Building the World

February 20, 2024
by Building The World

ENERGY: Does Life Blush?


Does life blush? Pink may be the color of nascent energy. Image: “Storm in Tuscon,” by photographer Emascandam, 2018. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Does life blush? Pink may be the color of nascent energy.

Stanley Miller, in 1951, came to the University of Chicago to study with nuclear physicist Edward Teller who had worked on the Manhattan Project, and later established Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (where recent success in fusion energy was achieved). While Teller’s student, Miller attended a lecture by Harold Urey, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, on the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis, on the possible origin of organic life from inorganic compounds. After the lecture, Miller approached Urey with an idea for an experiment to test the hypothesis. Urey was skeptical – no one had ever proven the mystery of how life began – but intrigued. The professor granted Miller one year of funding.

Stanley Miller in 1999. Image courtesy of NASA. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Using water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH2), and hydrogen (H2) in a mixture – and stimulating them with an electric arc that acted like lightning to produce fast intense heat and then applying a condenser to cool – Miller repeated alternation of heat and cold to see what might happen. The mix of components has the acronym WHAM (water, hydrogen, ammonia, methane).

“Miller-Urey Experiment” by NASA. ImageP public domain. Included with appreciation.

Soon, water droplets began to form and then a watery solution dripped into what started to look like a tiny pond. Miller left the lab for the night. The next day, he awakened with curiosity and dashed to the lab. The pond was now turning color – a pale pink. Encouraged, he ran to tell Urey. The two watched and waited. In a week, the pink pond turned a reddish brownish black. What was happening?

Miller’s experiment turned pink. Examination revealed the presence of amino acids, building blocks of organic life. Image: TBurnArts, 2016. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Miller identified five amino acids that had formed: aspartic acid, glycine, a-aminobutyric acid and two forms of analine (Australian Earth Science Foundation, 2024). This was significant because previous to that moment, all of science avowed that amino acids, molecules of life, could only be built inside living bodies. That belief was traditionally expressed in the phrase Omne vivum ex vivo (All life comes from living things). But now living energy had appeared from inorganic compounds in Miller’s lab.  “Primordial soup” – the parlance given to Oparin/Haldane’s hypothesis and picked up by Miller/Urey – was now served. And it was pink.

Nobel Prize Laureate Harold Urey in 1934. Later, a crater on the Moon was named for him: Urey Crater. Image: Nobel Foundation, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Professor Harold Urey urged Miler to publish the findings but refused to put his name on the paper for two reasons. First, the idea and experiment was totally Miller’s and the professor was just the verifier. And, Urey worried – with reason – that the journal editors would give him all the credit because of his Nobel status. As predicted, the journal turned down the paper. But Urey wrote them a very clear note about Miller, attached his name as verifier, and they immediately published the findings. Eventually, the experiment became known as Miller-Urey. Harold Urey is also known from discovering deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, and the process of enriching uranium. Later in life, Urey became interested in space, participating in examination of lunar rocks brought back by Apollo NASA astronauts. A crater on the moon is now named Urey Crater.

Last Chance Lake in British Columbia, Canada, has been noted as a candidate for conditions similar to those described by Miller-Urey. Image: ‘British Columbian Lundbom Lake Rogaine” by photographer Murray Foubister, 2011. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Miller-Urey’s demonstration that organic life can spring from inorganic, under certain conditions, recently made news when scientists noted that Last Chance Lake – a shallow body of water in British Columbia – has the highest concentration of phosphate ever found in any natural pond or body of water on Earth.  Why is this interesting? Phosphate contains phosphorus, a life-related molecule found in DNA, RNA, and, well, life. Last Chance Lake also has dolomite that triggers reactions among calcium, magnesium, and carbonate. In the geology of the volcanic soil around the lake, phosphate may have been part of how life originated. In geological circles, it’s called a “soda lake;” some say it is just the kind that Darwin envisioned when he wrote to his colleague in February 1871 about a hypothetical “warm little pond.” But as Miller-Urey proved, it is the stimulus and alternation of heat energy that sparked those components to organic life in that pond and in the lab.

Alternation of intense heat energy proved to be the spark of organic life, in the Miller-Urey experiment. Image: “Animated lightning” by Kunal Sen and TIsha Pillai, Wikimedia Foundation, 2021. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Tesla also placed importance on alternating current. But the idea is not new. Tantra, a philosophy arising around 500 ce in India, proposed that “Spanda” (from Sankrit Spadi “to move back and forth, to vibrate”) was the original energetic force that gave forth life.

Image: “Yantra with Om symbol” said to be the vibratory sound of the universe in Tantric philoophy. From photographer Tomoaki Inaba, 2011. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

The world’s future depends upon energy in clean, renewable, sustainable forms. Solar, wave and wind (caused by thermal alternation), and advances in fusion energy, may lead the way. Interestingly, plasma fusion energy from hydrogen radiates a series of colors from red to aqua, but when they combine, they often produce pink. (Eurofusion 2024).  What is it about pink?

