Building the World

April 17, 2024
by Building The World

ENERGY/WATER: Maximizing Minerals

Cobalt is essential for supporting renewable energy. Land-based cobalt mining is difficult, and sea-based is dangerous. Cobalt is 100% recyclable and reusable. How can we maximize minerals? Image: “Cobalt Mineral” by Bhavss1214. Creative Commons 4.0 Included with appreciation.

International Energy Agency predicts 500% increase in demand for minerals like cobalt by 2050. Cobalt is generally associated with mining, and more than half of land-based global cobalt reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Kamoto mine in Katanga and the Metalkol RTE run by Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) are noteworthy; ERG joined the Responsible Minerals Assurance Process as part of the Responsible Minerals Initiative that prohibits certain labor practices in the DRC mining industry. But do we need a Responsible Minerals Initiative for the sea?

Land-based mines can inflict environmental damage and scars: what would ocean mining do? “Kalgoorlie: “The Big Pit” by Brian Voon Yee Yap, 2005. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Land-based mining is running out of minerals like cobalt. So, attention is now turning to the deep seabed, especially the mineral-rich Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). To get an idea of the size of the CCZ, it is as wide as the continental United States, and stretches across the Pacific from Mexico to Hawaii. Here may be found polymetallic nodules containing manganese, sulfide deposits, and ferromanganese crusts with cobalt, manganese, nickel, titanium – even gold. The gold alone is worth $150 trillion. Polymetallic nodules in the deep seabed contain more key metals than the entire world’s land-based reserves.

“Polymetallic nodules on the seabed of CCZ” by Rov Kiel 6000, Geomar Bilddatenbank, 2015. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Some mineral deposits lie within national exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of coastal countries who have rights to their waters (and seabed minerals) within 200 nautical miles/230 land miles (370 km). Everything beyond belongs to everyone, even landlocked countries. This is the blue commons. It is related to the diplomatic peace principle of the Suez Canal – “open to all nations in times of war and peace.” The principle was first defined by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in the Latin phrase mare liberum (sea + free).

Can we find peace in the blue commons? “Mare Liberum” by Hugo Grotius, 1609. This image is from the archives of the Peace Palace, The Hague, Netherlands. Creative Commons0. 1.0, public domain. Included with appreciation.

The deep seabed is governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a United Nations agency authorized as part of the Law of the Sea. Any signatory nation of the Law of the Sea may apply for a contract authorizing exploration of the seabed. After a number of exploration years, that country may apply to move towards exploitation – mining. Private partners are allowed, so some very small countries like Nauru have thus exercised their rights with some very big partners like The Metals Company.

Where is Nauru? Image: “Nauru on the globe” by graphic artist TUBS. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

But there is more in the deep sea than minerals. Research ship James Cook just completed a study of marine species in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. As many as 5,000 never-yet-named species may be living in the CCZ. Some of species thrive in symbiotic exchange with polymetallic nodules. It takes millions of years to build a polymetallic nodule of just 8 inches (20 centimeters). Imagine the disruption and environmental damage if an autonomous robotic bulldozer were to rake up the nodules. And, while mineral mining on land can result in accidents and environmental damage, imagine what that would look like undersea  –  using explosives and heavy machinery. Will the UN Convention on Biological Diversity protect the CCZ?

Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ)” by NOAA, 2011. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Some believe mining deep seabed minerals is the only way we can get to a fully renewable energy future; other science and technology experts state we can optimize present use of metals and minerals by more than 50%, and not need to invade the seabed. And, it is critical to note that the minerals like cobalt, lithium, and nickel – essential for renewable energy conductivity and storage – are recyclable and reusable.

Cobalt, Lithium, and Nickel are recyclable and reusable. We can do more – before we do more damage. How can you help to maximize minerals? Image: “Universal Recycling Symbol” Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

ISA is nearing approval of deep seabed mining contracts for exploitation. Environmental advocates like Sir David Attenborough, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and Lewis Pugh have joined hundreds of scientists who recommend a moratorium on decisions to advance deep seabed mining. The UK-based James Cook voyage is part of the Seabed Mining and Resilience to Experimental Impact (SMARTEX). If you would like to convey your opinions and recommendations, you may contact the ISA here. Other options are to communicate with SMARTEX here.

Marine life in the CCZ needs your vote. Image: “Opisthoteuthis agassizii” by NOAA, 2019. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

BBC and Natural History Museum. “New Life Forms Discovered in CCZ.” VIDEO.

Bhujbal, Prajakta. “10 minerals that can be recycled.” 5 February 2022. Recycling.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Speedo Diplomacy: Deep Sea Mining and Marine Protected Areas,” pages 55-66, Renewing the World: Casebook for Leadership in Water. 2024. ISBN: 979-8-9850359-5-7. Available on Amazon and at

Hunt, Katie. “Deep-sea expedition captures stunning images of creatures in Pacific mining zone.” 3 April 2024. CNN.

Earle, Sylvia. Mission Blue/The Sylvia Earle Alliance.

