Building the World

June 1, 2023
by Building The World


The rainbow celebrates the beauty of natural variety and inclusion. Image: “Double Rainbow” gif by Zanthius. Creative Commons 1.0, public domain. Included with appreciation.

The rainbow, symbol of Pride Month, will appear on flags and fashion during the month of June.

“Pride Flag Parade in Katowice,” by photographer Silar. Creative Commons 4.0 Included with appreciation.

The array of colors in the Pride flag sends the message of inclusion. Gilbert Blake, the rainbow flag’s creator, developed the theme and symbol.

“Yellow ribbons as a memorial for the victims of the sinking of the MV Sewol” by photographer Piotrus. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

In the United States, this week began with Memorial Day. The holiday’s official color is yellow, referencing the tradition of a spouse wearing a yellow ribbon while their loved one is away at war or held hostage. During the hostage crisis of 1972, when 52 Americans working in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were held for 444 days, Penne Laingen, spouse of Chargé d’Affaires Bruce Laingen, led a yellow ribbon campaign for their safe return. Countries using the yellow ribbon symbol, as a sign of hope for safe return, include Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, and the United States.

“Portrait of a Rabbi with Prayer Shawl” by artist Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921). Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

White and blue are often seen in sacred prayer shawls of Judaism. The shawl’s white background with patterns of blue may be seen at Hanukkah. Blue and white are also the traditional colors of Nigerian sacred cloths like the Ukara. White is seen in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the color of baptismal robes. It’s also the color of papal vestments, a tradition begun in 1566. When Muslim faithful observe lhram, the color is white. And many a bride has walked down the aisle in a white wedding gown.

Princess Diana in a white wedding dress. Image: wikimedia, fair use. Included with appreciation.

Kwanzaa, the holiday founded in 1966 that honors the days from 26 December to 1 January, each dedicated to a community value, is symbolized by black, red, and green. Black is for the beauty of the people, red symbolizes struggle, and green is victory, hope, and future.

Kwanzaa Candles of red, black, and green. Graphic design by Nesnad, dedicated to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, ordained Buddhist monks wear kasaya, saffron-colored robes. On the other side of the world, sports fans in the Netherlands don orange. There’s even a word for it – Oranjegekte (“Orange Craze”). Orange is scientifically proven to stimulate action. Another “hot” color is yellow: during China’s Song Dynasty, only the emperor was allowed to wear that hue. Association of red with the heart (including the celebration of Valentine’s Day) is universal.

Gautama Buddha in saffron robe. “Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Victory Over Mara” circa 700ce. Courtesy of Asia Society. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Colors can raise awareness and represent a cause. Many are familiar with pink ribbon symbolism, seen often during the month of October to symbolize breast cancer awareness and quest for the cure. When Cambell’s Soup supported the cause by redesigning two of its soups (chicken noodle and tomato) with a pink ribbon on the can, sales of those two varieties doubled during the month of October. The pink ribbon was developed for an awareness campaign designed by Evelyn Lauder of Estée Lauder and Alexandra Penney of Self Magazine, in 1992. It has remained a powerful symbol.

“Pink Ribbon” symbol for breast cancer cure. Image graphic by MesserWoland. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Pantone creates a Color of the Year, a tradition begun by Leatrice (Lee) Eiseman to mark the millennium in 2000. Since then, each year has been characterized by a specific color. Designers have noted an increase in sales when they match their collections to the Pantone color during that year.

The importance of color is apparent in the world’s flags, chosen with symbolism of values. The night before the new country of Panama was announced in connection with the Panama Canal, founders prepared a new flag. Flags were one way for soldiers to identify their unit in the clash of battle. The British tradition of “Trooping the Colour” began in the 17th century and now marks the official birthday of the sovereign. This year, the ceremony will take place on 17 June 2023 with newly crowned King Charles III officiating.

“Trooping the Colour” is a British tradition. Newly crowned King Charles III will officiate at this year’s ceremony on 17 June 2023. Image: “Trooping the Colour” by photographer Carfaxw, 2012. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Color is an instant communication that goes beyond words. It’s part of nature’s sensitive signal system. Birds, and bees, see colors that humans cannot. Insects and fish have highly developed color sensing systems. Many animals use color messaging for essential interactions. Color communicates.

“Peacock Plumage” by photographer Jatin Sindu, 2015. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

As the world comes together to respond to climate change, how can we use color to raise awareness? We often speak of “green energy” – should there be a day of the week when one might wear green to convey support of clean, renewable energy? One of the first ways we are experiencing the consequences of climate change is through water – floods and drought alike. Fashion designers could create blue collections with fabrics and materials using sustainable water production practices. A portion of the purchase would benefit water sustainability.

Blue fashion could honor water sustainability. Image: “AUW Inter-Versity Debate Championship 2020 in Chattogram, Bangladesh” by photographer Moheen. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

What are your creative ideas for ways that cultural, and environmental, values could be strengthened through the use of color?

Blake, Gilbert. “Pride Flag Creator Gilbert Blake on the Rainbow’s Meaning.” 29 July 2016. CPS Radio.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “The Power of Color” pages 132 ff. Renewing the World: Water. 2022. ISBN: 9798985035919.

Goldman, Jason S. “What Makes Bird Feathers So Colorfully Fabulous?” 4 March 2016. Audubon.

Morgan, Thaddeus. “How Did the Rainbow Flag Become the Pride Symbol?” 12 June 2019.

Pantone. “Color of the Year”

Parsons, Gerard E. “Yellow Ribbons: Ties with Tradition” 1981. Library of Congress, The American Folklife Center.

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

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May 18, 2023
by Building The World

ENERGY: Peridotite – Philosopher’s Stone for Carbon Removal

Peridotite, found abundantly in Oman, may be the philosopher’s stone of climate change. Image: “Muscat, capital of Oman” by photographer Safa Daneshuar, 2022. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Humans have long dreamed of magical transformations. Jabir ibn Hayyan, 8th century alchemist, and Albertus Magnus, colleague of fellow Dominican Thomas Aquinas, who wrote of the lapis philosophorum or “philosopher’s stone” that turned base metals into gold, are among those who foresaw what may be natural magic that could help to transform climate change, altering carbon dioxide before it can harm the atmosphere. Can we turn CO2 into a new form of gold?