“Hydrogen spectrum” graphic by OrangeDog. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Australian Earth Science Foundation. “Origin of Life: Miller-Urey.”

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Energy: Darwin’s Big IF and the Oparin-Haldane Hypothesis.” 1 February 2024.

Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE).

Darling, David. “Oparin-Haldane Theory: Chart on Differences in Theories of Oparin and Haldane”

Eurofusion. “Where does the plasma colour come from?” 2024.

Forsythe, Jay G., et al., “Ester-Mediated Amide Bond Formation Driven by Wet-Dry Cycles: A Possible Path to Polypeptides on the Prebiotic Earth.” 15 July 2015. Angewandte Chemie, Volume 127, Issue 34, pages 10009-10013.

Gronstal, Aaron. “Origins of life in a drying puddle.” 10 August 2015. National Science Foundation and NASA.

Horn-Muller, Ayurella. “A shallow lake in Canada could point to the origin of life on Earth.” 17 February 2024. CNN.

Mitnick, Michael. “The Current War.” Film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, and Michael Shannon at George Westinghouse. Premiered 2017.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “Atomic Spectra Database.” Version 5.11, December 2023.

Stated Clearly. Narrated by Jon Perry. “What was the Miller-Urey Experiment?” Center for Chemical Evolution, National Science Foundation, and NASA.

Thomas, Jeremy. “Igniting the Future.” 15 May 2023. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

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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February 14, 2024
by Building The World

WATER: Valentine from Genghis Khan

Happy Valentine’s Day from Genghis Khan! Image: “Beating Heart” animation by Mraid123. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Valentine’s Day celebrates love in all its many wonderful forms and cultural traditions. But the greatest lover of record, according to DNA, might be Genghis Khan. According to DNA tracing, over 16 million people are related to the legendary Mogul emperor whose dynasty helped to renovate, repair, and advance China’s Grand Canal.

“Ghengis Khan” from 14th century painting, public domain.

Kublai Khan, Genghis’ nephew, when he became emperor, directed grain be moved northward to the new capital the dynasty had established: Dadu. Khan commanded that 816,000 tons of grain annually, with the major share – 537,000 tones – coming from the south, be delivered to the new capital. But when the supply arrived from the Yangtze region by the canal, it still had to be transported 20 miles (32 kilometers) further to reach Dadu. To accomplish this task, draft animals were conscripted, leaving farmers without adequate help: agriculture suffered. Kublai Khan saw the problem and ordered the Grand Canal’s seventh section to be completed, straightening and improving the entire route during construction of the final leg. Once the water highway was complete, communications between and among all parts of the empire could reach the capital, as well as the grain. Some say the Grand Canal transformed a region into a nation. Today, we know Dadu as Beijing.

“Wanning Bridge on China’s Grand Canal” by EditQ, 2023. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Kublai Khan’s uncle Genghis fathered five daughters and four sons with his primary wife Börte, and as many as 500 secondary spouses. Known as a master of conquest, Genghis Khan, 13h century warrior and ruler, left his mark on civilization, and with his DNA apparently well distributed, he may have personally caused a substantial increase in civilization. In 2003, evolutionary geneticist Professor Chris Tyler-Smith of Oxford University analyzed the DNA of males across 16 Asian ethnic populations. Many shared the same Y-chromosome array. Dating the pattern back, Tyler-Smith found the origin appears to be Genghis Khan who ruled at the time the particular DNA array first emerged and then proliferated. Today, if you are a male reading this post, you may be part of 0.5% of the world’s population descending from Genghis Khan, who was born in 1162, died in 1227, and very busy in between.

“Kublai Khan” by photographer A. Omer Karamollaoglu, 2012. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Dynasties are continuations  – traditions and genetics. Kublai Khan, Genghis’ nephew, inspired the mysterious poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It begins:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea…

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

  • For the whole poem, click here. To hear it read by Sir Ian McKellen, click here.

Davidson, Frank P. and K. Lusk Brooke, “The Grand Canal of China.” Building the World, Volume 1, Chapter 4, pages 35-46. Greenwood: 2006. ISBN: 0313333734

Mayell, Hillary. “Genghis Khan, a prolific lover, DNA shows.” 14 February 2017, National Geographic.,16%20million%20descendants%20living%20today.

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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February 10, 2024
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Super Bowl Sustainability

“Taylor Swift at 2023 MTV Video Music Awards,” image by iHeartRadioCa. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Taylor Swift hopes to attend the Super Bowl in Las Vegas but must take a private jet from Japan where she is on tour. Her fans, “Swifties,” quip that the superstar’s flight finally forced a certain news network to actually mention the words: “climate change.” Swift’s previous attendance at the AFC championship game in January resulted in three tons of carbon emissions – and that flight was just from New Jersey to Maryland. Flying over 5,000 miles will require a lot more jet fuel, and result in even more emissions. Joining her plane circling Las Vegas will be an estimated 1000 private jets. Swift is flying to see her boyfriend Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs play versus the San Francisco 49ers in the football contest.