Hein, James R. and Kira Miel, USGS. Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. “Deep-ocean polymetallic nodules and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the global ocean: New sources for critical metals.” 21 April 2022.

International Seabed Authority (ISA)

Lewis Pugh Foundation.

Miller, K.A., et al., “Challenging the need for deep seabed mining from the perspective of metal demand, biodiversity, ecosystems services, and benefit sharing.” Frontiers, Marine Ecosystem Ecology, Volume 8 – 2021.

Ostrum, Elinor. Governing the Commons. ISBN: 97800-521-40599-7

The Metals Company.

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). “Deep Seabed Mining” VIDEO

Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI).


United Nations. “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

United Nations. “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.” Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD/COP/DEC/15/4, 19 December 2022.

Vox. “The race to mine the bottom of the ocean.” 2023. VOX

Whittaker, Bill, et al., “National security leaders worry about U.S. failure to ratify Law of the Sea treaty.” 24 March 2024. CBS News. Includes VIDEO.

World Wildlife Fund. “Future mineral demand can be met without deep seabed mining as innovative technology can cut mineral use by 58%.” 28 November 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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April 3, 2024
by Building The World

ENERGY: Pipe Dream or Nightmare?

Fossil fuels like oil and gas are carried around the world by pipelines. Image: “Vortex street animation gif” by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira, 2006. Dedicated to the public domain, Creative Commons0 1.0, by the designer and included with appreciation.

Pipelines carry energy in a distribution system that is one of the most complex in the history of civilization. But the energy pipeline had humble beginnings. In 1821, William Hart of Fredonia, New York, saw something bubbling on the surface of Canadaway Creek. He ran home, grabbed his wife’s washtub, placed it over the bubbling area, drilled a small hole in the tub, stuck a barrel from an old gun (disconnected) and let the gas rise up. He’d seen kids playing around with the bubbles and lighting them on fire. So, when the gas bubbled out of his make-shift tube, he lit it: it burned.

William Hart discovered natural gas bubbling up from Canadaway Creek. He dug nearby and fashioned what may be one of the first energy pipelines. Image: “Canadaway Creek in New York” by photographer Schetm, 2022. This image is dedicated to the public domain, Creative Commons0 1.0. It is included with appreciation.

Realizing that this substance was a kind of fuel, Hart dug nearby, rewarded by a modest flow. Looking around for a few hollow logs that he could bind with rags and tar, Hart built a primitive pipeline and sold the energy source to a local tavern, perhaps giving new meaning to the bar quip “fire water.”

Image: “HDPE Pipeline in Australia” by photographer GordonJ86, 2013. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0. It is included with appreciation.

Globally, there are so many energy pipelines that, if laid end to end, they could circle the globe 30 times. In the United States, there may be over 190,000 miles (approximately 305,000 kilometers) carrying crude oil from field to refinery to terminal. There are even more natural gas pipelines: 2.4 million miles (3.8 million kilometers). With all that volatile fuel coursing night and day, what could go wrong?

Image: “Pipeline Leak” photograph by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1972. Image is from National Archives NWDNS-412-DA-3515. Public Domain and included with appreciation.

Fatigue can wear us all down: even more so for pipelines that never get to sleep or take a vacation. In April 2023, Canada’s TC Energy spilled 14,000 barrels of oil in Kansas, USA, because of a fatigue crack that began as a construction imperfection and gradually worsened until it spilled. As a result, the whole pipeline, normally conveying 622,000 barrels-per-day, shut down for three weeks. Mill Creek in Kansas suffered longer.

Nigeria suffered over 600 pipeline leaks in 2020. Image: “Nigeria as seen from space” by NASA, 2015. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 and is included with appreciation.

Unfortunately, pipeline leaks are not unusual. Nigeria suffered over 600 pipeline leaks in 2020. Every leak is deadly to wildlife, harmful to land and water, and costly. In four years (2015-2019), energy pipeline failures cost over $1 billion in property damage. What’s the remedy? While fossil fuel pipelines are still in use, detection and repair remain critical: half of the failures are due to corrosion.

Smart pigs are robotic devices traveling pipelines to detect cracks or leaks. Image: “Ancient drawing by unknown artist.” This fascinating image is in the public domain and included with appreciation.

Enter the “smart pig.” Invented in 1961 by Shell Development, this early form of mobile AI robotic devices launched commercially three years later by Tuboscope. How did “smart pigs” get their whimsical name? When first sent on a test mission, gears on the devices made a squealing sound that sounded like baby pigs. It is known that pigs are intelligent, and these devices certainly were, and are, smart.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline used smart pigs. Image: “Trans-Alaska Pipeline International” is licensed under Creative Commons 2.5 and is included with appreciation.

When Canada and the United States built the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, smart pigs were inserted into the infrastructure to measure flow and detect problems. Magnetic flux tools track metal loss: ultrasonic tools measure pipe wall thickness and look for cracks. Smart pigs enter via a “pig launcher” that then closes to let the pipe’s normal pressure carry it along, measuring and checking for problems, before arriving at a receiving station where it can be retrieved for data download. Pigs are not an afterthought to be deployed upon presentation of a problem: pipelines must be built to accommodate pigs before the energy system begins operation.