Alembic: Drawing and Description by Jabir ibn Hayyan, 8th century. An alembic is an alchemical still. Image: creative commons, public domain. Included with appreciation.

At Iceland’s Hellisheidi power station, a company called Carbfix captures CO2, pumps it with water, channels it underground into basalt where it soon becomes rock. Basalt contains calcium, magnesium, and iron – elements that bind easily with C02. Basalt is the most common rock type on the planet. In fact, the ancient Romans used a type of volcanic basalt in constructing their legendary roads. More than 90% of all volcanic rock is basalt. It is estimated that the amount of global basalt could store all the CO2 emissions now driving climate change. Carbfix’s motto: “We turn CO2 into Stone.” Sounds promising, but there’s a catch. It takes 25 tons of water to transform one ton of CO2 via basalt. When you realize that human activity emits 35 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) of CO2 per year, that’s a lot of water to drain from an already-thirsty world. Carbfix will have a role to play in carbon removal, and water use may improve through advanced technologies, but basalt is not the only magical stone.

Carbfix uses basalt to turn carbon dioxide into permanent stone. The process requires use of water in significant amounts. Image: “Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant, site of Carbfix.” Photograph by Sigrg, 2008. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Basalt is just one option. Another is peridotite. A new company named 44.01, referencing the molecular mass of carbon dioxide, has discovered a way to use peridotite to fuse carbonated fluid into seams of the rock. Co-founded by Talal Hasan and Karan Khimji, 44.01 is located in Oman where one of the world’s largest deposits of peridotite can be found. Oman’s deposit is close to the surface, offering advantageous access.

One of Carbfix’s founders, Juerg M. Matter, professor at the University of Southampton, and also Columbia University’s Climate School and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is now a team member of 44.01. Another team member is Peter B. Kelemen of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) at Columbia University, and of Columbia Climate School, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, guiding 44.01 on chemical and physical processes of reaction between rocks and fluids.

Peridotite can, when combined with water, absorb and permanently remove carbon dioxide. Image: “Classification diagram for peridotite and pyroxenite” adapted from Bodinier and Godard (2004) by Tobias1984, 2013. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

The magic alchemical formula is peridotite (containing olivine and pyroxene) combined with CO2 and water. Peridotite mineralization already occurs in nature: for example, when rainwater lands on peridotite, CO2 is dissolved. But it’s a slow process, taking decades. The team of 44.01 has found a method to accelerate mineralization of CO2, gathered via direct air capture (DAC), in less than one year. In 2022, 44.01 received the Earthshot Prize.

The Earthshot Prize was awarded to 44.01 in the category of “Fix Our Climate.” Image: courtesy of The Royal Foundation, 2021. Public Domain Creative Commons. Included with appreciation.

Carbon dioxide emissions are a difficult problem that the world must solve before climate change, caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases, becomes irreversible. In 2015, the Paris Agreement of COP21 brought pledges to reduce and halt use of fossil fuels. But even when and if those goals are met, we’ll still have carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and some sectors of the economy might still use fossil fuels. That’s why carbon sequestration and carbon storage technologies have begun to increase in importance. Storage is, by nature, either temporary or troubled: the CO2 is stored as CO2, not gone, just hidden. A leak would release it back into the atmosphere. Carbon removal through mineralization is better because it is permanent. No insurance, no monitoring, no escape. The CO2 molecule is gone. Alchemy!

Where else can we find rock that can absorb and transform CO2? “Map of World Geologic Provinces,” by USGS. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Peridotite is also found in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. Oman-based research will continue, in part because the peridotite is easily reached due to its surface proximity. Next steps for testing may be in California but peridotite deposits there would still require drilling. Meanwhile, peridot, green gemstone made from peridotite’s olivine component, associated with the month of August, said to reveal magic, could become a jewel that signifies a better climate.

The gemstone Peridot, said to reveal magic, is made from peridotite. Image: “Gem Peridot,” by photographer Michelle Jo, and dedicated to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

Rather than drilling (with its environmental disturbance and potential destruction), carbon removal via mineralization may be explored by using rocks already drilled, in the form of waste tailings from certain kinds of mines. Diamond, nickel, and platinum are mined from rock that has carbon mineralization promise. De Beers, company that coined the phrase “A diamond is forever,” is beginning trials.

Carbon mineralization could be explored with used rocks left over from diamond mining. Image: “Computer reconstruction of the Hope Diamond, earlier form in the French Blue or Diamantbleu” by Francoisfarges. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

A diamond is forever, but diamond mine tailings could help carbon dioxide disappear forever. Other options include basalt, and now peridotite. In myths of ancient times, rock turned into gold was the dream. Now, in the time of climate change, turning carbon dioxide into rock may be the alchemical dream we seek and shall find.


Albertus Magnus. “De mineralibus” in On the Causes of the Properties of the Elements translated by Irven M. Resnick. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2010.


Earthshot Prize. “Fix Our Climate Winner: 44.01” 2022.

Fountain, Henry. “How Oman’s Rocks Could Help Save the Planet.” 26 April 2018. The New York Times.

Harvard Business School. “Karan Khimji, Co-Founder of 44.01”

Hasan, Talal. “Interview with Earthshot Prize Winner.” VIDEO

International Monetary Fund (IMF), prepared by Jorge Iván Canales Kriljenko. “On the road to carbon neutrality, fishing for energy exchange and carbon absorption” 2022.

Kraus, Paul. Essai sur l’histoire des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam/ Mukhtār Rasā’il Jābir b. Hayyān. Paris/Cairo: G.P. Maisonneuve/Maktabat al-Khānjī.

PDIE Group. “Nominating 44.01 for the Earthshot Prize.”

Perasso, Valeria. “Turning carbon dioxide into rock – forever.” 18 May 2018. BBC News.

Planet A Ventures, GmbH. “Permanent Carbon Sequestration: 44.01 – Life Cycle Assessment & Sustainability Potential.” 2022.

