Building the World

January 4, 2022
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ENERGY: Coal Goals

“Land reclamation – restored land at the Seneca Yoast Coal Mine” by Peabody Energy, 2014. Image: wikimedia commons.

Energy goals to stop climate change are clear: we must transition from fossil fuels. Chief among the priorities is coal. Transitioning from coal threatens jobs: as coal declines in use, some areas formerly active in coal mining suffer 30% unemployment. Past efforts to offer new jobs in American coal-mining towns included $7 million to open an optometry school in Pikeville, Kentucky, where miners could train and practice a new profession. As the only college of optometry in Kentucky, UPIKE offers opportunity. Another option is work reclaiming abandoned mines to prevent mudslides and collapse, threats increasing in stronger weather due to climate change. Before the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), mining businesses were not required to clean up or reclaim sites.  Since then, 46,000 open mine portals have been reclaimed with water supplies restored and renewed. But mines left open prior to the law remain a threat, and $11 billion is required to reclaim the sites.

Transitioning from coal jobs will be an important goal. “Coal mining.” Illustration from The Graphic, 1871. Image: wikimedia public domain.

Rebuilding coal sites with renewable energy projects seems like a natural option. Coal mines are already abandoned, but not suitable for housing developments or office buildings. There are 130,000 former coal mines available for development. What about solar plants? That’s the idea of Edelen Renewables, now building a solar facility where 300 workers will install solar panels on 1,200 acres at a pay rate of $25-30 per hour. Miners usually make about $30 per hour. Workers will also earn a certificate. Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable electricity in the United States, and tax-credits are only increasing growth.

“Coal Production in China: 1950-2012.” by Plazak, 2014, compiled from USEIA and US Bureau of Mines and Minerals Yearbooks. Image: wikimedia commons.

Coal generates 30% of world electricity. Coal power is decreasing in the U.S., but in Asia, specifically China, it is the source of 36% of energy. China recently promised to end financing of new coal plants outside its borders, but concerns remain as domestic use continues. But a new Chinese solar project in Anhui, built on a former collapsed and flooded coal mine, developed by China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group (CECEP) and the French floating solar expert Ciel & Terre may be a sign of hope. Regional plans for sustainable energy infrastructure for Europe, Middle East, and North Africa include an array of renewable energy options.

“Sketch of possible infrastructure for sustainable supply of power for Europe, Middle East, and North Africa EU-MENA)” by Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation. Image: wikimedia.

COP26 Glasgow net zero emissions pledges predict fossil fuel use to peak in 2025, CO2 emissions fall 40% by 2050 – but even that will drive temperature rise to 2.1 Centigrade. Coal is the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions (He, et al., 2020). If pledges are kept, 13 million new workers will be employed in clean energy by 2030, and double that by 2050 (IEA 2021). Coal is not the only fossil fuel driving climate change: oil is even greater. Of world energy sources, coal is 27%, natural gas is 24%, and oil is 33%. But coal is a focus because it is especially polluting, leading to environmental and health dangers. Renewable energy is increasing, costs of solar, wind, and storage are decreasing. Eight European Union countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal) declared phase-out of coal by 2030.

“Electricity for All: TVA” sign displayed at Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY, USA. Photo by Billy Hathorn. Image: wikimedia.

In an earlier energy transition, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) offered job training as well as worker housing communities. A new town, Norris, became a showroom for household uses of hydroelectricity from refrigerators to toasters.  More recently, the German Coal Commission (GCC) introduced a task force on job transition along with coal plant closures. Retraining coal miners, and workers along the entire supply chain, will accelerate and strengthen environmental justice and energy transition. How can the world move towards sustainable electricity for all?

Buckley, Cara. “Coming Soon to This Coal County: Solar, in a Big Way.” 2 January 2022. New York Times.

He, Gang, et al., “Enabling a Rapid and Just Transition away from Coal in China.” 21 August 2020. One Earth, Volume 3, Issue 2, pages 187-194. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590332220303560 and https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2020.07.012

International Energy Agency (IEA). “Coal.” https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/coal

Kenning, Tom. “World’s largest floating solar plant connected in China.” 20 March 2019. PV Tech https://www.pv-tech.org/worlds-largest-floating-solar-plant-connected-in-china

Lohan, Tara. “Reclaiming Abandoned Mines: Turning Coal Country’s Toxic Legacy into Assets.” 29 March 2021. The Revelator. https://therevelator.org/abandoned-mines-legislation/

Lynn, Loretta. “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9eHp7JJgq8

Eller, Ronald D. Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945. University Press of Kentucky, 2008 and also 2013. ISBN: 9780813142463

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Department of the Interior. “Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act” (SMCRA). P.L. 95-87, Enacted 3 August, 1977. https://www.osmre.gov/lrg.shtm

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

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December 15, 2021
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WATER: Jason and the Return of the Argonauts

“Argo Temperature/Salinity Float Network” by Dmcdevit, 2007 for Global Warming Art. License GNU Free 1.2. Image: wikimedia.

