Building the World

July 22, 2022
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Heat melts airport runway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

García-León, David, et al., “Current and projected regional economic impacts of heatwaves in Europe.” Nat Commun 12, 5807 (2021).

Hammersmith & Fulham Council. “Keeping Hammersmith Bridge cool- and open – in the heatwave.” 13 July 2022.

National Weather Service, NOAA. “WetBulb Globe Temperature.”

Vera, Amir. “It’s so hot, roads are buckling, they’re putting foil on a bridge, and roofs are melting around the world.” 22 July 2022. CNN.

World Weather Attribution (WWA). “Western North American extreme heat virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.” 7 July 2021.

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




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July 12, 2022
by Building The World

SPACE: Webb Opens New Window to the Universe

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

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

Bartels, Meghan. “Gallery: James Webb Space Telescope’s 1st photos.” 13 July 2022.

Brooke, K. Lusk and Zoë Quinn. “SPACE: Journey to the beginning of the universe.” Building thee World Blog 28 December 2021.

NASA, “Webb Reveal,” 12 July 2022.

NASA, “Mid-infrared instrument (MIRI).”

NASA, “What is the Kuiper Belt?”

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July 9, 2022
by Building The World

WATER: Po River Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parker, Jessica. “Italians wait for rain where longest river runs dry” BBC 8 July 2022.

Patel, Kasha. “”Scenes from Italy’s worst drought in 70 years.” 7 July 2022. The Washington Post.

Respighi, Ottorino. Fountains of Rome. Performed by Berlin Philharmonic.

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

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June 29, 2022
by Building The World

SPACE: Sunny Side UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dobrijevic, Daisy. “Space weather: What is it and how is it predicted?” 24 June 2022.

Howell, Elizabeth. “NASA sun mission spots stunning solar eclipse in space.” 29 June 2022.

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

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June 24, 2022
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Metaverse Navigation Coordinates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballentine, Claire and Misyrlena Egkolfogoulou. “The Metaverse Requires a Whole New Vocabulary to Navigate Web3. 8 April 2022. Bloomberg.

Jacob’s Pillow.

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

Paul, Katie. “Meta and other tech giants form metaverse standards body, without Apple.” 21 June 2022. Reuters.

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

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


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June 16, 2022
by Building The World

WATER and ENERGY: Beyond a Drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daley, Beth et al., “Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains.” 22 March 2017. The Conversation.

David, Molly. “Nashville Electric Service asks customers to help lessen energy use during high temperatures.” The Tennessean. 13 June 2022.

Ramirez, Rachel, Pedram Javaheri, Drew Kann. “The shocking numbers behind the Lake Mead drought crisis.” 17 June 2021. CNN.

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

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

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June 9, 2022
by Building The World

ENERGY: Taxing the air (from cows and sheep)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCBC. “Climate change: how cow burps and pink seaweed can affect the planet.” 17 August 2019.

Friedlander, Blaine. “Study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane.” 14 August 2019. Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. https:/

Global Methane Pledge.

Hoskins, Peter. “Climate change: New Zealand’s plan to tax cow and sheep burps.” 9 June 2022. BBC News.

Plewis, Ian. “Taking action on hot air: Why agriculture is the key to reducing UK methane emissions.” 24 May 2022. University of Manchester, UK.

Spang, Edware et al., “Food-Energy-Water-(FEW) Nexus: Informal Water Systems.”

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

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June 2, 2022
by Building The World



“Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Oahu,” by D. Howard Hitchcock, Hawaii 1928. Image: wikimedia in the public domain. Included with appreciation to D. Howard Hitchcock.

Aloha means both hello and goodbye. It’s a fitting word for transitions. Here are two case examples of solar policy changes in Hawaii and in Australia.