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

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May 11, 2023
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Mobilizing the Future

Transport has evolved since the days of Ford and Edison. Image: “Automobiles over the years” by, creative commons 2.5. Included with appreciation.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were both working, in 1912, on a new invention: the automobile. Edison’s was electric. Ford’s was powered by gasoline. What might the world look like today, if Edison’s design had prevailed?

Oslo, Norway, has achieved 30% reduction in emissions. Image: “Oslo at night” by Jørn Eriksson. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Norway might offer a preview. The Nordic country will stop selling gas-powered cars in two years. In 2022, over 80% of new cars sold were electric. Carbon emissions have declined by 30 percent in Oslo, Norway’s capital. The air is cleaner, the city is quieter. Government subsidized charging stations line the roads. The grid has not buckled; those formerly employed in fossil-fuel jobs have been able to transition. The only problem, so far, is an increase in tiny particles of pollution entering the air as a result of the friction of fast EVs and asphalt highways. When the United States Federal Highway System anticipates the increase in electric vehicles, perhaps the surface of roads, often renewed in the summer season, can be adjusted.

“Think City” car that may have started Norway on the road to low or zero transport emissions. Image: “Think City” by Mahlum, 2008. Donated by the photographer to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

Ironically, it was Henry Ford’s legacy that turned Norway towards electric vehicles several decades ago. Ford Motor Company collaborated on, and later acquired in the late 1990s/early 2000s, a car called “Think City” that captured the imagination of Norwegian motorists, in no small part because of policies including no import tax and no highway tolls. (Ewing 2023)

Norway’s network of pipelines is extensive. Image: Pipeline HDPE, Australia” by photographer Gordon J86, 2013. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Another irony: while Norway has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to a goal of zero (or close) by 2030, and electric vehicles are helping to reach that goal, Norway continues to drill for oil and gas. While Norway may be cleaner and greener, the country’s production of $180 billion worth of fossil fuels may see more exports. Russia-Ukraine conflict increased the need; Norway responded. Pipeline gas for Germany jumped 11%. Norway also sent gas to Belgium, France, Poland, and the UK. In 2028, Norway’s government plans to nationalize some Gassled pipelines. Norway’s network of gas pipelines rivals some countries’ highways: the pipes cover 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers). By comparison, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) in length.

Norway leads the world in electric vehicle use. Image: “Plug-in electric cars in use as a proportion of all passenger cars on the road in selected countries and regional markets at the end of 2021” by Mariordo, 2022. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Meanwhile, 98% of Norway’s power generation comes from renewable energy, predominantly hydroelectricity. But transport has been a challenge. Norway introduced a National Transportation Plan (2018-2029) requiring all new ferries to use low emission technology, and all new cars and vans to be electric, all new city buses  to be fueled by biogas. (Sweco 2023) With a focus on the transport sector, ports will also be designed as energy centers where ships may power up with a mix of biogas, hydrogen, and electricity. Because transport accounts for 60% of Norway’s carbon emissions, and the Nordic nation has set a plan for zero (or low) emissions, the world may get a preview of the track to mobilizing the future.

“Animated GIF showing the Speed Dreams track system from a car’s point of view.” by Ocirne94, 2012. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Buli, Nora. “Norway piped gas exports rise 3.3% in 2022, set record for Germany” 23 January 2023. Reuters.

Ewing, Jack. ‘In Norway, the Electric Vehicle Future Has Already Arrived” 10 May 2023. The New York Times.

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

Sweco. “Report: Race to Electrification – Norway in a Pole Position.”

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

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May 2, 2023
by Building The World

CITIES: Cliffhangers

Waves and sea level rise will affect low-lying cities, but what about coastal cliffs? Image: “Porto” by photographer/videographer Sergei Gussev, 2016. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

It’s obvious that sea level rise will threaten low-lying coastal areas. But more than 50% of all Earth’s coasts are cliff-lined. Are these higher elevations safe? Not really.

Climate scientists and city planners worrying about sea level rise have mostly focused on immediately vulnerable low-lying cities. That’s appropriate and urgent: more than one billion people may be displaced. It is also important to note that many of the world’s most important cities began as ports, at a time when shipping was the main means of global commerce. What will happen to powerful port cities like Amsterdam, Boston, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, or Singapore – great port cities that continue to attract businesses and residents? Lagos leads Africa in the number of innovation start-ups. But building more offices and apartments stresses already-dense ports, making these cities more vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding.

But rocky, cliff-lined coasts have been neglected. Because cliffs make up more than 50% of the world’s coasts, their erosion is also of importance. It’s just been harder to see. Until now.

New techniques using geochronology and cosmogenic radionuclide dating can tells us what has happened to world cliffs 8,000 years ago – and predict what may occur in the future. It’s a technology as useful in space as on Earth. Image: “Geochronology/cosmogenic radionuclide dating” by COMPTEL, 2012. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Recent studies show that sea level rise will likely accelerate rock coast cliff retreat rates. A team including Bethany Hebditch, Matthew Piggott, Dylan Rood, Alexander Seal, and Jennifer Shadrick, from the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Imperial College, London, UK, as well as Klaus Wilcken of the Centre for Accelerator Science, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO), Sydney, Australia, and Martin Hurst of the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK developed a coastal evolution model based on cosmogenic radionuclide (CRN) and topographic data that quantified cliff retreat rates. With a Janus-like long view, the model gazes back 8,000 years and uses that data to forecast the next 100 (and beyond).

“Cliffed coast” by graphic artist Salino. Dedicated to the public domain and included with appreciation.

Models can be helpful.  Developed by Alan Trenhaile, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, one model looks at cliff retreat and broken waves attacking the coastal cliff, resulting in erosion. Another model by a team including Lorenzo Mentashi and Luc Feyen and Jean-Francois Pekel of the European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Directorate for Space Security and Migration, in Ispra, Italy, as well as  Michalis Vousdoukas, of the JRC and the Department of Marine Sciences, University of the Agaean, Mitilene, Lesbos, Greece, and Evangelos Voukouvalas of the Engineering Ingegneria Informatica, Rome, Italy is the Soft Cliff And Platform Erosion (SCAPE) that predicts erosion of soft cliffs. Other models like 1-D examine wave force, but they are based on historical observations and we all know that things are changing.  Actually, no one thing causes cliffs to erode and retreat: it’s a combination of tides, currents, waves, air and water temperatures.