Line 5 affects the Chippewa, other Tribal nations who hold sacred the environment the pipeline traverses. Will the Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy guide the way? The U.S. States of Michigan and Wisconsin are also affected, and the lawsuits also Canada’s Enbridge. Image: “Flag of the Sokaogon Chippewa” by graphic designer Xasartha, 2014. Creative Commons 3.0, and included with appreciation.

Even when pipelines do not have technical problems, they cause legal problems. Transboundary issues are common: by definition, pipelines go the distance. For example, in the United States, “Line 5” traverses the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac, a water passage connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Michigan, Wisconsin, and more than 20 Tribal Nations are affected. And then there’s Canada, where Enbridge, pipeline owner, receives 540,000 barrels of crude oil and natural (should we change the name to “methane gas?”) gas. The Tribal Nations raised concern bout their environment. The Wisconsin Chippewa filed a suit challenging the trespass on their land. Michigan opened a law suit concerning the section of Line 5 that traverses the Straits. There is now a judgement requiring Enbridge to reroute the pipeline and pay a $5 million fine (an appeal is in progress). Claiming Canadian rights granted by a 1977 treaty, Enbridge countered with an appeal and a proposal: they want to invade the Strait even more by building a tunnel made of concrete below the lake bed. While a pipeline may be difficult to remove, even more so a concrete tunnel.

How can we bridge a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Image: “Nénuphars et Pont japonais,” by Claude Monet 1899. This image is in the public domain and included with appreciation.

As we phase out coal, the world may continue to taper off oil and then, gas. In that transition, there are many issues of justice, environment, resource management, and transition strategy. Some energy advisors advocate keeping at least some fossil energy options available, as a bridge. Then, if a renewable energy source failed, and back-up energy storage also failed, we could “open the tap.” As Professor Emily Grubert warned, during a presentation at the Harvard Kennedy School in April 2024, in order to keep a system reliable, it has to be run periodically even when not needed. And, while we have tested the maximum flow volume for energy pipelines, have we yet tested the minimum? What is the right way to balance transition to renewable technology while still making sure there is backup? Phasing out fossil fuels may need more planning.

What can we do with all those pipelines? Image: “Animation of a capacitor using flow analogy in a pipe” by KDS4444, 2014. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0, and included with appreciation.

As we free transition from fossil fuel sources, what will we do with all those pipelines: above ground, buried beneath, and those snaking lake and sea floor? Do you have ideas for reusing or repurposing pipeline infrastructure?

Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy.

Baker, Michael Jr. Inc. and Raymond R. Fessler. “Pipeline Corrosion,” November 2009. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Office of Pipeline Safety, U.S. Department of Transportation.

Davidson, Frank P. and K. Lusk Brooke. “Trans-Alaska Pipeline,” Building the World, Volume Two, pages 681 – 709. Greenwood: 2006. ISBN: 0313333742. Note: contains the original contract for the pipeline.

Grubert, Emily. “Planning the Mid-transition for Just and Sustainable Decarbonization.” 1 April 2024. Harvard Kennedy School. Please see recording on Belfer Center YouTube.

Grubert, E and S. Hastings-Simon. 2022. “Designing the mid-transition: A review of medium-term challenges for coordinated decarbonization in the United States. WIRE’s Climate Change.

Halleck, Rebecca and Dionne Searcey.  “A Great Lakes Pipeline Tangles Politics in Two Battleground States.” 27 March 2024. The New York Times.

Hussein, Mohammed. “Mapping the world’s oil and gas pipelines.” 16 December 2021. Al Jazerra.

Lacroix, Karine, et al., “Should it be called ‘natural gas’ or ‘methane’?” 1 December 2020. Climate Communication, Yale University.

Lindner, Jannik. “Pipeline leak statistics.” 20 December 2023.


Williams, Nia. “TC Energy says Keystone oil spill caused by fatigue crack,” 21 April 2023. Reuters.

U.S. Congress and Government of Canada. “Agreement Concerning Transit Pipelines,” 1977.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, “Fact sheet: Inspections (smart pigs).”

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 27, 2024
by Building The World


Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster is a tragedy. You can help here and here. Image: ‘Cable stayed suspension bridge” by Wikideas1, 2024. Pubic Domain CC0 1.0. Included with appreciation to the artist and support for Baltimore’s families who have suffered loss.

The tragedy of the Francis Scott Key Bridge brings deep sorrow for those lost and injured, as the search for those still missing continued after the accident. The Baltimore bridge was slammed by cargo vessel Dali after the 984 foot (299 meters) ship lost power and could not avoid collision. A MayDay call was sent, but it was too late. Citizens in the area rushed to help, forming a human blockade to prevent oncoming traffic from entering the bridge access.

“Francis Scott Key Bridge and Cargo Ship Dali” tragic accident photograph by NTSBgov, March 2024. This image is in the public domain.