Recent tornadoes, storms, floods caused loss of life and damage of property. While warmer temperatures are known to fuel and intensify tornadoes, scientists are uncertain if tornadoes that swept across four U.S. states were caused by climate change. What is certain is unseen, but even more troubling. Antarctic currents are changing. The above NASA illustration shows the movement of ocean currents including the Antarctic Circumpolar Current:  at 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) wide and two miles (3 kilometers) deep, it is the globe’s largest current. Its motion draws the deepest water from the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans to swirl it to the surface. In the process, the water exchanges heat and carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. It’s called an upwelling.

“Upwelling” in an animation by NOAA. Image: public domain, wikimedia.

With a warming world, upwelling may release more carbon dioxide that had formerly been sequestered in the blue deep of the oceans. Oceans have sequestered 25% of carbon dioxide and 90% of excess heat from burning fossil fuels. What if that were to change? Moreover, the warming upwelling waters that travel through and beneath Antarctic are melting ice shelves like those near the Thwaites glacier. If those ice sheets melt into the ocean, sea rise could advance by as much as 12 feet (3.66 meters). Ice sheets act as a blockade, protecting glaciers: if that blockade breaks, glaciers will also melt more quickly and release even more water to rising seas. (Fountain and White, 2021) Watch a video about the Thwaites glacier here.

“Thwaits Glacier.” NASA, 2014. Public domain, wikimedia.

What can be done? Gathering more data is a first step. Robotic autonomous floats called ‘Argo Floats‘ are a small army of 3900 presently bobbing in the world’s oceans, sending back data. When below water for their ten-day shift, Argo Floats gather data; when they pop up to the surface, they transmit. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  and the Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing (GOMO) program is named after the mythical Jason and the Argonauts who sailed to find the Golden Fleece.

“Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts” by Biagio d’Antonio, circa 1472-1516. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, donated to wikimedia for public domain open access use.

Jason and the Argonauts may be one of the oldest myths of a hero’s quest. The present initiative references not only the ancient Greek myth, but also the ocean mission. The title also indicates its complementary relationship with the Jason satellite altimeters that study the situation from above. The instruments called ‘Argo Floats:’ the measurements of sea surface height are termed ‘Jason measurements’ that report temperature and salinity. (Brown 2019). In 2020, Antarctica observed a 200-year anniversary. Polar regions are among the most important places for climate change, due to a process termed polar amplification. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, offers some protections, but the ban on mining of Antarctic minerals expires in 2048. If or when the Antarctic Treaty is revised, what provisions should be upheld, changed, or added?

Argo Program. NOAA. https://globalocean,noaa.gov/Research/Argo-Program

Brown, Fiona “What we learnt from spending winter under the Antarctic sea ice.” 15 May 2019. CSIROscope. https://blog.csiro.au/

Fountain, Henry and Jeremy White. “Rising from the Antarctic, a Climate Alarm.” 14 December 2021. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/13/climate/antartic-climate-change.html?referringSource=articleShare

Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). “Geoengineering The Southern Ocean? A Transdisciplinary Assessment.” University of Tasmania, Australia. https://www.imas.utas.edu.au/home/home-features/arc-laureate-fellowship-geoengineering-the-southern-ocean-a-transdisciplinary-assessment

Jason satellite program mission. NOAA. https://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/jason-1/summary

Ramirez, Rachel. “Scientists warn a critical ice shelf in Antarctica could shatter within five years.” 14 December 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/14/world/antarctic-thwaites-glacier-climate-warming/index.html

Silvano, Alesandro et al., “Seasonability of warm water intrusions onto the continental shelf near the Totten Glacier.” 3 May 2019. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans/Volume 124, issue 6, pages 4272-4289. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JC014634 and https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018JC014634

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

 

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September 16, 2021
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ENERGY: Jobs of the Future

Jobs of the Future will focus on renewable energy. Image: “Energy on the Grid,” by photographer Kenueone, 2016. Public Domain CC0 1.0. Original image: https://pixabay.com/electricity-sun-wind-1330214.