Bideford, England may be changed by sea level rise and cliff retreat. Image: “Tantons Hotel in Bedeford” by photographer Steve Daniels, 2009. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

The UK/Australia study team focused on two sites in the United Kingdom (UK): Bideford in north Devon and Scalby in Yorkshire. Here’s what they found. At both sites, cliff retreat matched late-Holocene sea level rise. They also noted that cliff retreat is more sensitive to the rate of sea level rise increase than to its magnitude. Conclusion? Cliff erosion is “dominated” by waves; cliff retreat is linked to the rate of sea level rise. As climate change drives sea level rise, “cliff positions are likely to retreat by at least (10-14 meters) at Bideford and (13-22 meter) at Scalby. These rates of cliff retreat are two times greater than any previous estimates and as an order of magnitude greater when compared with the past half millennium.

Will cliff erosion threaten California’s Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway? Image” Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway” by photographer Astronautilus, 1995. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

We once thought of rock cliff coasts as unchangingly stable. They are just slower. From the White Cliffs of Dover, England, made of finely grained, chalky limestone, to the coastline of the Santa Lucia Mountains in Big Sur, California, iconic cliff coasts may be changed through sea level rise. Some locations, like Puerto Escondito, Oaxaca, Mexico have both low-lying beaches like surfing favorite Playa Zicatela not far from cliff-lined beaches like Playa Carrizalillo. Protective measures for seaside cliffs include anchoring (by means of terraces, planting, or even wiring) or dewatering (draining water flowing into nooks and crannies), or engineered smoothing at the base reinforced by granular material. Most coastal cliff erosion happens at the bottom where waves attack and weaken the structure.

How can we protect coastal cliffs? What are your ideas? Image: “Ocean shaped coastline and silhouette person” by photographer MontyLov, 2017. Dedicated to the public domain, creative commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

The next time you enjoy a panoramic ocean view from atop a promontory, consider your ideas for shoring up coastal cliffs.

City of Boston. “Climate Ready Boston Executive Summary.”

SCAPE. “Resilient Boston Harbor Vision – SCAPE”

Shadrick, Jennifer R., et al., “Sea-level rise will likely accelerate rock coast cliff retreat rates” 18 November 2022. Nature Communications 13, 7005 (2022).

Sivaprasad, Dave. “Mangroves, Storm Walls and Other Ways to Protect Coasts from Climate Change.” 26 April 2023. Boston Consulting Group (BCG). VIDEO.

Trenhaile, Alan.S. “Modeling the development of wave-cut shore platforms.” 15 May 2000. Marine Geology 166,163-178.

Trenhaile, Alan.S. “Predicting the response of hard and soft rock coasts to changes in sea level and wave height.” 22 February 2011. Climactic Change 109-599-615. and

Young, A. and Carilli, J. “Global distribution of coastal cliffs and retreat rates.” EP23C-EP22336(2018)

Young, A. and Carilli, J. “Global distribution of coastal cliffs. Earth Surf Process Landforms 44:1309-1316.

Note: we have named all the team members, above in the post, to value each one’s contribution that is seldom recognized when listed as “et al.”

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


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April 22, 2023
by Building The World

Earth Day 2023: #Invest in Our Planet

Earth Day 2023: #INVEST in OUR PLANET. Image: “Investing” by 401(K), 2012. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Earth Day‘s theme for 2023: INVEST in OUR PLANET. Linking business, finance, and investment to ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) goals and values will be critical to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV) surveyed 20,000 consumers, 2,500 executives in 22 industries and 34 countries about the relationship of climate-protection and financial success. Over 70% stated that a company’s ESG values influenced their choice of employment or investment. Morningstar, Russell Investments, S&P, and MSCI recently released ESG rating systems for 8,000 companies. Universities are evaluating endowments for sustainability; student and alumni organizations are mobilizing for climate action include Harvard’s HACE with a topic area of finance. MIT’s Sloan Impact Investing Initiative (Mi3) presented its first ESG and Impact Finance conference in 2023.

Can today’s ESG goals find precedent in earlier agreements like Bretton Woods? Image: “Gold Room where the Bretton Woods Agreements were reached.” by photograph Barry Livingstone, 2014. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Tying social goals to investment may find precedence in Bretton Woods, the 1944 agreement that set up accords for an international monetary system and establishment of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) including the World Bank. During the World Bank presidency of Robert S. McNamara (1968-1981), increased emphasis on funding improvements in infrastructure, healthcare, and essentials including safe water, food security may, in some ways, have prepared the path to our present Sustainable Development Goals (SGD)  There are many who might advise the World Bank to refocus on McNamara’s vision. To that end, should the SDGs be more strongly bonded to finance and investment initiatives? Looking to the ancients, could one find early models linking educational and social development to some of the advances initiated by Charlemagne? Another example might be the medieval guilds. What is the human timeline weaving social and economic progress to finance and investment?

Medieval craft guilds linked business to community and social goals. Image: “Stemmi celle Arti fiorentine” from the guilds of Florence, Italy. Public domain, creative commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

But you don’t have to be a banker or finance professional to invest in our planet. Here are Earth Day’s recommendations for each of us to invest in our shared planet:

Plant Trees – Can you afford $1? That contribution will buy a tree, as part of The Canopy Project.

INVEST in OUR PLANT – plant trees. Image: “Earth Day” by Alice Popkorn, GAIA – Germany. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Reduce Plastic Consumption – Think twice before tossing plastic into trash: only 9% is recycled. Look for a recycling container. Even better – avoid plastic when possible. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has drafted INC-1, an international legally binding instrument, leading to the Global Plastics Treaty to be completed by 2024. Want to add your support?

