Building the World

March 2, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 4, The Promise

UNEP meets in Nairobi to draft global plastic treaty 2022. Image: “Nairobi night skyline.” by Nbi101, 2013. CC4.0 Wikimedia.

GLOBAL TREATY TO END PLASTIC POLLUTION: This week, 175 UN Member States are meeting in Nairobi to decide upon a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. “Ambitious action to beat plastic pollution should track the lifespan of plastic products – from source to sea – should be legally binding, accompanied by support to developing countries, backed by financing mechanism tracked by strong monitoring mechanisms, and incentivizing all stakeholders – including the private sector,” states Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP 2022).

UNEP logo. wikimedia

BUSINESS CAN LEAD THE WAY: While governments can agree, it is business and industry that will make the difference. Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) announced the switch to reusable and refillable packaging. Some of the brands may be familiar to you: Crest, Cascade, Gillette, Pampers, Pantene, and Tide all plan new packaging. Partnering with TerraCycle’s Loop program, P&G’s Ambition 2030 campaign will aim for a circular manufacturing process with as little plastic as possible. Some products like Pampers will come with a bin: when it is full, just text a pick-up service that will take your waste for repurposing and drop off a new container. TerraCycle partners with UPS helped to design packaging, with an eye to the role of transportation as “an enabler for circularity. UPS’ director for global sustainability believes “Loop is the signal for the future.” For more brand innovations, click here.

“Crest toothpaste,” photographer Scott Ehardt, 2005. Dedicated to the public domain by Scott Ehardt. Wikimedia.

TRASH OR TREASURE? Most plastic packaging is used only once. Only 14% of plastic collected is recycled. But it’s more than just trash – it’s valuable. Yet, 95% of that value – mainly of plastic packaging material – is lost to the economy. It is worth $100 billion – annually. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2022).

Reused and recycled plastic is not trash; it is a commodity of value. Image: “Money Flat Icon GIF Animataion by videoplasty.com, CC 4.0 Wikimedia.

PLASTIC OF THE FUTURE Here are some ways to end plastic pollution:

Innovate so all plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable

Ensure future plastics are free from hazardous chemicals

Catch and filter plastic trash carried by rivers (93% from just a few main rivers)

Redesign the plastics system from source to sea

Set up collection, regulatory, and policy government guidelines

Join UNEP agreement with government and business to solve plastic pollution

Transform recycled and reused plastic into a commodity of value

READ the Draft Resolution, “End plastic pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument.” 2 March 2022. HERE.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “Plastics and The Circular Economy.” https://archive.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/plastics-and-the-circular-economy

Ivanova, Maria. Moderator: “Looking Back: 50 Years of the UN Environment Programme.” 4 March 2022.UNEP and Center for Governance & Sustainability, University of Massachusetts Boston.  https://www.environmentalgovernance.org/unepdialogue

Szczepanski, Mallory. “The Loop shopping system aims to change the world’s reliance on single-use packaging.” 6 February 2019. Waste360. https://www.waste360.com/waste-reduction/terracycle-partners-major-brands-launch-sustainable-shopping-system

UNEP. “UN Environment Assembly opens with all eyes on a global agreement on plastic pollution,” 28 February 2022. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/un-environment-assembly-opens-all-eyes-global-agreemen-plastic

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February 25, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 3, The Carriers

“The first turn of the Yangtze River at Shigu, where the river turns 180 degrees from south to north-bound.” Jialiang Gao, www.peace-on-earth.org, 1 February 2003. CC by SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Cities are where most plastic is used, and then discarded. But how does it get into the sea? By 2050, there may be more plastic in the oceans than marine life. It is time to act. And we know what to do, and where to do it.

According the the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, “Rivers carry trash over long distances and connect nearly all land surfaces with the oceans.” (Patel 2018). Rivers deliver up to 2 million metric tons pf plastic into the seas. We now know which rivers contribute 93% of trash and plastic clogging the world’s oceans.

Top Rivers Carrying Plastic to the Oceans

Yangtze River

Yellow River

Hai River

Nile River

Meghna, Brahmaputra, Ganges Rivers

Pearl River

Amur River

Ganges River

Niger River

Nile River

Mekong River

Source: Schmidt, Christian et al., 2017

Could the engineering that led to the great success of Grand Canal of China now address rivers in that system that carry plastic? Might the achievement of the High Dam at Aswan have a second calling to filter plastic from the Nile River?