Born after 1996? Or 1981? You are 70% more likely to rate climate change as the top priority for your future (Pew Research Center 2021). Universities are responding, integrating climate and environmental studies into the curriculum. University of Massachusetts Boston founded the School for the Environment, as well as the Sustainable Solutions Lab and Stone Living Lab. MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) founded in 2014 involves design, engineering, humanities, policy, science, social science, and technology. Harvard’s Center for the Environment (HUCE) offers research, policy, science, climate leaders program, and special events like “Literature for a Changing Planet.” University of Southern California inaugurated “Sustainability Across the Curriculum” weaving the environment into majors of  20,000 undergraduates.

“Shift Change at Clinton Engineering Works, Oak Ridge, TN, August 1945,” by Ed Westcott, US Army photographer. Public Domain. Over 82,000 people were employed. Energy jobs will dominate the future.

Upon graduation, a new generation will find the jobs of the future. Throughout history, great undertakings, like the Manhattan Project, Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric, attracted those seeking careers in new energy. Now, a similar surge in energy employment means you can do well by doing good: average pay for climate scientists is $73,230; environmental lawyers earn median salary of $122,960. Not all jobs require traditional degrees: urban farmers earn $71,160. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics/Guardian 2021).

“New Crops: Chicago Urban Farm,” by Linda N. Creative Commons CC 2.0. Wikimedia.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the transition to a global net zero energy system will see renewables like solar and wind power dominate, while bioenergy and carbon capture will develop innovative approaches. There are 400 milestones to guide development, with total annual energy investment of $5 trillion by 2030.

Education + Jobs = Health of the Planet. Graphic by Nevit Dilmen, 2011. Image: creative comons, public domain.

Climate change will cause an era of innovation more comprehensive than we have seen in the history of the world. Every field will be impacted; every field will see innovation. Rachel Larrivee, 23, Boston-based environmental consultant, says it well: “I’m in the first generation who knows the extent to which climate change poses an existential threat to life on Earth, and also the last generation who may be able to do anything about it.” (Lashbrook, 2021.)

International Energy Agency (IEA). “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.” Report May 2021. https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

Lashbrook, Angela. “‘No point in anything else:’ Gen Z members flock to climate careers. Colleges offer support as young people aim to devote their lives to battling the crisis.” 6 September 2021. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/06/gen-z-climate-chnage-careers-jobs

Pew Research Center, by Alec Tyson, Brian Kennedy, Cary Funk. “Gen Z, Millennials Stand Out for Climate Change Activism, Social Media Engagement With Issue.” May 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2021/05/PS_2021.05.26_climate-and-generations_REPORT.pdf

Thanks to Yujin Asai of dotmeta.com for sharing this research.

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

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February 18, 2021
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ENERGY: Genie in a Bottle

“Genie in a Bottle,” from Stripped Tour, Christina Aguilera Image: wikimedia.

February 18, 2021. It’s National Battery Day. What is this genie in a bottle that we call a battery?

Lithium-ion batteries are making news. It’s a technology popularized in 1991, when rechargeable lithium-ion batteries were first used in hand-held camcorders. A decade later, Apple began using these batteries in smartphones. When electric cars entered the market (Edison worked on one, before Henry Ford invented the gasoline-driven automobile), batteries became the way to power the future. SEMATECH introduced a new industry, and now two new semiconductor materials – gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SIC) are now being used in EV batteries. With General Motors (GM) pledging a full transition from gas and diesel to electric vehicles by 2035 (Ford, Tesla, Volkswagen and others in similar quests), the race is on.

“Tesla Model S at a Supercharger station.” Image: wikimedia.

Who’s Who (a partial list) in Electric-Vehicle Batteries:

CATL or Contemporary Amperex Technology Col, Limited, founded in 2011 in China, announced an increased investment of $4.5 billion on 4 February 2021. CATL will open a new plant in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, upgrade a plant in Yibin, Sichuan Province, and expand a joint venture plant with automaker China FAW Group. A new plant in Germany is also under construction. (300750:CH)

LG Chem in South Korea, world’s biggest EV battery manufacturer, just announced its battery division would now be a stand-alone business. LG counts GM, Geely Automotive Holdings Shanghai Maple Guorun Automobile Co., Hyundai Motor Group, and Tesla among its customers. Tentative name for the new business: LG Energy Solutions. (LGCLF)

Nissan Motor Co. and American Electric Power are competitors with a different strategy: reusing old EV batteries with a technology to extend lithium-ion battery life by over 30%. The experiment uses Nissan Leaf expired-batteries with a method developed by Melbourne-based Relectrify. BMW AG and Toyota are also reusing cells in EV charging. (NSANY)

Novonix is working with Dalhousie University on battery material research, noting new deals with Tesla on synthetic graphite. (NVNXF)

Panasonic. Tesla is in talks with Indonesia to build a battery cell factory with Panasonic. (PCRFY)

QuantumScape is introducing solid-state batteries lithium-metal batteries, offering a faster charge, longer life, and increased safety. The San Jose, California company filed with the SEC for a new development on 1 February 2021. (QS)

Tesla. Bringing battery production in-house has been a goal for Elon Musk who introduced a ‘tab-less’ battery called 4680 that will produce a 16% increase in range for the company’s electric vehicles. They new cells measure 46 millimeters by 80 millimeters. (TSLA)

Zinc Copper Voltaic Pile. Image: wikimedia.