INVEST in OUR PLANET – recycle plastic. Image: “Plastic for Recycling” by Si Griffiths, 2005. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Vote Earth – Vote for those who support environmental values. Register on the Vote Earth Hub to get reminders on voting options.

INVEST in OUR PLANET – vote for leaders who support sustainability. Image: “Vote” by Tom Arthur, 2008. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Choose Sustainable Fashion – Every day, you wear garments. It’s a global industry worth $2.4 trillion, but less than 1% of clothing is recycled, and textile processing accounts for 20% of global wastewater that can enter streams and aquifers. When you launder them, use a Cora Ball to catch fibers before they enter the water supply. Can clothing fabric be made from natural fibers beyond cotton and wool: for example, algae or seaweed? Look for and buy sustainable clothing. Sign the Fashion Petition here.

INVEST in OUR PLANET with sustainable fashion. Image: “The Golden Book Gown – made of recycled pages from children’s golden books” by Ryan Jude Noveilline. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

As you honor Earth Day today, did you ever wonder why is Earth Day celebrated on April 22? Founders Gaylord Nelson, Pete McCloskey, and Denis Hayes chose the date to engage students: it was after spring break and before final exams. Another factor: in some regions of the world, spring comes in April, reminding us of Earth’s systemic renewal. If we support Earth’s natural systems, we can sustain Earth’s natural power of renewal. The first Earth Day in 1970 drew 20 million people; by 1990, Earth Day went global and 200 million people participated.  This year, how will you invest in our planet? Pledge your participation, here.

Bretton Woods Agreements Act. 31 July 1944.

Earth Day.


Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment (HACE).

Hayes, Adam. “MSCI ESG Ratings Definition, Methodology, Example.” 15 October 2022. Investopedia.

IBM Institute for Business Value.  Authors Arun Biswas, Elisabeth Goos, and Jacob Dencik. “The ESG Conundrum.” 11 April 2023.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “Mi3.”

MSCI. “Capital for Climate Action Conference” 16 May 2023.

Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day.” University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Segal, Mark. “Over 80% of Businesses Plan to Increase Spending on Environmental Sustainability Goals Over Next Year – Honeywell.” 19 April 2023. ESG Today.

Simbiótica Finance.

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

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April 14, 2023
by Building The World

WATER: Is the Drought OVER?

Droughts and floods will continue. Now we can predict them with GRACE. Image: “GRACE globe animation” by NASA. Public Domain, included with appreciation.

Atmospheric rivers: 11. Snow: 55 feet (16.76 meters). Rainfall: thus far in 2023, more than all of 2022. Conservation mandates and restrictions: eased. Outdoor watering: again permitted. Reservoirs: many refilled. Is California’s drought officially over? Conditions are better, but concerns remain. The issues are not restricted to California, but the state serves as a case example.

While 2023 brought relief and refilled many California reservoirs, drought is cyclical. Image: “Drought area in California” graphic by Phoenix7777, based on U.S. Drought Monitor Data. Creative Commons 4.0. Include with appreciation.

GROUNDWATER – On the surface, things certainly look better. But California’s underground aquifers are still in trouble, some at lowest levels ever recorded. After previous droughts (2007-2009, 2012-2016), California’s groundwater in the agriculturally important Central Valley recovered only 34% (2007-2009 drought) to as little as 19% (2012-2016). During drought periods, groundwater supplied 60% of California’s water, so maintaining underground aquifers is critical.

How is groundwater formed, replenished, and sustained? Image: “Groundwater.” Graphic by Dr. Andrew Fisher, California Agricultural Water Stewardship Institute, 2018. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

In irrigated agricultural regions with limited surface water supply, drought can have severe effects on groundwater. Recent innovations for storing floodwater underground in “water-capturing basins” hold promise. What kinds of future innovations will collect rain and flood water for future use? The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed in 2014, requires local agencies to form and fund groundwater sustainability agencies for high priority areas to control overuse of water by 2034. The United Nations raised awareness of the importance of groundwater by dedicating World Water Day 2022 to that resource with the motto: “Making the Invisible Visible.”

California obtains a portion of its water from the Colorado River. Image: “Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend” by Charles Wang, 2023. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

COLORADO RIVER – Surface water and underground aquifers are not the only sources. Water supplies from the Colorado River flow, at some distance, to cities and towns in Southern California. That river is still suffering through a two decade long drought that depleted reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Seven states, as well as many indigenous sovereign nations and also Mexico, share in the water according to rules set in the Colorado River Compact 0f 1922. If the seven states cannot come to agreement on water usage cutbacks, the federal government will step in. In April 2023, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation introduced options. 

Floods devastated Sindh Provice, Pakistan in 2022. Image: “Pakistan floods August 27 2021 versus August 27 2022.” By NASA. Image in public domain. Included with appreciation.

FUTURE  OF WATER– Satellite data confirm what we know all too well when 12 inches of rain in one day sweep through Ft. Lauderdale, Florida closing schools and highways, or floods drench Sindh Province, Pakistan,dislocating millions of people. We know and feel it when drought plagues land, dries up agricultural fields, drains reservoirs, and threatens hydroelectric facilities like those on the Po River of Italy, or  Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric of Australia or Hoover Dam of the Colorado River in the United States.

Hydroelectricity depends upon abundant water. Drought has threatened energy production on the Colorado River’s Hoover Dam. Image: “Hoover Dam” by photographer Ansel Adams, 1941. Public Domain, National Archives and Records Administration image #519837. Included with appreciation.

Hydroelectric power plants on rivers throughout the world are subject to changing water levels. If a river suffers drought, some hydroelectric facilities must be switched off. A recent study sounded the alarm. By 2050, 61% of all hydropower dams will be at high risk.