“Cole Hollcomb and Travis Kelce football in action” All-Pro Reels 2021.

Sports fans with private planes are not the only winged emitters. World Economic Forum attendees jetted into Davos, Switzerland in over 1,000 private jets. That’s the same emissions that would be generated by 350,000 cars driving for seven days. Worldwide, in 2022, private jets emitted carbon dioxide totaling 573,000 metric tons.

Can we improve aviation emissions? Image: NASA, 2013. Public Domain. Creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Commercial aircraft emit carbon dioxide reaching levels of 1 billion tons every year. That is more that the entire country of Germany. If aviation were a country, it would come just after China, USA, India, Russia, and Japan in emissions levels.

“Dutch Roll” animation graphic by Pacascho, 2021. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Is there a solution? How about flying on leftover sugar, fat, and corn waste? Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) made from biofuels produced from renewable crops or collected waste offers advantages. SAF produces 85% less emissions over its lifecycle. And, importantly, SAF can use the same delivery infrastructure and personnel systems as traditional kerosene-based jet fuel. In 2021, United Airlines flew from Chicago to Washington, DC, using 100% SAF in one of its jet engines. In 2023, Emirates claimed the honor of being the first aircraft to fly an Airbus A380 using 100% SAFs in one of the plane’s engines. Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787 flew from London to New York. Gulfstream led private aviation in a flight from Savannah, George to Farnborough Airport in England using 100% SAF.

“Types and Generation of Biofuels,” by Muhammad Rizwan Javed, et al., 2019. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Leading innovators producing Sustainable Aviation Fuel include Engine Alliance, Neste, Pratt & Whitney, and Virent. Investors are interested. But it should be noted that growing enough crops for biofuels in the UK would consume one half of all available agricultural land.

Logo: Brightline West Logo, 2023. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

In 2028, stars attending Las Vegas festivities might change the game by riding the coming high-speed electric train Brightline West that will run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in two hours with almost zero emissions.

Las Vegas – bright lights, bright future. Image: “Fremont Street, Las Vegas, 2010,” by User: Jean-Cristophe Benoit, 2010. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “TRANSPORT: New ‘Wingprint’ for Aviation.” 29 November 2023. Building the World Blog.

Department of Energy (DOE), United States. “Sustainable Aviation Fuel.”

Narciso, Gerald. “It’s a big weekend for football. And for fancy jets.” 7 February 2024. The New York Times.

One Monroe Aerospace. “Why airplanes use kerosene rather than plain gasoline for fuel.” 29 April 2023.


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February 1, 2024
by Building The World

ENERGY: Darwin’s Big IF

“The Tree of Life” animated by Nina Paley, creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

February 1 opens, for many cultures, that time when, from cold and snow, ice and chill, dark and still, springs life.

“Charles Darwin” by John Duncan, 1926. Creative Commons 1.0, Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Charles Darwin wrote, on 1 February 1871:

It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh what a big if) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts – light, heat, electricity &c. present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter wd be instantly devoured, or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures formed.”

  • Letter of Charles Darwin to Joseph D. Hooker, 1 February 1871.

It was an idea whose time had come: spring –  and the springing of life – was in the air. In the 1920’s, two scientists – not yet knowing the other’s work because they published in different languages not immediately translated – came up with a theory of the origin of life energy.

Oparin was inspired by learning that methane had been detected on Jupiter. Image: “Jupiter” by NASA, 1979. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Alexander Ivanovich Oparin heard from scientific colleagues that methane had been detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter. That set Oparin to musing: did ancient Earth have an atmosphere that also contained methane, probably along with hydrogen maybe in the form of water vapor, and also ammonia. If so, these components could have formed what we think of as life. Oparin’s hypothesis was published in 1924 in Russian, in a little pamphlet “Proiskhozhdenie Zhizny” or “The Origin of Life” but not translated into English until 1936 or some say 1939, in either case years after Haldane had the same idea.

J.B.S. Haldane at Oxford in 1934. Photograph, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Meanwhile, John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (usually referred to as J.B. S. and who called himself Jack as a nickname) came up with the same, or very similar, idea. Haldane’s article of eight pages entitled “The Origin of Life” appeared in 1929 in The Rationalist Annual. Haldane suggested that the ancient atmosphere of Earth contained ammonia, water, and carbon dioxide, and would have been bombarded with ultraviolet rays from the sun that would alternate, day and night, inducing reactions through the constant alternation. When Haldane learned of Oparin’s hypothesis, he graciously commented that of course Oparin came first.

While very similar – hypothesizing a number of chemicals that would be impacted a repeating mechanism – Oparin and Haldane had slight differences in both of those parts: chemicals and mechanism. Their chemicals were referred to as “The Primordial Soup.”

Oparin and Haldane hypothesized life energy springing from the “primordial soup.” Image: “Vegetable Soup” by photographer Tila Monto, 2016. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Chemicals – the primordial soup. Oparin’s chemicals were ammonia, methane, hydrogen, and water vapor. Haldane’s chemicals were ammonia, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. Therefore, each had a carbon source: methane (Oparin) and carbon dioxide (Haldane). These chemicals formed a “primordial soup.” But what stirred the soup to life?