The oldest battery known to history was found in Baghdad: a clay pot containing a metal tube and rod. But when Alessandro Volta discovered that zinc and coper, placed in a saline or acid solution, could transform zinc into a negative pole and copper into a positive pole, the action began. Chevrolet named one of its early EV models a “Volt.”

Will batteries advance hydroelectric power? Image: Hoover Dam, wikimedia.

Battery storage may transform hydroelectric power In Chile, a 50 megawatt-hour (MWh) battery energy storage project (think the equivalent of 5 million iPhones) will be paired with a hydroelectric facility, to store generated energy without need to construct a dam or reservoir. Will the Hoover Dam explore this technology, with consideration to drought affecting Lake Mead? It was hydroelectric power that first fascinated Nikola Tesla who, looking at a photo of Niagara Falls, said: “Someday I’ll harness that power.”

Battery Council International. “It’s national battery day.” www.batterycouncil.org

Hareyan, Armen. “Rumor says Tesla may have completed 1st round of Indonesia battery talks involving Panasonic.” 12 February 2021. Torque News. https://www.torquenews.com/1/rumor-says-tesla-may-have-completed-1st round-indonesia-battery-talks-involving-panasonic

Hawkins, Andrew J. “Tesla announces ‘tabless’ battery cells that will improve the range of its electric cars.” 22 September 2020. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/22/21449238/tesla-electric-car-battery-tabless-cells-day-elon-musk

Kawakami, Takashi. “EV-battery giant CATL to boost capacity with $4.5bn investment.” 4 February 2021. NikkeiAsia.com. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Automobiles/EV-battery-giant-CATL-to-boost-capacity-with-4.5bn-investment

Kubik, Marek. “Adding Giant Batteries To This Hydro Project Creates A ‘Virtual Dam’ with Less Environmental Impact.” 23 May 2019. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marekkubik/2019/05/23/adding-giant-batteries-to-this-hydro-project-creates-a-virtual-dam-with-less-environmental-impact

Schmidt, Bridie. “EV battery material firm Novonix strengthen ties with Dalhousie University.” 15 February 2021. The Driven. https://thedriven.io/2021/02/15/ev-battery-material-firm-novonix-strengthen-ties-with-dalhousie-university

Semiconductor Review. “How Semiconductor Advancements Impact EV Batteries.” 26 October 2020. Semiconductor Review. https://www.semiconductorreview.com/news/how-semiconductor-advancements-impact-ev-batteries-nwid-124.html

Stringer, David and Kyunghee Park. “Top Electric-Car Battery Maker Wins Approval for Company Split.” 30 October 2020. Bloomberg News and Transport Topics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles-top-electric-car-battery-maker-wins-approval-company-split

Stringer, David. “Companies Explore Using Old Electric Car Batteries to Cut Costs.” 24 January 2020. Transport Topics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/companies-explore-using-old-electric-car-batteries-cut-costs

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

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December 31, 2020
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ENERGY: 2020 by the Numbers

The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons, including climate change. Temperatures were 1.08 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 Celsius) warmer than the 1981-2010 average and 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit (1.25 Celsius) above pre-industrial times. Rising temperatures have consequences. In January of 2020, Australia suffered wildfires burning an area bigger than Florida. In summer, Atlantic hurricane season brought 30 named storms, carrying more water (warming oceans produce more water, higher waves, increased flooding). Western United States areas like California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington witnessed fires that destroyed 10.3 million acres. In the Arctic, data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service showed the region is warming faster than feared, more than twice the pace as the rest of the globe, with 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius). Environmental scientists noted that 2020 set a record for carbon dioxide concentrations, rising to 413 ppm (parts per million) in May of 2020, even with Covid-19 lockdowns. (Kann and Miller, 2021)

“Wildfire in Santa Clarita, California.” Image: wikimedia.