It takes two – GRACE and GRACE-FO. Image: “Gravity anomalies on Earth” by NASA, 2012. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Climate change will make rains more intense and droughts more frequent. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite duo, known as GRACE and GRACE-FO will reveal a big picture in a long view. Dr. Matthew Rodell, Deputy Director for Hydrosphere, Biosphere, and Geophysics, Earth Sciences Division, NASA, and Dr. Bailing Li, of Goddard’s Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, led a team that studied over 1,000 weather events during the period 2002-2021. Rainfall extremes were noted in sub-Saharan Africa, North America, and Australia. Intense droughts were seen in South America, the United States, and elsewhere. Droughts outnumbered rain events by 10%.  It’s costly: 20% of the USA’s annual economic loses were due to floods and droughts. Is there a solution? Using floodwater to recharge aquifers and irrigate agricultural land will be an area of innovation.

Water Futures Index – is water a trading commodity or a human right? Image: “Nasdaq” by xurde, 2007. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

WATER FUTURES –  Another development? Water Futures trading contracts such as the Veles California Water Index (NQH20) that launched on NASDAQ in 2018. Prices have fluctuated from below $300 per AF (acre-foot which equals 325,851 gallons or 1,233,480 liters) to 18 August 2022’s price of $1,134. At today’s post date, the price is $855. Is water a commodity or a right? Some say that commodity trading makes it possible for those who use quantities of water to plan, and plant, with more certainty.

Water: human right and right of nature. Image: “Whanganui River between Pipiriki and Jerusalem” by photographer Prankster, 2012. Dedicated by the photographer to the public domain. CC 1.0. Included with appreciation.

WATER RIGHTS – But others might question water trading. On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 64/292 that recognizes water and sanitation as a human right. In 2022, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15, with Article 1.1 stating “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.” Some would say that the right to sustainable, healthy water goes beyond human rights. New Zealand’s Whanganui River recently received personhood legal status, granting the river its own rights.

We are the water planet. How do we protect and sustain water rights? Image: “Frozen water droplet” by photographer Aaron Burden, 2017. Dedicated by the photographer to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

California Department of Water Resources. “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Includes VIDEO.

Charles, Dan. “Water is scarce in California. But farmers have found ways to store it underground.” 5 October 2021. All Things Considered, NPR. Includes AUDIO.

Insights Editorial Team. “What Investors Should Know About Trading Water in the Futures Market.” 12 January 2021. Boston University.

NASDAQ. “Nasdaq Veles California Water Index Fture (H20).

New Zealand. “Te Awa Tupua – Whanganui River Claims Settlement Act of 2017.”

O’Malley, Isabella. “Scientists confirm global floods and droughts worsened by climate change.” 13 March 2023. PBS.

Rodell, Matthew. and Bailing. Li. “Changing intensity of hydroclimatic extreme events revealed by GRACE and GRACE-FO.” Nature Water. 1 (3): 10.1038/s44221-023-00040-5 and

Rohde, Melissa M. “Floods and droughts are intensifying globally.” 13 March 2023. Nature Water 1, 226-227 (2023).

Sommer, Lauren. “3 reasons why California’s drought isn’t really over, despite all the rain.” 23 March 2023. Morning Edition, NPR. Includes AUDIO.

United Nations. “Human Right to Water and Sanitation.”

Wada, Yoshihide., et al., “Global depletion of groundwater resources.” Geophysical Research Letters 37,1. and

Weir, Bill. “Thousands of acres are underwater in California, and the flood could triple in size this summer.” 15 April 2023. CNN.

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

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April 5, 2023
by Building The World

CITIES: Floating into the Future

Floating cities have long captured our imaginations, and may become a reality with sea level rise. Image: “Sky City in Flash Gordon Serial” 1936. Public Domain Creative Commons. Included with appreciation.

Sea level rise is coming – how much depends upon the extent of melting glaciers and coastal inundations. Coasts often harbor cities: the earliest urban centers developed because of sea access. By 2050, 68% of the world will live in cities, many of them ports. How can coastal cities prepare for sea level rise? The Netherlands has long led the world in city design for low-lying coastal areas. Now, many cities are considering preparation for rising seas. Here are some examples.

Seoul is building floating sections of the city. Image: “Seoul at Night,” by traveloriented, 2014. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Seoul announced plans for a floating public swimming pool and art pier space, featuring a concert hall and a marina. Designed for Inchon Han River Park, the 5,000 square meters development will feature the Han River by floating upon its coastal waters.  Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon announced the budget of $30 million (30 billion won).

Image: “Islands Brygge Waterfront” in Copenhagen, Denmark by photographer Jacob Friis Saxberg. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Copenhagen inspired Seoul’s Mayor Oh, who announced Seoul’s new vision while visiting the Danish capital’s Harbour Bath. Denmark also built Havnebadet Islands Brygge, a floating public swimming pool that opened in 2003. Copenhagen worked on another project with Bjarke Ingels Group to build “Urban Rigger,” a floating residential district.

New York suffered damage and flooding during Hurricane Sandy, leading to a proposal to rebuild the Big U of Lower Manhattan. Image: “Flooded Avenue C at East 6th Street” taken right before Con Edison lost power during Hurricane Sandy. Photograph by David Shankbone, 2012. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

New York suffered $19 billion in damage after Hurricane Sandy (2012). A new city design for lower Manhattan followed. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is presently developing a future vision for New York City. The BIG U proposes a protective system around the area of Manhattan from West 57th Street, down to the Battery, and then up again to East 42nd Street. The area is vulnerable to sea level rise. New York may consider options for aquatic construction as well as protective barriers. Will Wall Street soon float more than bonds and floating rate funds?

Should New York City consider floating architecture in anticipation of sea level rise? “Lower Manhattan from Jersey City 2014 Panorama” by King of Hearts. Wikimedia 3.0 creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Marcus, L. “South Korean capital announces plans for ‘floating’ swimming pool and art pier.” 22 March 2023.

Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG).

Rebuild By Design. “BIG U” proposal.