Oparin hypothisized lightning stirred the chemicals into life energy; Haldane thought perhaps ultraviolet light. Image: “Animated Lightning” by Kunal Sen and Tisha Pillai, Wikimedia Foundation, 2021. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Mechanism -But something had to stir the primordial soup. Oparin hypothesized lightning. Haldane hypothesized ultraviolet light.


“Thermally Agitated Molecule” graphic by Greg L., 2006. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

When the mechanism stirred the soup, over and over again, molecules bumped into each other and eventually that friction formed them into combinations or building blocks  – like amino acids. From there, complexity continued to increase. In scientific circles, the theory became known as “Oparin-Haldane” hypothesis, so despite Haldane’s graciousness, they both went into history as simultaneous discoverers and formulators of an intriguing hypothesis.

Still, it remained just a hypothesis – intriguing but yet unproven. In the next episode, we’ll see if Oparin, Haldane, and Darwin were right about the Big IF.

Darling, David. “Oparin-Haldane Theory: Chart on Differences in Theories of Oparin and Haldane”

Forsythe, Jay G., et al., “Ester-Mediated Amide Bond Formation Driven by Wet-Dry Cycles: A Possible Path to Polypeptides on the Prebiotic Earth.” 15 July 2015. Angewandte Chemie, Volume 127, Issue 34, pages 10009-10013.

Gronstal, Aaron. “Origins of life in a drying puddle.” 10 August 2015. National Science Foundation and NASA.

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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January 24, 2024
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Suez Canal – Infrastructure as Path to Peace

Can macro infrastructure links like the Suez Canal offer a path to peace? Image: “Peace” by Yaw Kuma Ansu-Kyeremech, 2021. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Can macro infrastructure links offer a path to peace? Diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps had long dreamed of “piercing” the isthmus, and sought the concession from Mohammed Pasha al-Said, a childhood friend whom de Lesseps first met when living in Egypt with his father, French consul in Cairo. Accounts reveal the future pasha very much liked the breakfast cereal served in Ferdinand’s house, and the two became fast friends who both enjoyed horse riding. In fact, later as adults, they shared a dare to exhibit horse riding skills to jump a particularly high fence: the prize would be permission to build the Suez Canal. Land rights were spelled out, construction began: the route would link two entrances – one from the Mediterranean, the other from the Red Sea.

Ferdinand de Lesseps built the Suez Canal, and tried to later build the Panama Canal. “Caricature of Ferdinand de Lesseps by André Gil, 1867. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Ten years later, on 16 November, 1869, the Suez Canal opened with a marine parade of 65 ships from nations worldwide. Giuseppe Verdi composed Aida to honor the Suez Canal’s opening. In a quirk of irony, the costumes being prepared in Europe were delayed in shipping so the opera debuted the following year.

Giuseppe Verdi composed the opera Aida in honor of the opening of the Suez Canal. Image: “Poster for Aida, 1908, Hippodrome Opera.” U.S. Library of Congress, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Friendship and international understanding graced the project – in spirit and in letter of the law. Khedive Mohammed Pasha al-Said and Ferdinand de Lesseps wrote and signed the founding agreement that called, in article VI, for “tariffs of dues for passage …(which) shall be always equal for all nations, no particular advantage can ever be stipulated for the exclusive benefit of any one country.” That principle of open access to all was legalized in the international Convention of Constantinople of 1888 in article I “in time of war as in time of peace, the canal shall never be subjected to the exercise of the right of blockade.”

“Suez Canal as seen from International Space Station” – two examples of infrastructure as peace. Photo shows the southern terminus of the Suez Canal at the northern area of the Red Sea. Image: NASA, 2007. Public Domain.

In December 2023, several commercial vessels bound for the Mediterranean diverted from the Suez Canal route to avoid danger. Because the 120 mile (192 km) canal is the fastest sea route between Asia and Europe, it is the preferred passage. For example, a ship from the Mideast Gulf bound for Rotterdam, Netherlands would travel 6,436 nautical miles via the Suez Canal but 11,169 nautical miles taking the longer route around Africa. Since December, more ships have diverted. Portwatch, study group of Oxford University and the International Monetary Fund, reported Suez Canal traffic is lowest since 2021. Shipping rates, during the diversions, have tripled. Tesla idled a factory in Germany because shipping delays caused supply chain problems. But, more concerning to many is the issue that the Suez Canal was – and is – specifically a path to peace.

Can the Belt and Road Initiative’s many links be inspired to form a path to peace? Image: “One belt, one road” by Lommes. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

The Suez Canal’s Firman and subsequent Convention specifically dedicate the route to be open to all nations equally in time of war as in time of peace. Major transport routes, like the Suez Canal, represent both trade passages and potential paths to peace. How will such dedications affect the future of the Suez Canal, and also developing links such as those in the Belt and Road Initiative? Can macro infrastructure links, like the Suez Canal, serve as a path to peace?