Hawaii is a perfect location for renewable energy: sunshine and wind are abundant. Yet, even with its natural advantages of sun and wind, Hawaii has been slow to move away from fossil fuels. But when electricity rates increased by 34% (from April 2021 to April 2022), homeowners who pay those hiked rates began to install solar. Now, more than one-third of all residential buildings in Hawaii have solar roofs. Could Hawaii serve as a case example of the challenges, and paths, to transitioning from fossil to renewable energy?

“Hawaii solar: a photovoltaic power station.” by photographer Reegan Moen, U.S. Department of Energy, 2017. Wikimedia public domain. Included with appreciation to Reegan Moen and U.S. Department of Energy.

Policy matters. Just a few years ago, Hawaiian Electric, the largest power provider in the island state, lobbied to reduce rebates for rooftop solar. In 2015, utilities slashed revenues for excess energy sent to the grid by homeowners. But Hawaii has changed policies now, offering incentives up to $4,000 for Oahu residents to install home batteries for solar systems: the utilities now siphon excess power between 6pm – 8:30 pm, when demand peaks. Policy has encouraged solar adoption: legislating a Performance Based Regulation (PBR) for Hawaiian Electric now makes renewable sources easier to adopt and link, further aiding homeowners in their rooftop systems. Kauai has made the most progress: 70% of the island’s electricity is carbon-free and expected to increase to 90% with more solar and a hydroelectric plant that both creates and stores energy.

How will geopolitics hasten the clean energy transition? “Top Oil Producing Countries,” by U.S. Department of Energy, 2022. Image: wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Geopolitics recently hastened the transition. In 2021, oil-supplied power plants delivered two-thirds of Hawaii’s electricity. Most of that oil (80%) was imported from Russia (as well as Argentina and Libya), while 20% was obtained from Alaska. Further, Hawaii is about to close its major coal plant. Forces of war and threats to supply have turned Hawaii in the direction of the sun. There is still debate over what kind of solar is best: utilities prefer large-scale options; but macro-scale means large tracts of land, something Hawaii does not have in abundance. Hawaii has set a new goal to achieve 100% renewable energy sources: it is the first American state to do so. Recently, other states have set the same goal. Cities are making solar decisions ahead of states. Hawaii’s Honolulu has three solar panels per person; California’s Los Angeles ranked number one of 57 cities surveyed for total installed solar capacity in 2019, while Nevada’s Las Vegas is close behind. In 2019, more solar capacity was added to the U.S. grid than any other energy source.

“The Famous Bondi Beach, Australia,” by photographer Alex Proimos, 2012. Image: creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation to Alex Proimos.

Another place in the sun? Bondi Beach, Australia, home of  Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric.  Australia drew 76% of its total energy from fossil fuels in 2020 with a mix of coal (54%), gas (20%), and oil (2%). Australia plans to close its largest coal plant in 2025 (seven years earlier than scheduled) and is now picking up the pace in solar. Australia increased rooftop solar installations by 28% from 2019 to 2020 – one in four homes there have solar panels: incentives and grants, contributed to the change. By 2020, renewable energy reached 24% of Australia’s power array. How much did the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act of 2000 accelerate the change? Will the 2022 election of a new Australian government advance climate action?

“Sunlight on the face of Earth,” by NASA Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) that tracks sunlight , from Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)” by NASA 2017. Image: wikimedia public domain. With appreciation to NASA.

Hawaii and Australia may serve as examples of how natural resources like sun and wind interact with policy and geopolitics in a dynamic system influencing factors driving the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. What kinds of laws and policies are needed to encourage change?

Australia, Federal Register of Legislation. “Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000.” C2019C00061.

Australian Government of Industry, Science, Energy, and Resources. “Australian electricity generation – fuel mix.” 2020.

Environment America Research and Policy Center, and Frontier Group. “Shining Cities 2020: The Top U.S. Cities for Solar Energy.” 2020.

Harlow, Casey. “Honolulu tops national list for solar energy generation.” 19 April 2022. Hawaii Public Radio.

Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC). “Performance Based Regulation (PBR).” Decision and Order No 37787, 17 May 2021.

Paul, Sonali. “Australia’s biggest coal-fired power plant to shut in 2025.” 16 February 2022. Reuters.

Penn, Ivan. “Hit Hard by High Energy Costs, Hawaii Looks to the Sun.” 30 May 2022. The New York Times.

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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May 28, 2022
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Highways and Wildflowers

“Balsamroot and lupine wildflowers near Tom McCall Preserve along the highway.” by photographer Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives, 2014. CC 3.0. Included with appreciation.

On Memorial Day weekend, 34 million Americans will travel by car. It’s the first long weekend of spring: a time of flowers, especially wildflowers. Parks play a role, and so do household and campus lawns participating in No Mow May. But highways can also provide miles of sustenance for spring pollinators like bees.

Highways will be an area of innovation in climate change. “Interstate 80, Eastshore,” by photographer Minesweeper 30. CC3.0. Included with appreciation.

Concrete is efficient, but highways could be improved. In 1965, the United States passed the Highway Beautification Act, providing funding for planting and protection of wildflowers along median and shoulder strips of American highways. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill into law, stating “We have placed a wall of civilization between us and the beauty of the countryside. Beauty belongs to all the people.” (Johnson, 1965) Encouraged by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson who advocated the program to beautify American roads. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also honors her vision.

“Highways UK-EI.” by SPUI, dedicated to the public domain. Image: wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

In the United Kingdom (UK), the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) launched the “Big Biodiversity Challenge” with Highways England. Realizing that the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since 1930, road construction crews finish highways by preparing a side strip or verge for wildflower planting. Highways England plants the flowers. Recently, a section of the A38 from Ashburton to Ivybridge in Devon won the Biodiversity Pollinator Award. France places stormwater ponds every two kilometers along major roads: a recent survey found the ponds have welcomed many amphibian species. Across the UK, B-Lines have mapped a kind of bug highway across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Belt and Road Initiative. “One-belt-one-road,” by Lommes. Creative Commons 4.0 International. Included with appreciation.

As the world builds more roads, including space for wildflowers and wildlife is an opportunity to be noted. Will China’s Belt and Road Initiative  (BRI) connecting China, Central and West Africa, parts of Europe, Indian sub-continent, Indo-China, Mongolia, and Pakistan may be the largest road building project in history. Now, as 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) of roads are designed and built, would offer an un-precedented chance for environmental inclusion. Should environmental provisions be stipulated by banks, including multilateral development banks and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), funding and overseeing the BRI? What of the roads of India? Africa? The Pan-American Highway?

“Wild-flower” by photographer Anilmahajan19, 2017, in Nagpur, India. GNU license. Included with appreciation.

It has been the practice of some highway systems to seed the median strip between divided highways with grass. But grass can be thirsty, and yet yields relatively sparse benefits. In fact, some states in the Colorado River Compact are outlawing non-functional turf due to the shrinking of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, water reservoirs for the river that supplies both drinking water and electricity to 40 million people. Drought in the area is causing water shortages and also wildfires.

“Lake Mead and Hoover Dam with water intake towers, seen from Arizona side of Hoover Dam,” by photographer Cmpxchg8b, 2010. Generously dedicated to the public domain by the photographer.Image: wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Should highways be planted, instead, with wildflowers? If you hit the road this weekend, take a look at the wildflowers along highways and also country roads. It’s a natural resource, not often noticed, but increasingly important to the future of climate and environment.

What if all highways and roads hosted wildflowers? Could the world look like this? “Bitterwater Road Wildflowers,” by photographer Alan Schmierer, generously dedicated to the public domain CC1.0. Wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Conniff, Richard. “Green Highways: New Strategies To Manage Roadsides as Habitat.” 10 June 2013. Yale Environmental 360, Yale University School of the Environment.

Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA).