While using waterways for transport is an ancient idea, and has recently been championed by European transport experts as more environmentally beneficial, the size of cargo ships must be considered. Europe has 23,000 miles (37,014 kilometers) of waterways: using canals and rivers for cargo transport could reduce emissions from trucks. Presently, 6.5 million trucks deliver goods across Europe, while rail carries just 5% and rivers 2%. European port operator Haropa proposed rivers and canals as a means of cargo delivery. But when European canals, as well the American Erie Canal were built, and the bridges that span these waterways, cargo vessels carrying goods were smaller.

The Ever Given cargo ship, stuck in the Suez Canal in 2021, was so large it could be seen from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA/ISS 27 March 2021. Public Domain.

Now, the size of the average cargo ship is considerably larger. Ships that have problems can cause major trouble, like the container ship Ever Given that got stuck in the Suez Canal. In the first three months of 2024, cargo ships have hit bridges in Argentina, China, and the United States. Some would question if waterways, and bridges, are ready for the size of cargo vessels now used. The Port of Baltimore is the 11th largest in the United States. It is an important transport center, but what are the limits of the ships that traverse its waters? What safety measures need to be in place in the world’s ports? Coastal cities around the world are some of the most important ports. Baltimore is one; Boston is another. Will sea level rise threaten the safety of ports?

Zakim Bridge in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, completed in 2002, named to honor Leonard P. Zakim. It is the largest asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge in the world. Photograph by Eric Vance, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2019. Public Domain Creative Cpmmons0 1.0. Included with appreciation.

While the Francis Scott Key bridge was not structurally deficient (although there has been comment on its structural redundancy, a term for extra support that can compensate for damage preventing collapse, as well as pier protection) and was certified as completely up-to-code, too many of our spans are in need of strengthening. Bridges last about 50 years before showing problems. The age of the average bridge in the United States is 42. A study by the American Road and Transport Builders Association (ARTBA) revealed that 36% of U.S. bridges – 222,000 – are in need of repair. The total cost? $319 billion. How much is currently allocated? $3.2 billion.

Roman aqueducts and bridges utilized the famous Roman Arch. Image: “Roman Aqueduct in Tarragona, Spain” by Cruccone. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Bridges were once, and remain, so important to city planning and security that in ancient Rome, only the Pope and a small cadre of bishops had the right to authorize a bridge. From that historic beginning, we get our word “pontiff” (Latin “pontifex” from “pons” (bridge) + “facere” (to do or make). Only the Pontiff of Rome could issue a bridge permit. In olden days of China, there was a bridge over which only the Emperor could walk.

“London Bridge” by Claes Van Visscher, 1616. This image, in the public domain, was offered by Mahagaja. It is included with appreciation.

Many transport historians might mark stages of civilization by connections formed via bridges. London Bridge changed the commerce of the city. Its span was the location of what may be one of the first shopping malls: retail stalls built along the structure paid rent that helped support bridge repairs. London Bridge is significant, too, for what was perhaps the first worker’s compensation plan, according to King John’s document of authorization to the Lord Mayor of London.

“Brooklyn Bridge, originally the Great East River Suspension Bridge” by Currier and Ives, 1883. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Bridges can raise the spirit: the Brooklyn Bridge has inspired more poetry than any other bridge in history. Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge,“offers reflections upon the span. The bridge is also connected to philosophy: it began in the mind of John Roebling who contemplated teachings of his professor at the Royal Polytechnic in Berlin: the philosopher Hegel. It was one of Hegel’s theories that gave Roebling the idea: it came to him in a flash during a hike in Bamberg. He sat down on a rock and sketched what would become the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Hammersmith Bridge” by photographer Alex Muller, 2008. This image is licensed by Creative Commons 3.0. It is included with appreciation to Alex Mulller.

British spans were recently studied: 17 were found to be in danger of collapse and 37 were on the watch list. The Hammersmith Bridge across the Thames River showed cracks in the 100+ year-old structure, causing the banning of vehicles since 2019.

“Morandi Bridge” by photographer Davide Papalini, 2010. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0. It is included with appreciation to Davide Papalini.

European Union bridges tend to be on the older side: many were built as part of the Marshall Plan, just after World War II in the mid 1940s. Germany’s Leverkusen Bridge developed concrete cracks and was closed to heavy vehicles in 2012. In 2018, Italy’s Morandi Bridge connecting Genoa to France collapsed in a drenching rain storm. Built with only one pair of cable stays to support each section, vulnerability may have been inherent in the design.

Will bridges, many built in earlier times for different conditions, withstand the stronger storms of climate change? Britain’s Tay Rail Bridge washed out and collapsed in a strong storm in 1879. Image: Tay Bridge Catastrophe, 1879. Image origin: public domain, author unknown.