Price tag? $95 billion. And that’s just for U.S. climate-related damage, according to Munich Re, insurance company to other insurance firms that covered damage from Atlantic storms and California wildfires. Chief climate scientist of Munich Re Ernst Rauch warned that building in high-risk areas added to losses. Hurricanes  were significant in damage, causing $43 billion in losses. Convective storms (like hailstorms and tornadoes) caused $40 billion. Wildfires added up to $7 billion including destruction of crops, endangering food security. Residential and business properties sustained damage and claimed insurance losses, over 4000 properties in Oregon and many more in California. According to Donald L. Griffin of American Property Casualty Insurance Association, “We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way.” (Flavelle, 2021) Beyond the United States, the numbers are just as dire. Cyclone Amphan struck Bangladesh and India in May, resulting in $14 billion in damage. Asia sustained $67 billion in losses from natural disasters.

Cyclone Amphan May 2020. Image: wikimedia commons.

What does this mean for 2021? Following the money and perhaps led by the insurance industry, new ways to rebuild may lead us into the New Year. We’ll take a look at some hopeful trends, next.

American Property Casualty Insurance Association. https://www.apci.org

Flavelle, Christopher. “U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change.” 7 January 2021. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/climate/2020-disaster-costs.html?referringSource=articleShare

Kann, Drew and Brandon Miller. “2020 was tied for the hottest year ever recorded — but the disasters field by climate change set it apart.” 8 January 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/08/weather/2020-global-temperatures-tied-for-warmest-on-record-copernicus/index.html

Munich Re. https://www.munichre.com/en.html

Thanks to Jason W. Lusk for editorial guidance and suggestions.

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

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November 30, 2020
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WATER: Art and Environment

“Coral Reef” by photographer Jim Maragos, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image: wikimedia.

As coral reefs around the world suffer effects of climate change, BlueLab Preservation Society has responded to “combine art and science to address issues of sustainability,” according to art director Ximena Caminos. The result: an ‘art-ificial’ reef, designed by artists, for Miami Beach, to stretch seven miles along the coast. Some compare ReefLine to the High Line in Manhattan, but instead of walking shoes, one traverses the area with fins – both piscatorial and human. While the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has lost 50% of its coral, and reefs worldwide are similarly damaged, Florida hopes to re-establish marine life with the underwater art installation. Some have noted that Pantone’s color of the year in 2019 was “Living Coral.” It quickly became a hair color of choice. Can fashion and art play a role in raising environmental awareness?

“The Silent Evolution” in Cancún’s MUSA. Image: wikimedia.

“Ocean Siren,” an underwater sculpture for the Great Barrier Reef by conservationist artist Jason deCaires Taylor, was the first art to be included in Australia’s Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA). “Ocean Siren,” modeled after 12-year old Takoda Johnson, member of the Wulgurukaba People, changes color in response to varying ocean temperatures. Jason deCaires Taylor was also the architect for Mexico’s Museo Subacuático de Arte or Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA), with 500 statues between Cancún and Isla Mujeres, with the goal of protecting the Mesoamerican Reef, largest in the Western Hemisphere. The sculptures are made with a neutral PH cement surface to promote coral tissue growth. Florida’s ReefLine will feature works by artists Shigematsu, Ernesto Neto, and Agustina Woodgate.

Coral reefs: locations. Image: wikimedia.

While some environmentalists may question the practice of drawing more tourists to visit delicate coral reefs, others may find ways of raising awareness of the importance of marine life helpful. Perhaps the movement towards biodegradable beach flip-flops and other products replacing plastic endangering our oceans will accompany Florida’s initiative. What do you think about underwater art and artificial coral reefs?

Blue Lab Preservation Society. https://www.instagram.com/bluelab_preservation_society/?hl=en

DeCaires Taylor, Jason. “An underwater art museum, teeming with life.” TED Talk. VIDEO: https://www.ted.com/talks/jason_decaires_taylor_an_underwater_art_museum_teeming_with_life

Hutchinson, Carrie. “An underwater museum is opening inside the world’s most famous reef.” 29 April 2020. cnbc.com. Includes VIDEO. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/29/museum-of-underwater-art-to-open-inside-australia-great-barrier-reef.html

Palumbo, Jacqui. “An otherworldly underwater sculpture park will open in Miami.” 26 November 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/reef-line-miami-underwter-sculpture-park/index.html

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September 15, 2020
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ENERGY: Fire, Air Quality, and Innovation

Fire fills the air with dangerous pollution. Innovation in air conditioning and filtration is needed now and in the future. Image: wikimiedia.

In California, Oregon, Washington and other states, Americans have recently seen a preview of climate change. Earlier this year, Australia suffered record bushfires. Africa experienced the worst drought in decades, threatening energy supplies and food security in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Longer, hotter, dry seasons set the stage for drought, and vulnerability to fires caused by a number of factors. Forest management and human actions are surely factors, but a warming climate intensifies the problem. Severe conditions will force climate migration, as many move to safer locations. World Weather Attribution consortium warns that if global temperatures rise by 2C, fires will occur four times more often.