Ghaddar, Ahmad. “How attacks in the Red Sea impact shipping in the Suez Canal.” 19 December 2023. Reuters.

Suez Canal Authority. “Constantinople Convention of 1888,” 29 October 1888.

Davidson, F. P. and K. Lusk Brooke. “The Suez Canal,” Chapter 16, Building the World, Volume 1,  pages 187 – 204 (includes original Firman). ISBN: 0313333734.

Egan, Matt. “Insurers shun many ships carrying goods through the Red Sea as attacks continue.” 17 January 2024.

Portwatch. “Trade disruptions in the Red Sea.” 16 December 2023: updated 20 January 2024.

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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January 10, 2024
by Building The World

WATER: Rivers and Rights

Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend in Arizona,” by photographer Charles Wang, 2023. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Colorado River Basin states are working together to agree upon water use and rights. Source of drinking water for 40 million people (7 U.S. states, Mexico, and 30 Tribes of original Americans), the Colorado River has recently seen lower levels of water. Drought has plagued the area, with prospects for recharge by melting seasonal snowpack now questioned by warming related to climate change.

Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin states supplied by Colorado River. Mexico, and 30 Tribes are also participants in the Compact. Courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 2012. Public Domain: CC0. Included with appreciation.

In 2026, present agreements on water allocation among stakeholders will expire. Rather than wait for political change, Colorado River Compact states are drafting their own new regulations. Working with the Bureau of Reclamation, agency in charge of administering the Compact, states will submit their draft plan by March 2024.

Lawns may soon get a “thumbs down” as watering non-functional turf laws take effect to conserve water. Image: “Lawn Doctor” by Lawn Doctor, Inc. CC4.0. Included with appreciation.

Water use restrictions are expected. Water recycling will be important: many communities are developing systems for reuse. Southern Nevada Water Authority announced that water may not be used on “non-functional turf’ – that means lawns. It was the first permanent regulation on lawns and grass: the new law will take effect in January 2027.

Whanganui River of New Zealand was granted legal personhood rights. Will other rivers follow suit? Image: “Whanganui River” by photographer Felix Engelhardt, 2009. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Another option? Legal personhood for important bodies of water. In New Zealand, the Whanganui River was granted legal personhood. In India, the Ganges, of sacred importance, and the Yamuna, River of the Taj Mahal, applied for legal personhood status. In the United States, the City of Toledo, Ohio sought legal rights status for Toledo’s Lake Erie harbor. Could the Colorado River seek such rights, protecting and securing its ability to recharge and renew?

Water laws have progressed through three stages. Image: 123 numbers gif. Public Domain, CC0. Included with appreciation.

In the past century, water laws have progressed through three stages. Early laws established rights to use water. Next, with environmental awareness, laws addressed rights of water itself to health, renewal, and sustainability. Now, with climate change, laws have begun to concern access in times of drought and water scarcity.

How will climate change affect water agreements, regulations, and treaties? Image: “Judge’s Gavel” by photographer Chris Potter, 2012. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Interested in the evolution of water laws? Explore this database of global water laws.

Eckstein, Gabriel, et al., “Conferring legal personality on the world’s rivers: A brief intellectual assessment.” 2019, Water International, 44: 6-7, 804-829. DOI: 10.1080/02508060.2019.1631558

Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or Buried Hope?” The Status of Mexico-US Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011): 273-290.

Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia. “Ley de Derechos de La Madre Tierra.”

Flavelle, Christoper. “Colorado River States are Racing to Agree on Cuts Before Inauguration Day.” 6 January 2024. The New York Times.

Permanent Forum of Binational Waters/Foro Permanente de Aguas Binacionales.

Ramirez, Rachel, with Drew Kann. “First-ever water cuts declared for Colorado River in historic drought.” 16 August 2021.

Sankarasubramanian, A., Upmanu Lall, Naresh Devineni, and Susan Espinueva. “The role of monthly updated climate forecasts in improving intraseasonal water allocation.” Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, Volume 48, Issue 7, 1464-1482, 2009.

Stone, Christoper D. “Should Trees Have Standing? – Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.” Southern California Law Review, 45 (1972): 450-501.

Water Laws Global Database. Renewing the World.

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December 31, 2023
by Building The World

WATER/SPACE: New Year’s Eve Invitation

“New Year’s Eve” celebration by videographer Cemp, 2019. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

New Year’s Eve is often celebrated by popping a cork, releasing bubbles of hope for health and happiness. This year, cork your name into a bottle, sending your greetings and wishes into the future. Who knows who might pop the cork?

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is a watery world that may support life. Image: European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble, 2016. Included with appreciation.

NASA‘s Europa Clipper spacecraft, traveling 1.8 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers), will visit Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Evidence reveals a water world there that may support life. Arriving on the shore, in a very high-tech bottle, could be your name and a message.