Climate change and attendant extreme weather, including intense winds and storms creating waves and floods, may affect bridges. In areas with drought subject to wildfire, bridges might need protection in parts of the span that may contain fiberoptic cable. Concrete may seem strong, but it cracks at 500 degrees Fahrenheit and melts at 2,500 degrees. Innovations like “First Line Fire Blankets” can be applied to bridges, power cables, and even gas pipelines. Make of E-glass fiber that resists thermal conductivity, “fire blankets” can be retrofitted to protect critical infrastructure.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is building many new bridges. Are there opportunities for innovation that can respond to climate change?  The Mohammed VI Bridge, Morocco, was a BRI project. Image courtesy of Ministry of Equipment and Transport, Morocco, 2016. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Older bridges may be supported by vigilance and retrofitting. Newer construction has opportunities for innovation. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, connecting Asia all the way to Africa and Europe, may tally $8 trillion. Financed in part by loans to countries that agree to the building of bridges, ports, roads, railways, China’s debts-owed increased 20% since 2013 when the project launched. More than 68 countries have signed on to participate in the project that will involve 65% of the world’s entire population. Bridges in the plan include the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, Maputo Bay Bridges in Mozambique, Mohammed VI Bridge in Morocco, and the Peljesac Bridge in Croatia. Decisions made about bridge design, strength, maintenance, and technology may determine the future of the much of the world’s connectivity over water, and also over terrain needing aerial bypass. What are some ways bridges can be improved?

A view of Baltimore’s Key Bridge in 2011 by photographer Sarnold17. This image is licensed in Creative Commons 3.0.

Meanwhile, Baltimore mourns. If you would like to help those affected, you may help here and here.

ARTBA. “2023 Bridge Report: 222,000 U.S. Bridges Need Major Repairs.” 18 August 2023.

Bridge Masters, Inc (BMI). “First Line Fire Blankets: Superior Bridge Utility Protection.” 15 September 2017.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Brooklyn Bridge.” Building the World Blog.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “TRANSPORT: Suez Canal.” 31 March 2021. Building the World Blog.

Jester, Julia. et al., “At least 6 people unaccounted for after cargo ship crash levels Baltimore bridge.” 26 March 2024. NBC News.

McBridge, James, et al., “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative.” 2 February 2023. Council on Foreign Relations.

Topham, Gwyn. “More than 3,200 UK bridges need repair, local authorities say.” The Guardian. 25 March 2022.

Yeung, Jessie. “Three ships have hit bridges in different countries – in just three months. Should we be worried?” 27 March 2024. 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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March 22, 2024
by Building The World

WATER: Peace and Water

World Water Day 2024: Water and Peace. Image: “Peace Dove and Olive Branch at Flight.” by Nevit. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

WATER: It is our natural shared element. Earth is 70% water. Our bodies are 68% water; plants as much as 90%. Water is one of our most important shared resources. Can what is shared be a passage to peace?

Civilization has advanced by sharing water. Image: “Xvolks Canal des Deux Mers (or Canal du Midi)” by Xvolks, 2005. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Throughout history, civilization advanced by sharing water. China’s Grand Canal carried water, and food, from the south to the northern capital. Italy’s Aqueducts brought fresh spring water from surrounding hills to the city of Rome. France joined the Atlantic to the Mediterranean via the Canal des Deux Mers. The Colorado River, water source for 40 million people, shares water with the United States, many original American tribal nations, and Mexico, while providing hydroelectric power. The Tennessee Valley Authority harnessed water to provide electricity with its guiding motto: “Power for All.” Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric is now building Snowy 2.0 that will re-use and recirculate water for pumped hydro energy. The Suez Canal has, in its founding firman, assurance that the waterway must be open to all nations in times of war and peace.

March 22, 2024 World Water Day: Water and Peace. Image: “Peace” by photographer Lindsay Ensing, 2011. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

This year, the United Nations, convener of World Water Day adopted in 1992, offers the theme of Water and Peace. How fortunate we are that water is a renewable resource, if its wise use is designed to follow its natural system dynamics. In our time of climate change, when drought may cause water scarcity, respecting and honoring ways to sustain, renew, and share water may inspire peace. How will you honor water and peace?

How will you help the world honor water and peace? Image: “The World of Water” by photographer Snap. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation,

Brooke, K. Lusk. Renewing the World: Casebook for LEADERSHIP in WATER. 2024. Amazon and

Snowy Hydro 2.0.

United Nations. “Water and Peace.”

United Nations. “Water for cooperation: transboundary and international water cooperation, cross-sectoral cooperation, including scientific cooperation, and water across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” 22-24 March 2024. hrrps://

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 18, 2024
by Building The World

SPACE: Methane EYE in the SKY

MethaneSAT: New Eye in the Sky. Image: “Eye in the Sky” book cover design circa 1957 by Ed Valigursky. This image is in the public domain,CC0 1.0, and included with appreciation.

It’s odorless, colorless, but not harmless. Methane, found in land and under the seabed (where the Earth’s largest reservoir is located in the form of methane clathrates), can severely damage the planet when it escapes into the air. Atmospheric methane increased 170% since the Industrial Revolution. Methane is powerful: it causes 30% of global warming, and is more potent than carbon dioxide (one ton of methane = 82.5 tons of carbon dioxide).