Challenge: design a better air-conditioner. Image: wikimedia.

Building better fire mitigation includes addressing air pollution health hazards. Air-conditioners and air filtration systems are ready for a major leap in technology. In the 1980’s, we made the alarming discovery that refrigerants like those in cooling appliances were emitting chloroflourocarbans (CFCs), depleting Earth’s ozone layer. Response was a global accord, the 1987 Montreal Protocol, to stop using harmful pollutants in cooling devices. But now we still need something to replace CFCs, and so enter HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons. These are also problematic: HFCs accelerate global warming at 11,000 times the rate of carbon dioxide. Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol legislated the phasing out of HFCs. While 102 countries have signed on and ratified their participation, some countries have not. Sadly, those non-participants are some of the world’s biggest users of HFCs. It’s a missed opportunity because we could save 460 billion tons of dangerous emissions over the next 40 decades. If we doubled energy efficiency of air-conditioners, we could save $2.9 trillion by 2050. Here’s a searchable database of non-HFC cooling technologies. Global energy demand for air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050. Want to do well, while doing good? Build a better air-conditioner.

Carlowicz, Michael. “Drought Threatens Millions in Southern Africa.” 1 December 2019, Earth Observatory/NASA. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146015/drought-threatens-millions-in-southern-africa.

Cool Technologies Database. “Sustainable Cooling Database.” Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). https://cooltechnologies.org/

Dutta, Meghna. “Top Air Conditioners that double up as Air Purifiers too.” 1 May 2018. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/techook/top-air-conditioners-that-double-up-as-air-purifiers-too-5158512/

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “HFC-free Technologies: Putting the Freeze on HFCs: A Global Digest of Available Climate-friendly Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Technologies. https://eia-global.org/initiatives/hfc-free-technologies/.

EIA. “Unlocking Kigali Amendment Climate Benefits.” https://eia.-global.org/

Ghosh, Pallab. “Climate change boosted Australia bushfire risk by at least 30%.” 4 March 2020. BBC.com.https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51742646.

Litwin, Evan. “The Climate Diaspora: Indo-Pacific Emigration from Small Island Developing States.” 1 May 2011. University of Massachusetts Boston. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.1912859. Corpus ID: 128341843.

Lustgarten, Abrahm with photographs by Meridith Kohut. “How Climate Migration Will Reshape America.” 15 September 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/15/magazine/climate-crisis-migration-america.html?referringSource=articleShare.

Noor, Dharna. “We Essentially Cook Ourselves if We Don’t Fix Air Conditioning, Major UN Report Warns. Earther. https://earther.gizmodo.com/we-essentially-cook-ourselves-if-we-don-t-fix-air-con-1844416667%3Futm_medium=sharefromsite&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=bottom.

Pearce, Fred. “Thirty Years After Montreal Pact, Solving the Ozone Problem Remains Elusive.” 14 August 2017. Yale Environment360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/thirty-years-after-the-montreal-protocol-solving-the-ozone-problem-remains-elusive/

United Nations. “The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.” United Nations Ozone Secretariat.https://web.archive.org/web/20130420100237/http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/Treaties/treaties_decisions-hb.php?sec_id=5.

United Nations. “Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer,” Kigali, 15 October 2016. United Nations Treaty Collection, Chapter XXVII Environment, Registration 1 January 2019, No. 26369, Status: Parties 102. For the text of the treaty, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/2016/10/20161015%2003-23%20PM/Ch_XXVII-2.f.pdf/

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

 

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August 28, 2020
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ENERGY: Promethean Problem

“Prometeo trayendo el fuego,” Jan Cossiers, 1637. Museo del Prado. wikimedia.

Ever since Prometheus stole fire and gave it to humans, we’ve been the only species that can start and stop a fire. Darwin believed human capability to control fire was the greatest evolutionary achievement, second only to language. Now, that capability may be changing.

Wildfire Map of California, seen by NASA satellites. Image: nasa.gov.

Increase temperatures by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, decrease rainfall by 30%: it’s a formula for fire risk. Add occurrence of lightning strikes, like those in California recently, and there is a predictable crisis. According to Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center, the area’s temperatures are 3.5 degrees higher than a century ago. Lightning strikes have also increased: up by 12% across the United States. According to California governor Gavin Newsom, California experienced 10,849 lightning strikes in 72 hours in August 2020, amid record temperatures. In 2020, California has battled 40 percent more fires than in 2019. It’s not just a California problem. In Alaska, temperatures are increasing faster than anywhere else in the USA, with four of the ten largest fire years on record occurring in the past fifteen years, with 2 million acres lost in each major fire year. In Colorado, over 1 million people receive drinking water from the Upper South Platte Watershed, northwest of Denver: in the past two decades, fires have threatened the water utility. In Colorado this week, wildfires burned across 135,423 acres, causing the state to warn residents about air quality and banning campfires: the Grizzly Creek Fire closed Interstate 70 for more than one week. Some warned that after the fires, landslides may increase. Water levees across the Colorado River Basin have decreased, including reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In South America, wildfires also pose dangers. It’s a global problem that will increase with climate change. What can we do?