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

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March 30, 2023
by Building The World

SPACE: Global Connectivity

Can global connectivity bring our world together? Image: “GPS constellation of 24 satellites on six orbital planes” by Paulsava, 2016. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Can the orbital commons bring the world together? That was the vision of COMSAT. It all started with a 1955 article “Orbital Radio Relays” by John R. Pierce of Bell Labs, AT&T’s incubator for new ideas. Perhaps Pierce had read Arthur C. Clarke’s article “Extra-Terrestrial Relays,” published a decade before. When the first Trans-Atlantic Telephone Cable TAT-1 was laid in 1956 and Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, necessary pieces were in place. By 1960, AT&T applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for an experimental communications license. Two years later, the Communications Satellite Act presented a framework still relevant today. INTELSAT took the early leadership, achieving the first satellite-based global coverage on July 1, 1969. Just 19 days later, 500 million people around the world turned on televisions (the internet would come later) to witness, live, the first human setting foot on the moon.

Connectivity for All. But not everyone had a television, then; and not everyone has internet access now. Opening the World Wide Web to universal access, and enterprises like OneWeb, Starlink, and Project Kuiper, may finally achieve the goal of a global village.

“The OneWeb Logo” by Moving Brands and OneWeb, 2019. This image is in the public domain, wikimedia, Creative commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

OneWeb has reached a definitive milestone. OneWeb has now launched the final set of satellites needed to complete its array providing global connectivity for those who need it most. Founded in 2012 by Greg Wyler, OneWeb was acquired by the United Kingdom (UK) in March 2020 in a deal with UK government and Bharti Enterprises Ltd. On 26 March 2023, OneWeb’s launch by NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) positioned 36 new satellites, achieving desirable redundancy over the 588 needed for global coverage. Theme of the launch? “Hello world!

“Starlink Mission” by SpaceX, 2019. This image was dedicated by Starlink/SpaceX into the public domain, creative commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

Starlink, a division of SpaceX, also aims to offer connectivity “to anywhere, from anywhere.” Starlink began launching satellites in 2019, focusing on individual customers, especially those in rural locations. In contrast, OneWeb concentrates on businesses and commercial providers.

“The Kuiper Belt (green) in the Solar System.” Move your mouse over the image to access annotations. Image: from Minor Planet Center (MPC), Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. This image is in the public domain, Wikimedia commons. Included with appreciation.

Project Kuiper, Amazon’s endeavor to place communications satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), shares the goal of global connectivity. Many places in the world do not have internet access needed for school, science, and communication. Janet Phan of Project Kuiper and founder of Thriving Elements, expands communications equality and opportunity with a commitment to bring more girls and women into STEM careers through mentoring. Project Kuiper’s satellite constellation will work with Amazon’s network of ground stations (Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS). Kuiper customers will install a home outdoor terminal intended to be affordable ($400) and lightweight (less than five pounds (2.27 kilograms); for more modest price-point customers, a smaller and less expensive terminal will provide basic connectivity. The chip driving it all – “Prometheus.”

“A Loon balloon at the Christchurch launch event in June 2013.” Photographed by iLighter, 2013. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Project Loon was a promising vision that ran out of air. An Alphabet Inc. subsidiary, Loon LLC aimed to provide internet access to remote areas using high-altitude balloons to form an aerial wireless network. Hence the name: “Loon” as in “Balloon.” Started as an R&D project in 2011, Loon became a separate entity in 2018. Using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data to identify wind layers with the right speed, Loon would place balloons in a chain to allow signals to pass from orb to orb, connecting to an internet antenna attached to the side of a residential or commercial building. First experiments were in California and New Zealand. The next year, Loon tested in Brazil, and later in Sri Lanka. Loon’s unique advantage was demonstrated after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico; Loon brought 100,000 people back online in the storm’s destructive aftermath. But commercial viability proved elusive and Project Loon closed on 21 January 2021. Loon’s legacy continues. Project Taara, a pan-African vision, harnesses some of Loon’s technology to extend connectivity with the use of light beam internet technology as a way to plug critical connectivity gaps in rural areas.

“World Wide Web” logo designed by Robert Cailliau in 2007, who dedicated the image into the pubic domain. Creative commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

World Wide Web Foundation upholds the goal of “Establishing the open Web as a basic right and a public good.” With 160 partner organizations in 70 countries, the World Wide Web Foundation was launched in 2009 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith. It has helped 600 million people access the web. Sir Tim Berners-Lee established the world wide web (that’s the “www” in an internet address) and gave it to the world for free. Global connectivity remains a challenge: almost half of the world still lacks internet access. You can help.

“Syncom-1” image by NASA, 2007. Image is dedicated to the public domain, and included with appreciation.

The global satellite market is expected to grow by 9% from 2023-2029, accelerated by advances in the internet of things (IoT) and increased capacity in wireless interconnection between terrestrial and space-based technology. It’s an attractive market because global internet traffic will grow over 20% – annually. But there are vast differences in connectivity, with 7x difference between fastest and slowest internet speeds. In addition to the above companies, contenders include SES, Viasat, Intelsat, Telesat, General Dynamics, Cobham Limited, Gilat Satellite Networks, EchoStar, Inmarsat, Eutelsat, Hughs Network Systems, Arqiva, Russian Satellite Communications Company,  Thaicom, Globecast, Telespazio, and Telstra, according to the World Teleport Association.

A computer-generated image of objects that are currently being tracked including orbital debris like non-functional satellites. Image: “Debris-GEO1290” by NASA, 2005. Image is in the public domain and included with appreciation.

It’s getting crowded up there, with so many satellites vying for optimal position. One concern is how to retrieve non-functional satellites before they become orbital debris. As of November 2022, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network found 5, 465 operating satellites in orbit. But these are among 25,857 objects circling the Earth. That tally only accounts for objects large enough to track. There are more than 128 million pieces of space debris smaller than 0.4 inches (1 centimeter). Even a tiny fleck can damage a satellite. There’s a tech term for such flecks: Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD).

Can we cooperate to achieve global connectivity and orbital justice? Image: “Animation of Orbital Eccentricity” by Phoenix7777, 2020. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Orbital justice: law and governance of space. A McKinsey report summarizes the challenges and opportunities for global governance of this shared frontier. The European Space Agency (ESA) introduced in 2022 the “Statement for a Responsible Space Sector” espousing principles of governance, inclusive social benefit, fair access to space, preservation of Earth through space-based monitoring, and promotion of human rights. Space, and the communications spectrum, belong equally to everyone on the Earth. How can you choose your internet provider with these principles in mind?