More than 155 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions. Now we have the technology to take action. Image: “Global Methane Initiative logo.” Creative Commons Fair Use with appreciation.

Methane may be both the greatest danger and the greatest hope to save the Earth. That’s why those at COP26 in Glasgow cheered when 155 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030, signing the Global Methane Pledge.

MethaneSAT will circle the Earth 15 times per day, spotting methane emitters and then making the data public. Image: “Animation of GPS Satellite 2015-2018, based on JPL/NASA data.” by Phoenix7777. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Look through the eyes, and instruments, of Steven Wofsy, Harvard Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, principal investigator, and Steven Hamburg, Environmental Defense Fund chief scientist, who along with Harvard’s Kelly Chance, Daniel Jacob, and Xiong Liu, designed an innovative technology with an academic, commercial,  scientific, and philanthropic communal effort that takes a cue from COMSAT. Partners include BAE, Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Canyon Technologies, Google, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Center for Astrophysics IO Aerospace, New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA), Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and SpaceX. MethaneSAT will circle the planet 15 times each day, pinpointing methane emitters so exactly that the actual facility leaking or venting the gas can be identified and revealed: data will be public. Liu commented: “MethaneSAT is not simply collecting data; we’re putting data into action.” (Powell 2023) MethaneSAT will be not only an eye in the sky but a finger pointing to specific polluters.

Coal and methane wells – turning a problem into an opportunity. Image: “CBM Well” by U.S. Department of Energy, 2013. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Once called on the celestial carpet, polluters will have a chance to mitigate methane emissions, perhaps even finding a profit in doing so.  Here’s an example: coal mining releases methane that is hidden in the micropores of coal and the seams of a mine. If MethaneSAT detects strong emissions in a mining operation, that gas can be captured before it is released. But it not just an expense: methane can be used as an energy source. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a Coal Mine Methane Project Cash Flow Model tool to coach mine operators on turning a problem into a profit center. Captured methane can be used as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). Natural gas, still a fossil fuel but less polluting than coal, is 97% methane. When gas is burned for energy generation, it releases carbon dioxide, still a problem but better than releasing more potent methane as waste.

Oil and gas industry: major methane emitter. Image: “Gas from Oselvar moduke on Ula Platform 2012” by photographer Varodrig. CC3.0. Included with appreciation.

The gas and oil sector produced 40% of the world’s methane emissions in 2021. All together, methane leaks contribute 24% of global methane emissions. Capturing methane and then burning it turns methane into carbon dioxide and water: not ideal but less polluting. Coal, gas, and oil are not the only sources of methane emissions: the gas leaks from cut peatlands, landfills and wastewater treatment plants, farming, especially rice, and also animal agriculture. Biofuels that use crop or forest waste to produce electricity use methane. Some of these methods may qualify for carbon credits. It is true that turning methane from an atmospheric emission to a carbon-dioxide-emitting fuel is not exactly a climate solution, but it is better than just releasing atmospheric methane, accelerating the crisis.

“Cesium CM1 Satellites” by CesiumAstro1. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

MethaneSAT is not the first satellite to monitor the greenhouse gas. It was preceded by, and still linked to, MethaneAIR: both are part of a progression developing from the realization that addressing methane must be the first step in phasing out fossil fuels. Other methane-tracking satellites include:

Carbon Mapper  –




GHGSat  –

Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT)


Limiting methane emissions can reduce global warming, change the course of the climate crisis, prevent 255,00 early deaths and 775,000 hospitalizations due to air pollution. and give us time to figure out the next challenge of limiting the damage by carbon dioxide that lasts longer. Methane is a low-hanging fruit. Now we have the right tools to identify (and fix) methane leaks and emissions, slowing acceleration of climate change.

Acting now on methane could be the first big leap to saving the Earth from accelerating climate change. Image: “Rotating Earth” by Goddard/NASA. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “This is the Methane Moment.” VIDEO

Global Methane Pledge.

International Energy Agency (IEA), UNEP, and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). “The Imperative of Cutting Methane from Fossil Fuels.” 23 November 2023.

Jacob, Daniel and Steven Wofsy with Jim Stock. “Satellite Detection of Methane Emissions.” Harvard Speaks on Climate Change, Salata Institute. VIDEO:

Maguire, Yael. “How satellites, algorithms and AI can help map and trace methane sources.” 14 February 2024. Google Blog. AUDIO option.

Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP 2.o). https:/

MethaneSAT. “In Orbit.” 4 March 2024.

Powell, Alvin. “Buying crucial time in climate change flight.” The Harvard Gazette. 24 March 2023.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “CMM Cash Flow Model.”

Werner, Debra. “Not Invisible Anymore: Satellites reveal sources of atmospheric methane.” Space News. 25 January 2024.

Wofsy, Steven C. “HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO): fine-grained, global-scale measurements of climatically important atmospheric gases and aerosols.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Volume 369, Issue 1943, 2011.