“Trees Torching: High Park Wildfire” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2017. Image: wikimedia.

World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international collaborative organization including the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford (ECI), Laboratories des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environment (LSCE), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, and Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), uses satellite data and other sources to monitor atmospheric pressure patterns and levels of water vapor to predict heatwaves, fires, droughts, among other weather threats. Study data on every global region from 2014 – 2020 can be found here. These studies provide both warnings, and the basis for sustainability litigation.

Wildfire Propagation Model. Image: wikimedia.

Like sea-rise that will continue to some extent after we solve the climate crisis, temperature increases, with resultant drought and fires, can also be expected. There are some options: limit building and development in fire-prone areas, manage forests, combat insect-borne disease, improve our power grid, strengthen data analysis on climate change, and develop early warning systems for wildfire smoke that can pose air pollution and health risk. Future environmental decisions will need collaboration among biologists, fire scientists, and landscape ecologists, according to Professor Van Butsic of UCBerkeley, who states “land sits at the nexus of ecological conditions and human decisions.”

“Eden Reforestation Projects Logo,” www.edenprojects.org.

Wildfire protection innovations include Elevated Rain Induced Solution (ERIS) developed by Wildfire Innovations with targeted, moveable, suppression systems. Early detection innovations like SmokeD by IT for Nature can detect fires and alert nearby businesses and residents, via a phone app. Verisk Analytics Inc. developed a fire risk management tool to evaluate fuel, slope, and access, generating a hazard score. Will reforestation help? According to studies, the cost of replanting may bring promising returns: one reforested acre will be worth $191, 110; 30 acres, $5,733.300. Eden Projects and MillionTrees help restore land and lives. Private investment may see an opportunity, with investor capital innovations like Blue Forest Resilience Bond (FRB) and  Encourage Capital. 

Butsic, Van, A.D. Syphard, J.E. Keeley, and A. Bar-Massada. (2017). “Can private land conservation reduce wildfire risk to homes? A case study in San Diego County, California, USA.” Landsc. Urban Plan, 157, 161-169. LUC LAB: Researching Land Use and Land Use Change, University of California Berkeley.

Darwin, C. The Descent of Man. London: 1871.

Doer, Stefan H. and Cristina Santin. “Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world. 5 June 2016. Philos Trans R Soc Lon B Biol Sci. 2016 Jun 5: 371 (1696): 20150345. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015. 0345 PMCID: PMC4874420.

Finley, Bruce. “Climate change hits home in Colorado with raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat: State faces continued increases in average temperatures for decades due to past burning of fossil fuels.” 25 August 2020. The Denver Post. https://www.denverpost.com/2020/08/19/colorado-climate-change-wildfire-drought/

Gowlett, J.A.J. “The discovery of fire by humans: a long and convoluted process.” 5 June 2016. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0164. Article ID: 20150164. Special issue on The Interaction of Fire and Mankind. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0149

Lenihan, Rob. “Innovation at the forefront of wildfire prevention.” 24 July 2018. Business Insurance. https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20180724/NEWS06/912322839/Disaster-management-innovations-at-the-forefront-of-wildfire-prevention#.

Lightning Maps. https://www.lightingmaps.org.

Mulkern, Anne C. “Climate Change Has Doubled Riskiest Fire Days in California.” 3 April 2020, Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-has-doubled-riskiest-fire-days-in-california/

NASA. Forecasting Fires in South America. VIDEO: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AForecasting_South_American_Fires.ogv

Newsom, Gavin. “CA has experienced 10,849 lightning strikes in the last 72 hours.” 19 August 2020. Twitter: @GavinNewsom.

Temple, James. “Yes, climate change is almost certainly fueling California’s massive fires.” 20 August 2020, Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/08/20/1007478/california-wildfires-climate-change-heatwaves/

Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Connection between Climate Change and Wildfires” published 9 September 2011; updated 11 March 2020. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/climate-change-and-wildfires

U.S. Global Change Research Program. “National Climate Assessment”. https://nca2018.globalchange.gov

World Weather Attribution. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/analysis/projects/

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

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July 28, 2020
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WATER: How much do you use?