Amazon. “An Amazon employee explains how she’s helping bring more girls into STEM jobs.” 22 March 2023. Amazon.

Amos, Jonathan. “OneWeb launch completes space internet project.” 26 March 2023. BBC Science & Environment.

Clarke, Arthur C. “Extra-Terrestrial Relays.” October 1945. Wireless World, pages 305-8. Facsimile at

Davenport, Justin. “OneWeb completes initial constellation with launch from India.” 25 March 2023, includes link to launch VIDEO.

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. “COMSAT: The Communications Satellite” in Building the World, Volume II, pages 623-639. Greenwood: 2006. ISBN: 0313333742 and 9780313333743.

European Space Agency (ESA). “Statement for a Responsible Space Sector.”2022.

Gatto, Giacomo and Alyssa Goessler. “Can better governance help space lift off?” 22 February 2023. McKinsey. Includes AUDIO article.

Gehhardt, Chris. “U.K. government acquires OneWeb in curious move.” 3 July 2020. Nasa Space Flight (NSF).

Goguichvili, Sophie, et al., “The Global Legal Landscape of Space: Who Writes the Rules on the Final Frontier?” 1 October 2021. Wilson Center.

Imarc Group. “Top Players in the Satellite Communication (SATCOM) Market.” 29 November 2021.

Krisman, Victoria. “World Teleport Association Publishes Top Operator Rankings for 2021.”

Pierce, John Robinson. The Beginnings of Satellite Communications. History of Technology Monograph. Berkeley, California: San Francisco Press, 1968. ISBN: 0911302050, and 9780911302059.

United Nations. Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). “United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space.”

Whalen, David J. The Origins of Satellite Communications, 1945-1965. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781935623601

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

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March 22, 2023
by Building The World

WATER: Be The Change – World Water Day 2023

World Water Day 2023 – Be The Change. Image: “Water drop” by José Manual Suárez, 2008. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.


Today is World Water Day 2023. This year’s theme is “Be The Change You Want To See In The World.” Here’s a list of personal commitments to solve the water and sanitation crisis. Consider actions you will take, along with your best ideas to sustain world water, and send your commitments to the Water Action Agenda at the UN 2023 Water Conference. Your voice will be heard and your ideas included in the United Nations plan for the future of world water.

Yes, I want to be the change. Image: “Yes” wikimedia, creative commons public domain. Included with appreciation.

Choose the actions you will take, then send your commitments and ideas NOW.

UN-Water. “Be The Change.”

UN 2023 Water Conference.

Water Action Agenda. UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Want to find out more ways to sustain and renew world water? Please visit

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March 17, 2023
by Building The World

CITIES: Cheesy fries – fuel of the future?

One of the joys of city living is availability and variety of take-out food. From cheesy fries to pizza by the slice, urban snacks are legendary. But most of these treats come in plastic containers that eventually end up in landfills.

“Chili cheese fries served in a foam containers with a plastic fork.” Photograph by Charles Severance. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

“Landfill” by Michelle Arseneault. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Cities are filled with discarded plastic, from single-use containers to bottled water. Every year, 400,000,000 tons of plastic are produced; that’s equivalent the weight of all the people on the planet.

Every year, the amount of new plastic produced is equivalent to the weight of all the people on the planet. Photo: “London’s Liverpool Street Station” by photographer Roger Carvell, 2012. Creative Commons 3.0 Included with appreciation.

Only 15% of plastic is recycled; most sits in urban landfills. One of the world’s largest landfills is the Apex Regional in Las Vegas, Nevada, not far from the Colorado River and Hoover Dam, stretching over 2,000 acres. Apex is filled with take-out food containers and many other kinds of plastic.

Apex Landfill near Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the world’s largest. Image: “Las Vegas Skyline at night North,” by Curimedia. Creative Commons 2.0 Included with appreciation.

Time (and money) at slot machines may go fast, but landfill plastics have a long life. Plastic is designed to be durable. It degrades very slowly; it can take over 1,000 years. Even if we pull plastics out of landfills, not all are recyclable. Plastics containing even a bit of food (take-out fries, plastic forks) are not recyclable. And most people who toss food containers into trash, or even into recycling bins, do not, or cannot, wash them first.

What if landfill plastic, especially food containers, were actually buried treasure?ReisnerLab at Cambridge University may have found a way to turn discarded plastic into fuel; the process is powered by sunlight, and produces syngas. Much syngas currently produced requires non-renewable energy, but the ReisnerLab process uses solar. Another benefit? Cambridge University’s nascent system can handle recycled plastic with food waste stuck to the containers. It’s a problem for most recycling, but the Cambridge system uses the leftover food as a substrate, making the process work even better. ReisnerLab’s innovation is at an early stage, and shows promise. Some investors tracking developing innovation may take note.

Syngas can use the same infrastructure but is cleaner than traditional fossil fuels. Image: “Pumping Gas” by photographer Airman 1st Class Lee. Photographed at Vandenberg Airforce Military Base, 2009. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Benefit of syngas – it can be pumped. Professor Erwin Reisner observes that “effectively plastic is another form of fossil fuel, rich in energy.” Unlocking that energy to use as fuel could replace traditional fossil fuels and yet not pose the extent of pollution and emission problems caused by coal, oil, and gas. Being able to use the same distribution and delivery infrastructure, plastic-produced syngas could be helpful in fueling the future. One of the difficulties that slows down energy transition is switching to new delivery and distribution systems from existing infrastructure. Re-using gas pipelines, delivery trucks, pumps, and hoses for syngas is a great advantage. And getting rid of food-coated un-recyclable plastic clogging city landfills? A bet as good as Las Vegas.

Biofuel. “What is Syngas?”,uk/index.php?p=what-is-syngas

Bhattacharjee, Subhajit, Motiar Rahaman, Erwin Reisner. “Photoelectrochemical CO2-to-fuel-conversion with simultaneous plastic reforming.” 9 January 2023. Nature Synthesis 2, 182-192, 2023.

Reisner Lab. http:/

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