Wofsy, Steven C. with Matt Goisman. “Steven Wofsy: Recently launched MethaneSAT emissions satellite.” 5 March 2024. Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. VIDEO.

World Bank. “Global Flaring and Methane Reduction Partnership (GFMR). 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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March 8, 2024
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Would you give 3% to get 30%?

Peatlands occupy just 3% of Earth yet contain 30% of land-based carbon – more than all the world’s forests combined. Image: “North Liscups, Firth above old peat banks” by photographer John Comloquoy, 2005. CC2.0. Included with appreciation.

Just 3% of global land but holding 30% of its carbon, peatlands sequester more than all the world’s forests. Yet peatlands don’t often make news, and can go by many local names: bogs, fens, marshes, moors, swamps. By any name, they are part of our climate future.

Peat is home to microorganisms that help to generate more peat, and to sequester even more carbon. Image: “Testate amoebae common in peat bogs” by Katarzyna Marcisz, et al., in doi.10.3389/fevo.2020.575966. CC4.0. Included with appreciation.

Peat grows in wetlands. When plants wither, the watery environment prevents them from decomposing completely. They become home to microorganisms that produce – more peat. Peat is very valuable to our future because it can regenerate, retain increasingly scarce water, serve as wildlife habitat, and hold carbon.

Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney wrote about Ireland’s peat bogs. Listen to the poet read “Bogland.” Image: Seamus Heaney in 1982 by photographer Goffryd Bernard. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate in Poetry, wrote: “They’ll never dig coal here/Only the waterlogged trunks of great firs, soft as pulp.” (Heaney, “Bog,” 1969.) There are two hemispheric types of peat: northern and tropical. In northern climes, especially in lands without coal or oil, like Ireland or Finland, peat was cut for use as fuel. All that carbon flames cheerily in a hearth. But peat burns less efficiently than coal while releasing higher carbon dioxide emissions. In tropical locations like Indonesia and Malaysia, peatlands may be cut to clear land for agriculture, especially palm oil, or to meet food shortages by growing rice.

GLOBAL PEATMAP by Jiren Xu, et al., Creative commons 4.0 Included with appreciation

But harvesting peat does more than reduce peatlands. Cut peat leaves holes in connected peatlands, triggering a process in which peat dries and becomes vulnerable to wildfires that pollute the atmosphere, devastate habitat (in some locations, as many as 900 species call peat bogs home), and release greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

When cut, peat dries out the surrounding bog that is then vulnerable to fire. Image: “Borneo fires and smoke from burning peatland, 2002.” by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team of NASA/GSFC. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Peatlands are only 3% of the landmass on Earth yet hold 30% of land-based carbon. Can we find ways to keep these climate-essential treasures undisturbed, and restore those that have been damaged? Irelands’s Bord na Móna, owner of vast expanses of peatlands, began a transition strategy in 2020 called “Brown to Green” to move from a peat-based business to a climate solutions enterprise with a strategy to store 100 million tons of carbon in perpetuity. England’s Paludiculture (term for wetland agriculture) Exploration Fund) launched CANAPE (Creating a New Approach to Peatland Ecosystems) in the North Sea region. Cumbrian Bogs LIFE aims to regenerate peat bogs in a short time frame.

Scotland’s estate manor houses may host eco-tourism that preserves peatlands. “Taymouth Castle” by James Norie, 1733. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

In Scotland, Anders Holch Polvsen bought up 200,000 acres of peatlands near noble estates to welcome eco-tourists who will sip tea in the manor house while watching the fields of peat bloom undisturbed. The program is part of Polvsen’s company Wildland; one of the  grand hotel homes is Glenfeshie, familiar to Netflix viewers as site of “The Crown.” Japan’s Suntory whiskey brand acquired Jim Beam and set up peat restoration projects as part of a strategic plan to use peat sustainably to flavor spirits while regrowing the same amount to achieve a modern-day equivalent to the Biblical “ever-normal” granary.

Peatlands can yield carbon credits. Image: “Euro coins and backnotes” by Avij, 2023. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Peatlands hold carbon; they can provide carbon credits. That’s why some countries like Scotland and the Netherlands are offering carbon credits. 80% of the cost of rewetting and regenerating peat may be reimbursed. When the regeneration process is verified, carbon credits are issued. Germany’s Moor Futures was the first carbon credit exchange for peatland rewetting. CarePeat and CarbonConnects are other trading systems. While some worry that carbon credits will slow progress on climate response, peatlands may benefit.

Fenway Park reminds us that Boston was built on fens. Image: Fenway by photographer Kelly , 2013. CC2.0. Included with appreciation.

Fenway Park reminds us that Boston’s heralded fens, preserved by Frederick Law Olmsted whose “Emerald Necklace” surrounds the city with parks now extended by the Central Artery’s Greenway, may be part of a trend. While usually rural, peatlands can be restored in some cities, too. Peatlands may help us reach our climate goals: that is a home run.

