporting technology and software. Since then, the World Wide Web (that created the familiar “www” letters introducing a website) morphed into Web3. Video games, especially those using the 2003 virtual world Second Life are sometimes referred to as the first actual metaverse. In 2021, Facebook renamed itself Meta Platforms Inc., announcing its direction to exploration of the metaverse. Crypto began to rival paper and metal. Avatars came to life.

“Sintel face morph” from open source Sintel. Courtesy of Sintel and Zach Copley. Creative Commons 3.0. With appreciation.

In the metaverse, time can become virtual. Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, offers an augmented reality (AR) interface between a live performance of Ted Shawn’s “Dance of the Ages” and archival footage of the 1938 original performance. Ted Shawn is dancing in 1938 and in 2022 – at the same time.

“Ted Shawn lays his head on Jacob’s Pillow Rock” from archives of Jacob’s Pillow, Creative Commons 3.0, Wikimedia. Included with appreciation to Jacob’s Pillow.

Audience members scan a QR code to access footage of the historic 1938 dance masterpiece, while at the same time enjoying a contemporary rendition. Jacob’s Pillow and the Knight Foundation worked with Adam Weinert and Dancers to bring ‘then and now’ into the same moment. For a preview, see this clip.

The metaverse – from VR headseats to QR codes to crypto currencies – works through acceleration and adoption of shared standards, terminology, and interoperability. Like the Chinese scripted language of the ancient Grand Canal, shared standards are the foundations of new eras.  That’s why this week’s announcement by the Metaverse Standards Forum of cooperation and coordination of international standards is so significant.Enter here.

Ballentine, Claire and Misyrlena Egkolfogoulou. “The Metaverse Requires a Whole New Vocabulary to Navigate Web3. 8 April 2022. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-08/what-s-the-metaverse-web3-terms-for-a-new-virtual-world

Jacob’s Pillow. https://www.jacobspillow.org

Metaverse Standards Forum. “Where leading standards organizations and companies cooperative to foster interoperability standards for an open metaverse.” https://metaverse-standards.org

Paul, Katie. “Meta and other tech giants form metaverse standards body, without Apple.” 21 June 2022. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/technology/meta-other-tech-giants-form-metaverse-standards-body-without-apple-2022-06-21/

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. 1992 ISBN: 055308853X.

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

 

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June 16, 2022
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WATER and ENERGY: Beyond a Drought

June 2022: an early heat wave intensifies drought. Image: “Heat Wave in United States June 13-19, 2021,” by NOAA. Public Domain, creative commons. Included with appreciation to NOAA.

Is it climate change, or just a heat wave? Maybe the former is intensifying the latter. This week, 60 million people in the United States are enduring extreme heat. Texas broke a heat record on June 12 as the electrical grid strained with the number of people turning on air conditioners. Families noted unusual new residents as outdoor insects crawled into any available shelter to escape sweltering heat. Wildfires sparked: more than 30 recent conflagrations burned one million American acres.

Drought may impact hydroelectricity. Image: “Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, – 2007” by photographer Waycool27, and dedicated to the public domain by the photographer. Included with appreciation.

Heat waves add to concern about drought, an ongoing challenge. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest water reservoir, recently marked its lowest level on record since 1930. The Colorado River, source of Lake Mead’s water, recently reported historic new water shortages, triggering enforced reductions along the Upper and Lower Basin states. Now 143 feet below the target full level, Lake Mead’s drop is as deep as the Statue of Liberty is high. That water drop threatens the water supply of millions of residents, farmers, industrial operations, and others. At 36% capacity, if the water in Lake Mead continues to fall (it has been losing more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – every day – for the last 22 years), the hydropower capability of the Hoover Dam (which formed Lake Mead) will also be threatened. Engineers and scientists are watching: if Lake Mead drops another 175 feet, the Hoover Dam will reach “dead pool” (895 feet) and the great dam will fall silent. Because 90% of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead, that city will not only have less electricity but very little water. (Ramirez et al., 2021)

“Tennessee Valley Authority” Image 2977 by TVA, 2018. This image is the public domain and included with appreciation.

It’s not just Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam that are of concern due to heat and drought. The Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s first hydroelectric major achievements, warned customers both residential and commercial to turn off the lights. Nashville Electric Service asked people to turn down air conditioning. Itaipú, harnessing the Paraná River, has similarly found drought threatening its hydroelectric capability.

“Talbingo Dam of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric.” There are 16 dams in the system. Photograph by AYArktos, dedicated to the public domain, creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Hydroelectricity, as the term indicates, is dependent upon water. Australia recently announced Snowy Hydro 2.0, in an effort to double electrical output of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric. But the snowy part is problematic now that climate change is threatening snowmelt. Further concern is that 35% percent of the “Australian Alps” have seen wetland loss. Now, snow cover may reduce by 20% to as much as 60%.