Forman, Richard T.T., et al., Road Ecology: Science and Solutions. Island Press, 2003. ISBN: 1559629326 and 1559639334.

Highways England.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Global Trade, Investment, and Finance Landscape.” OECD Business and Finance Outlook 2018.

United States Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Public Law 89-285, 22 October 1965.

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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May 18, 2022
by Building The World

WATER: Mapping YOUR Climate Risk

What is your climate risk? Animation created by SaVi software from Geometry Center, University of Minnesota by Grand DixenceWikipedia for view of Iridium coverage. Image animation edicated to the public domain (CC1.0) by its creator, and included here with appreciation.

Climate change brings risk. For some, it is water: floods, storms, and sea-rise. For others, it is drought: water shortages, crop losses, and wildfires. Floods killed 920 people in Belgium and Germany, 192 in India, 113 in Afghanistan, and 99 in China – in one month (July) of 2021. Deaths from floods and related landslides took the lives of people in Bangladesh, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Yemen that same year. (Davies 2021)

“Flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA.” Photographed by Don Becker, USGS, 2008. Dedicated to the public domain (CC1.0) by United States Geological Survey and included here with appreciation.

Previous data from weather sources tracked flood risk, resulting in flood insurance for many properties (and denial of such insurance for locations too vulnerable to merit rebuilding). Water damage will only increase with climate warming, as storms grow more powerful. Rising sea levels will escalate floods and coastal inundations. Those who live in the territories of the Colorado River know well another risk related to water: drought. Water scarcity has ravaged crops, parched residential landscapes, reduced drinking water supplies, and now threatens hydropower created by the Hoover Dam. Australia, the most arid continent on Earth, is vulnerable crop loss, and electricity reduction in facilities like Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Power.

California Fires in 2021. “Erber Fire in Thousand Oaks,” by Venture County Fire Department Public Information Office. Dedicated to the public domain (CC1.0) and included here with appreciation.

Drought also brings another danger: wild fire. Fire risk is growing with climate warming. In 1980, fire damage in the United States tallied $10 billion; in 2021, costs reached $300 billion. Worldwide, fire affects 1.5 million square miles (four million square kilometers) of Earth – each year. To picture that, the area would measure one-half of the continental United States, or more than the entirety of India. Using data from satellites like the Copernicus Sentinel-3, and the European Space Agency (ESA). the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters tracked 470 wildfire disasters (incidents affecting more than 100 people) since 1911, totaling $120 billion in damages. The 2021 Dixie Fire in California devoured 626,751 acres (253,647 hectares); that same year, in Siberia, wildfires destroyed 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) to become the largest wildfire in documented history. In 2022, the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire in New Mexico continues burning over 270,00 acres and is still (at this writing) only 29% contained. The cumulonimbus flammagenitus cloud ( or CbFg or pyroCb) from the fire could be seen from space on NASA’s Aqua satellite via MODIS.

What’s your property’s climate risk? Photography by Antan0, 2010. Image of magnifying glass. CC4.0; included here with appreciation.

Would you like to know what the future looks like in your area? Now, a new mapping technology from the First Street Foundation can help you determine your risk. If you live in the United States, enter your street address, or your zip code, and you will see if you are one of 30 million properties vulnerable to flooding or wildfire. To assess your own property’s risk, click here.

Aqua Mission. Earth Observing System, NASA.

Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

Copernicus Sentinel-3. “Measuring Earth’s oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere to monitor and understand global dynamics.” European Space Agency (ESA).

Davies, Richard. “Worldwide – Over 920 People Killed in Floods and Landslides in July 2021.” 2 August 2021. Floodlist.

First Street Foundation. “Make climate risk accessible, easy to understand, and actionable for individuals, governments, and industry.”

Haddad, Mohammed and Mohammed Hussein. “Mapping Wildfires around the World.” 19 August 2021. Al Jazeera.

Risk Factor. “A property’s flood or fire factor.”

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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