Born na Móna. “Bord na Móna announce formal end to all peat harvesting on its lands.”

Creating a New Approach to Peatland Ecosystems (CANAPE). “Intereg North Sea Region.” European Regional Development Fund.

Cumbrian Bogs LIFE.

Global Peatlands Initiative. “COP28 Virtual Peatlands Pavillion.” 2023

Heaney, Seamus. “Bogland.” Listen to audio while reading the poem at

In Defense of “Saving Bornean Peatlands is a Must for Conservation.” 5 February 2018.

International Peatland Society (IPS)

O’Grady Cathleen. “Scotland’s billionaires are turning climate change into a trophy game.” 20 May 2022. The Atlantic.

Segal, David. “The Climate Profit Buried in Scotland’s Bogs.” 5 May 2022. The New York Times.

United Nations. “Convention on wetlands of international importance.” 2 February 1971.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Global Peatlands Assessment: The State of the World’s Peatlands.” 12 November 2022.

WildLand Limited.

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 29, 2024
by Building The World

WATER: Clocks, Time, and Leap Day

Ancient clocks used water to measure time. Image: “Escapement animation” uploaded by Jacopo Werther, 2004. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Prometheus may have stolen fire, but ancient Greeks also believed that water stole time. Early clocks used water, acquiring the technical term, clepsydra, from ancient Greek  “klepto or steal” and “hydor or water.” Water clocks measure time by regulating and measuring the drip rate into a vessel.

Clepsyrda or water clock, circa 1753. Donated to wikimedia by Käyttäjä Oh1qt for public domain. Included with appreciation.

Popular across the world from China, Egypt, and Persia, the clepsydra was one of the first ways in which humans measured time in exact increments. Water clocks became so sophisticated and complex that they were able to adjust rates of water flow for solar and lunar orbits.

Al-Jazari’s water clock, 12th century is consider by some to be the first analog computer. Image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acquisition 14.533. Public domain and included with appreciation.

Water clocks could adjust and measure seasonal length of daylight to regulate agricultural cycles. Al-Jazari’s castle clock is said by some to be the world’s first programmable analog computer.

Water clocks were prized in Madinat as-Salam, City of Peace, now known as Baghdad. Here, water clock from Zibad, Gonabad Province, Iran, by photographer Maahmaah, 2012, dedicated to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

Water clocks were technological possessions prized by those who ruled and managed. When Caliph al-Mansur founded a new capital of Persia, Madinat as-Salam, “City of Peace” in the Islamic calendar year 145 (ce 762). The city, now known as Baghdad, flourished. When fifth Caliph Harun al-Rashid (ruler from 786 to 809 ce) of The Arabian Nights came to power, the city was reputed to be the wealthiest of the world. It was known for a balance of commerce and agriculture, the latter advanced by use of the water clock regulating drawing of water by farmers. The device was entrusted to and managed by an appointed elder who kept irrigation timetables. Caliph Harun al-Rashid visited Roman Emperor Charlemagne, bringing gifts including a water clock so delicate that it had to be conveyed in parts and assembled on site, prior to a live demonstration of this new technology of time.

Charlemagne received by Pope Adrian. Image from art by Antoine Vérard, 1493. Public domain: included with appreciation.

For Charlemagne, who surrounded his court with scholars and teachers including Alcuin, and who is often credited with founding the earliest universities, the water clock was a revelation so important it was recorded in the Royal Frankish Annals.

Charlemagne, as king of the Franks and emperor of Rome, was part of a lineage that valued precise measurements of time. But these measurements were of the year. It was Julius Caesar who, on 1 January 45 (bce) refined the Roman calendar to be more consistent with the solar cycle. The Julian Calendar had three years of 365 days, followed by a fourth with a leap day as the final in February. The succeeding Gregorian calendar fine-tuned the system that much of the world follows today.

Stamp from Germany celebrating 400 years of Gregorian calendar that codified Leap Day.400 Jahre Gregorianischer Kalendar, 1982.” Image scanned by NobbiP, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Since then, leap day has inspired traditions. Brigid of Kildare commented to  Patrick of Ireland (both canonized and now addressed as Saints), in the 5th century ce, that women’s rights were not equal to men’s, as evidenced by the tradition that men propose marriage yet the union required true partnership. Patrick agreed that women could and should propose, but limited that freedom to one day per year, on leap year.

St. Brigid of Kildare conferred with St. Patrick of Ireland concerning women’s equal rights including proposing marriage – on Leap Day. Image: “St. Patrick and St. Brigid” by Catherine O’Brien, 2023. Posted by Spideoglasper, Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

France, home of the Eiffel Tower where many marriage proposals are initiated and photographed, took another direction. In 1980, Jacques Debuisson and Christian Bailly launched a tradition of publishing a satirical newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur just once a year, on Leap Day. Only 200,000 copies are printed: there is no digital edition.

La Bougie du Sapeur is published in France on Leap Day. Image: Logo, 2016. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

How do you celebrate Leap Day? What leap of faith – or frolic – will you take?

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 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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