What happens if water becomes non-renewable? Image: “Dry riverbed in California,” by NOAA, 2009. Included with appreciation.

Drought has serious consequences for agriculture, habitation, and now hydroelectricity. Hydroelectric power is one of the earliest and most widely applied methods of generating electricity from renewable sources. What happens if or when water becomes non-renewable?

Daley, Beth et al., “Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains.” 22 March 2017. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/snowy-hydro-scheme-will-be-left-high-and-dry-unless-we-look-after-the-mountains-74830

David, Molly. “Nashville Electric Service asks customers to help lessen energy use during high temperatures.” The Tennessean. 13 June 2022. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2022/06/13/heat-wave-tennessee-2022-nashville-electric-service-customers-conserve-power/7613867001/

Ramirez, Rachel, Pedram Javaheri, Drew Kann. “The shocking numbers behind the Lake Mead drought crisis.” 17 June 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/cnn-climate

Spang, Edward, William Moomaw, Kelly Gallagher, Paul Kirshen, David H. Marks. “The water consumption of energy production: An international comparison.” 2014. Environmental Research Letters. 9. 105002. 10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002 and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266620784_The_water_consumption_of_energy_production_An_international_comparison

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

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June 9, 2022
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ENERGY: Taxing the air (from cows and sheep)

Can taxing cows help fulfill the Global Methane Pledge? Image: “Two Cows” by photographer Kaptain, 2005. Creative Commons wikimedia CC1.0. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer; included with appreciation.

Carbon taxing is widely discussed, but New Zealand may be the first to tax a source of methane emissions usually excluded from discussions around bank and government conference rooms. The new source of carbon taxes? Cows and sheep.

Glasgow, Scotland, site of COP26 and the Global Methane Pledge. Image: “University of Glasgow,” U.S. Library of Congress, circa 1890-1900. Wikimedia Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Since the Global Methane Pledge of COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, countries have promised to reduce methane by 30% by  2030, with 100 nations participating.  Methane is the second-most prolific greenhouse gas, and while it has a shorter life than carbon dioxide, methane is far more potent and dangerous. Over a 20 year period, methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So, stopping methane emissions is both a short-term step and a big win.

Fracking causes methane emissions. Image: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013. Wikimedia Pubic Domain, included with appreciation.

Over 40% of methane (CH4) comes from natural sources like land, especially wetlands, but the rest is human-driven. Natural gas, especially that obtained by hydraulic fracturing or fracking, accounts for a major part of methane emissions: the United States leads in this sad statistic. Fracked shale wells may leak over 7% of the methane in the atmosphere.

New Zealand has 26,000,000 sheep, a major source of methane. Image: “Baby Lamb,” by photographer Petr Kratochvil, 2014. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer and included with appreciation.

But methane is also emitted when sheep and cows burp. And New Zealand has plenty of both. While there are only five million people in New Zealand, there are 26 million sheep and 10 million cows. Half of New Zealand’s methane emissions come from animal sources. Under the taxation proposal, starting in 2025, farmers will pay a carbon tax on their animal belches. Monies derived will be directed to agricultural research and approaches to dietary change. Reducing beef and lamb consumption will help lessen methane emissions, and conserve land now used for grazing. For cattle and sheep that remain, nutritional approaches like including lemongrass or seaweed in animal feed may also mitigate methane release. Australia is feeding cows a form of pink seaweed “Asparagopsis” that reduces the carbon in burps (and flatulence) by 99%. That’s significant because one dairy cow can emit enough methane to fill 500 liter bottles – per day.

“Sheep on the Move in New Zealand,” by photographer Bernard Spragg. Dedicated to the public domain. Creative Commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

New Zealand would be the first country to place a price, and a tax, on agricultural emissions. Will this financial innovation help to balance the food-water-energy nexus?

CCBC. “Climate change: how cow burps and pink seaweed can affect the planet.” 17 August 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49368462

Friedlander, Blaine. “Study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane.” 14 August 2019. Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. https:/news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/08/study-fracking-prompts-global-spike-atmosphereic-methane

Global Methane Pledge. https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/

Hoskins, Peter. “Climate change: New Zealand’s plan to tax cow and sheep burps.” 9 June 2022. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61741352

Plewis, Ian. “Taking action on hot air: Why agriculture is the key to reducing UK methane emissions.” 24 May 2022. University of Manchester, UK. https://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/sci-tech/2022/05/taking-action-on-hot-air-why-agriculture-is-the-key-to-reducing-uk-methane-emissions/

Spang, Edware et al., “Food-Energy-Water-(FEW) Nexus: Informal Water Systems.” https://spang.ucdavis.edu/food-energy-water-few-nexus

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

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