“A bottle containing a sheet of music that has washed up on shore.” Image: snapwire, 2017. Dedicated by the photographer to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

This message will be from one water world to another. Ada Limón, U.S. Poet Laureate, whose “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa” will grace the gift, has written this poem:

In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa by Ada Limón

Arching under the night sky inky

with black expansiveness, we point

to the planets we know, we

pin quick wishes on stars. From earth,

we read the sky as if it is an unerring book

of the universe, expert and evident.

Still, there are mysteries below our sky:

the whale song, the songbird singing

its call in the bough of a wind-shaken tree.

We are creatures of constant awe,

curious at beauty, at leaf and blossom,

at grief and pleasure, sun and shadow.

And it is not darkness that unites us,

not the cold distance of space, but

the offering of water, each drop of rain,

each rivulet, each pulse, each vein,

O second moon, we, too, are made

of water, of vast and beckoning seas.

We, too, are made of wonders, of great

and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,

of a need to call out through the dark.

You can listen to the poem, read by Ada Limón, here.

Ada Limón, U.S. Poet Laureate. Photograph of Ada Limón by Christopher Michel, 2019. Included with appreciation.

Would you like to join Ada Limón by adding your name to NASA’s message in the bottle? Names submitted by 31 December 2023 will be etched on a microchip sent to Europa, when NASA launches the mission. To sign your name and send your greetings to the future, click here.

Sign your name on a message sent to Europa. Image: “Fountain pen” by photographer Petar Milošević, 2017. Creative Commons/wikimedia 4.0 license. Included with appreciation to Petar Milošević.

NASA. “Message in a Bottle.” 2023.

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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December 28, 2023
by Building The World


“AI-generated virtual movie star Ornella Muti” by Lasemainecomtoiise, 2018. Creative Commons CC0. Public domain. Included with appreciation.

Is it live or is it AI? The year 2023 saw breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI), accelerated by ChatGPT and other wonders. Legal questions emerged, marking the recognition of a significant milestone in civilization. Sam Altman, co-founder of OpenAI, made the news.

Sam Altman, co-founder of OpenAI, made the news in 2023. Image: “Sam Altman” by photographer Steve Jennings for Getty Images/Tech Crunch, crop edited by James Tamim, 2019. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Legal issues on the rights of AI began in 2019 when the Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS) was named as inventor-of-record in a U.S. patent application. But DABUS was developed by a human, Stephen Thaler. Deliberations resulted in the decision that AI is not a person, and patents can be awarded only to those with personhood. In 2022, Thaler appealed; but the Federal Circuit Court issued an opinion on 5 August 2022 that “the invented cannot be the inventor.” (Nemec 2023) What would Alan Turing say?

Many credit Alan Turing as one of the early founders of computer science and artificial intelligence. Image: “Alan Turning” circa 1930. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

In 2023, the Thaler decision led the U.S. Patent Office to express interest in additional guidance on how to handle AI’s contribution to inventions. It’s a question for our times, and for the future. AI not only walks the walk; it talks the talk.

AI not only walks the walk; it talks the talk. AI has a voice. Image: Activemaker2 by Hipocrite, 2006. Creative Commons Public Domain. Included with appreciation to Hipocrite.

AI has a voice. We hear it in chatbots, and we challenge it in strikes like that of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Authors Guild in 2023. AI-generated texts are a worry not only for authors whose carefully crafted language may be providing free training for bots who will later generate texts, but also for professors who must now consider plagiarism in a new way. Copyright law is also expanding to set guidelines for AI.

This x-ray of a hand was read and bone age diagnosed by AI, computer software BoneXpert. Image by Setzner1997, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Did you know that AI is racking up medical and pharmaceutical innovations? AI-driven drug discovery is being carried out by more than 250  companies, half of which are in the United States. The advantage of AI as a research partner is speed: Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma and Exscientia developed DSP-1191 to ease a difficult condition in one-quarter of the normal time it takes for such discoveries. (McKinsey, 2022)

“Particle Swarm Seeking Global Minimum” graphic animation by Ephramac, 2017. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

While much of the activity, and controversy, concerning AI stirs the American economy, the European Union may be the first to develop AI laws. The 2023 EU’s “AI Act” forbids AI that threatens public safety and person’s rights. The law developed over two years of discussion, noting chatbots, OpenAI, ChatGPT, image-generation technologies, as well as audio and video. AI images have mesmerized and influenced over 100 million users. Images may include facial recognition, important to law enforcement and immigration, but also perhaps threatening to personal privacy and frequently racially unjust.

Facial recognition software is a form of AI. Image: “Eigenfaces from ORL face data” from AT&T Laboratories, Cambridge. Public Domain. Included with appreciation to AT&T and ORL.

EU and US law both address use of the prompt to generate images through AI. Such images are, by definition, not applicable to copyright law because they do not contain enough material that can be judged as created by a human. Artists, including members of creative communities like HUG, are taking note. Here’s such an image:

AI-generated image, created by prompt. Image: “Snow glove that contains a spiral galaxy,” prompt by Jason, 2023. Because it is AI-generated, this image is in the public domain. It is included with appreciation to Jasin for the prompt.