How much water do you use? Image: “Blue question mark,” wikimedia commons.

Only 1% of water on Earth is drinkable (actually, it’s 2.5% but only 1% is readily accessible). The rest of the water on the planet rests in the sea, but it is salty and therefore requires desalination to use for drinking or agriculture.

New River, a fresh water supply and a fresh idea. Image: wikimedia.

Ever since the most ancient times, humans have invented ways to find, distribute, use, and power with water. From the Roman Aqueducts and the New River of England that brought fresh water to the growing cities of Rome and London, respectively, to the water use agreements of the Colorado River of the USA and Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric of Australia, the story of civilization is the story of water.

With populations growing and climate changing, water will become more scarce and more important for uses for drinking, agriculture, industry, and energy. While macro systems that deliver water to our taps are large in scale, each of us can do something to protect and conserve water.

 

Take this quiz to calculate your WATER USE.

Attenborough, Sir David. “Fresh Water.” Episode 3. Our Planet. BBC One/Netflix. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2DU85qLfJQ/

Jacobsen, Rowan. “Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here,” 29 July 2016. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/israel-proves-the-desalination-era-is-here/

Spang, E., E. R, K.S. Gallagher, P.H. Kirshen, D.H. Marks. 2014 “The Water Consumption of Energy Production: An International Comparison.” Environmental Research Letters, Volume 9, 105002. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002/meta/

Water Calculator. https://www.watercalculator.org/wfc2/q/household/

Water Footprint Calculator. “Water Websites for Kids.” 13 November 2019. https://www.watercalculator.org/resource/water-websites-for-kids/.

Thanks to Sierra C. Lusk for research and inspiration.

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

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January 7, 2020
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ENERGY: Australia

 

“A river of smoke more than 25 km wide flows toward the Tasman Sea from fires burning in Australia.” Image: NASA

Australia’s fires have wrought damage to every aspect of life: people are perishing, dead animals are falling out of trees, the kelp forests of Tasmania are gone, houses are obliterated, the air is poisoned, kangaroos are herding to safe ground, families are camping on the beach. While some blame deforestation, and others note Australia is the most arid country on earth, many point to energy policy as causal. Studies by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis comment on “government’s defense of increasingly technologically obsolete thermal coal” (coal burned for energy rather than steel manufacturing). Australia also exports coal to China and India, among others. But those customers will soon be gone, having announced plans to transition from the coal sector.

Fires plague Australia, most arid country on earth. Image: wikimedia from a fire in another endangered area, California, USA. Climate change is an increasing factor.

The writings is on the wall, even if some politicians speak of alternative facts, and other walls. Coal is on the way out. Coal stocks in the United States dropped 50% in 2019 while renewable energy American utility Nextera Energy gained 42% more market share. Banks like Credit Suisee and Goldman Sachs are rethinking and restricting financing thermal coal and coal-fired power plants. Investors might observe the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change – with trillions under management – aligns pension funds to the goals of the Paris Agreement. Like former financial agreements such as those decided at Bretton Woods, investment and banking groups may increasingly link investment policy to environmental goals.

“Australian energy resources and major export ports,” based on Australian government Department of Resources, Energy, and Tourism, 2008 report. Image: Historicair, 2011, wikimedia.

Meanwhile, Australia might think of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric as an example of mobilizing response to adverse conditions. The macro achievement was built after drought plagued early chapters of Australia’s history. From 1813 to 1815, drought parched the land; from 1824 to 1829 there was another. When a third drought occurred from 1837 to 1840, the land baked, crops failed, livestock died, and the once-lush landscape became so dry that people organized horse races on the Murrumbidgee River, using its dry bed as a dusty track. Snowy Mountains brought irrigation from snow melt, generating hydroelectric power to light a growing country. If Australia might again mobilize a suffering nation’s ingenuity and resolve in response to 2020’s parched and burned landscape, it should be noted that Snowy Mountains Hydro took 25 years to complete. If Australia sets a macro goal to rebuild energy and environment by 2025, what are the first three steps?

“Three Sisters, Blue Mountains,” Australia. Image: wikimedia.

O’Malley, Nick. “The world has made the link between Australian coal, fires, and climate.” 4 January 2020, The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/the-world-has-made-the-link-between-australian-coal-fires-and-climate-20200103-p53omu.html.

Koning Beals, Rachel. “Goldman Sachs becomes first major U.S. bank to stop funding Arctic drilling, pulls back on coal.” 21 December 2019. MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/goldman-sachs-becomes-first-major-us-bank-to-stop-funding-arctic-drilling-pulls-back-on-coal-2019-12-16

Steil, Benn. The Battle of Bretton Woods. Princeton University Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780691162379.

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

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