Fascinated by what’s real and what’s AI? Interested in AI tools? Here is a list of the top 100 AI tools of 2023Want to create your own images with a prompt? Try this Harvard guide.

Alan Turing. “The Turing Digital Archive.” King’s College, Cambridge University.

Devereson, Alex, et al.,  “AI in biopharma research: A time to focus and scale,” 10 October 2022. McKinsey & Company.

European Union. “AI Act”


Harvard University. “Getting started with prompts for text-based Generative AI tools.” Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT).

Nemec, Douglas R. and Laura M. Rann. “AI and Patent Law: Balancing Innovation and Inventorship.” April 2023. Skadden Insights. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates.

Sumitomo Pharma.

Thaler v. Vidal. 

United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Artificial Intelligence’s Use and Rapid Growth Highlight Its Possibilities and Perils.” 6 September 2023. U.S, GAO.

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). “Inventing AI: Tracing the diffusion of artificial intelligence with U.S. patents.” Office of the Chief Economist, USPTO, October 2020.

Zuckerberg, Randi and Debbie Soon. “Hug and Stability AI.”

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

Appreciation to Rachael M. Rusting, Cherie E. Potts, Todd H. Ward, and Shira P. White for discussions of AI.

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December 19, 2023
by Building The World

ENERGY: (Re)Vision for Coal

Coal-fired power plants, repurposed, may offer great innovation opportunities. Image: “Coal burning” by Diddi4, 2017. Creative Commons CC0. Included with appreciation.

Many are terming COP28 as the “beginning of the end.” While the desired wording of “phasing out” degraded into “transitioning,” still it was the first time directly naming and targeting “fossil fuels in energy systems.”

Of the three primary fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), coal is the most polluting. And it is also very expensive to mine: digging enormous holes in the ground, hauling up heavy materials, crushing, washing, transporting coal to plants that themselves are both expensive to run and in need of repair, replacement, or retirement. More than 80% of U.S. coal plants cost more to keep running than to replace with new forms of energy generation. Regulations will accelerate closings: the 2028 laws concerning protecting drinking water from coal ash and other toxins may make compliance prohibitively costly. Duke Energy announced intention to close 11 coal-fired power facilities earlier than expected, at the same time declaring a move to renewable energy investment.  Georgia Power stated it would close all of its 14 coal plants (by 2035) while pivoting to solar and wind. Peabody Coal, largest private company in the coal business in the world, recently announced investment in solar and storage. (Marcacci, 2022).

Coal is the most polluting of the fossil fuels. Image: “Close up of smoke from coal stack” by John L. Alexandrowicz, 1975, National Archives and Records Administration, USA. Public Domain Creative Commons CC0. Included with appreciation.

Even if soon becoming obsolete in their original purpose, repurposed coal plants offer a valuable asset: they are already wired to the grid. That’s why repurposing rather than decommissioning coal-fired power plants may be a great opportunity. And, it should be noted that repurposing plants will keep jobs, taxes, and revenues in the community. Here’s two examples of advantageous repurposing of coal-fired power plants.

Brayton Point went from coal to wind. Image: “Aerial view of Brayton Point Power Station,” circa 1990, from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. CC2.0. Included with appreciation.

Brayton Point Power Station was once the biggest coal-fired power plant in New England, generating 1600 MW of electrical power for more than half a century. In 2017, the plant closed. One year later, Commercial Development Company, Inc., (CDC) bought what was left and started the process of clean-up, needed demolition, site re-grading, and preparing for a new vision. With 300 acres (121 hectares) on a spacious waterfront with a 34-feet (10 meters) deep water port, the site was advantageous. Brayton Point offered access to the powerful winds of the Atlantic Ocean. When partner Prysmian Group signed on to acquire 47 acres for construction of a subsea cable manufacturing facility, coal-to-wind transition was born with a planned energy capacity of 30GW. Partner Mayflower Wind will also take a role, bringing 1,200 MW to Brayton Point from its wind farms 30 miles (48 kilometers) off island Martha’s Vineyard and 20 miles (32 kilometers) off Nantucket. Brayton Point will serve as a valuable nexus for wind energy because it has legacy grid connections. A National Grid substation will bring power to one million homes. Further benefits are construction jobs (325) and area revenues ($250 million). More opportunities will open for tenants on the newly designed site.

Space Solar Power, wirelessly beamed to Earth, could use retired, repurposed coal-fired power plants as receiving and transmission stations. There are over 8,000 on the planet – offering an instant global distribution network. Caltech demonstrated success in 2023. Image: “Solar Power Satellite Concept” by NASA, 2011. Public domain image included with appreciation.

A powerful possibility is using former coal-fired power plants as land stations to receive and transmit space solar power. In 1971, visionary Peter E. Glaser filed US patent application US00165893A for “Method and apparatus for converting solar radiation to electrical power.” NASA started work on Glaser’s idea, but at the time space technology was not developed sufficiently to realize the potential.  In 2023, the dream became vision with demonstrated proof. Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project (SSPP) and its Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE) sent a space solar power prototype into orbit, and wirelessly transmitted to a receiver on Earth – March 3, 2023 was the exact moment. The success was designed by a Caltech team led by Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering, co-director of SSPP, Ali Hajimiri. It was with the help of Donald Bren, chair of Irvine Company. Bren had read an article in Popular Science as a young person and never forgot the concept. A series of donations launched the Caltech project. Northrop Grumman also donated. It might be noted that when space-based wireless power arrives on earth, the energy source may need receiving stations. Rather than build a whole new network, repurposed coal-fired plants, already connected to the grid, might stand at the ready to realize a new power system. With over 8,000 coal-fired power plants already in place, coal-fired power plants may be the ideal, already-built, global network for reception and distribution of space solar power.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “In a first, Caltech’s space solar power demonstrator wirelessly transmits power in space.” 1 June 2023. Caltech. Includes VIDEO.

Commercial Development Company, Inc. “Case Study: Repurposing New England’s Largest Coal-Fired Power Plant for Offshore Wind Energy.” 2023.

Glaser, Peter E. “Method and apparatus for converting solar radiation to electrical power.” 1971. United States Patent application US00165893A.

Hajimiri, Ali. “How wireless energy from space could power everything.” TED2030.

Marcacci, Silvio. “So much for coal’s rebound – plant closures come roaring back. It’s time to unlock a just transition.” 15 March 2022. Forbes. (Audio available).

United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “First Global Stocktake,” 13 December 2023. FCCC/PA/CMA/2023/L.17.

World Bank Group, Energy Sector Management Assistance Program. “Coal plant repurposing for ageing coal fleets in developing countries.” Technical report 016/21. License: Creative Commons 3.0

Yale Environment 360. “Canadian Coal-Fired Power Plant Transformed into Solar Farm.” 8 April 2019. Yale E360 Digest.

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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December 9, 2023
by Building The World

WATER: Sparkle Season Innovations

“Menorah” by Nagamani J., 2019. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

T’is the season. Menorah lights glow. Christmas decorations shine. Kwanzaa candles illumine. Festive cards with sparkles greet celebrants who themselves don bedecked apparel. But did you know that glitter and sparkle usually gleam with plastic coatings? Sparkle – greeting cards and packaging, holiday ornaments, festive dresses and party attire – may be made from chemicals that are toxic and largely unregulated. It’s an area of plastic pollution that we rarely consider.

“Christmas baubles.” by KamrynsMom, 2008. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Hang an ornament on a holiday tree – it may glow in the lights but later sprinkle some coating dust. A child may open a card shining with glitter, and later wash their hands before enjoying holiday treats. Sparkle left on little fingertips may wash down the drain and into the water supply. Teens can twirl to holiday party music but their festive attire might shed a sequin or two. Dance floors are swept, and mops are rinsed. Sequins, sparkle, and glitter can flow into the water supply.

“Kwanzaa Candles Kinara” by Nesnad, 2008. Dedicated by the artist to the public domain, creative commons CC0. Included with appreciation.

Fashion is responding. You can now choose innovative festive wear that glows with health for you, the environment, and the water we all share. Deck the halls with algae!

Holiday apparel often features sequins. Now, fashion is responding with non-toxic festive attire. Image: “Bullet points dress.” by photographer Zena assi, 2011. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Some designers and materials engineers are now developing sparkling fabrics formed by algae and wood-based materials that eventually dissolve back into the environment with little disturbance.

Fashion made from bioluminescent nature is an innovation worth supporting. Image: “Mycena chlorophos – bioluminescent mushroom.” by photographer lalalfdfa. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation

London-based Elissa Brunato uses forms of cellulose. In view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Phillip Lim collaborates with Arizona State University’s Charlotte McCurdy to adorn fashion with an algae-based bioplastic film that can be made into sequins. The designers are inspired by shades of green and the process of photosynthesis. These innovative designers include:

Elissa Brunato –

Anuje Farhung –

Sarah Kahn –

Phillip Lim –

Charlotte McCurdy –

One X One –

Scarlett Yang –

Some festive garments may not be the best choice for jumping into a party swimming pool at midnight on New Year’s Eve, even if the sequins harbor no harm. Central Saint Martins graduate Scarlett Yang designed a dress – glowing with algae extract – that decomposes in water.

“Water drop” by José Manuel Suárez, 2008. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Designboom. “Elissa Brunato makes bio-iridescent sequins from wood as an alternative to plastic.”

Hahn, Jennifer. “Philip Lim and Charlotte McCurdy adorn couture dress with algae sequins to avoid “reaching for polyester.” 22 February 2021. Dezeen.

Hitti, Natasha. “Scarlett Yang designs lab-grown dress from algae that can decompose in hours.” Dezeen. 28 August 2020.

Khadha, Navin Singh. “Five ways sequins add to plastic pollution.” 27 December 2022. BBC.

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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