“Nile River in Aswan,” Ibrahim El-Mezayen, 12 February 2016. CC4.0, Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

Many of the world’s greatest successes came from crises, failures, and problems. Now that we know which rivers are carrying plastic, what kinds of solutions and innovations, such as filters and collection devices, can be fitted on these rivers to stop the flow of plastic?

Patel, Prachi. “Stemming the Plastic Tide: 10 Rovers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans. 1 February 2018. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stemming-the-plastic-tide-10-rivers-contribute-most-of-the-plastic-in-the-oceans/

Schmidt, Christian, et al., “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea,” Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 51, No. 21, 7 November 2017. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.7b02368

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February 18, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 2, The Producers

Cities are filled with plastic products – where are they made? Image: “Slovnaft – New Prolypropylene Plant” by Miklova. CC by 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Cities are the largest depositories of plastic products. Plastic was the largest category of waste disposal in Singapore in 2020 – 763,000 tons. Singapore recycles only 4% of its plastic waste. Other cities may do a bit better: San Francisco is the top city in the world for recycling. But we see only the end of the process.

“Global production and fate of plastics.” based on Geyer et al., 2007. With appreciation to Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Janbeck, Kara Lavender Law. Creative Commons 3.0, wikimedia.

Where do these products originate? It’s an enormous market – global sales of items manufactured in plastic reached $79 billion in 2018, and with growth of 8.5% per year since then. Europe set the highest value worth of exported plastic, with Asia and North America just behind. Plastic may grow to a $754 billion market by 2027 (unless the world does something soon to reduce the use of plastic). Plastic products may fill our cities, but where do they originate? Who are the producers?

TOP TEN PLASTIC PRODUCERS

Dow Chemical Company (coatings)

LyondellBasell (polyethylene and polypropylene)

ExxonMobil (olefins)

SABIC (polymers)

INEOS (food and product packaging)

BASF (world’s 6th largest manufacturer of plastics)

ENI (various plastics)

I.G. Chem (materials)

Chevron Phillips Chemical (polyalphaoelfins)

Lanxess (polymers)

Source: BizVibe 2022

The plastic you see, in your shampoo container or beverage bottle, is the end of the production process. It’s what you recycle: that’s part of the solution. Some consumer products, like beverage and cosmetic companies, are reducing their use of plastic packaging. But as we address plastic pollution, should we also concentrate on the origination?

Geyer, Roland, Jenna R. Janbeck, Kara Lavender Law. “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made.” 19 July 2017. Science Advances. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1700782

Oh, Tessa. “Explainer: Why Singapore’s plastic recycling rate is so low and what can be done to raise it.” 30 August 2021. Today. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/explainer-why-singapores-plstic-recycling-rate-so-low-and-what-can-be-done-raise-it

“Top 10 Largest Plastic Manufacturing Companies in the World” BizVibe. 2022. https://blog/bizvibe.com/blog/plastic-manufacturing-companies

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February 10, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 1, The Problem

Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. Now the UN will develop a treaty to limit plastic pollution. Image: “Plastic bottles in a pickup truck for recycling.” by Streetwise, 2010. Public domain: creative commons.

Plastic: it is the convenience – and scourge – of our Anthropocene era. Most of it lives in cities, and then landfills. Diplomats are now turning their collective attention to plastic pollution. Modeled on the 2015 Paris Agreement, developed in the city of the Eiffel Tower, the first stage of the UN initiative is assessment: how much plastic is being manufactured? With what chemicals? Who are the main players? What happens when plastic is discarded?

Plastic Facts and Figures:

Since its invention, 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced

Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Most is in landfills

United States generates 287 pounds of plastic waste, per person, per year

During the pandemic, single-use plastic wrapping products for safety increased 19%

8 million metric tons of plastic enter global waters – each year (that is equivalent to a dump truck offloading every minute of every day

Microplastics are now found in the organs of fish

Microbeads and plastic fibers are found in 80% of the world’s tap water

Led by Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, the UNEA-5 team will convene in Nairobi on 28 February 2022. Preparing for that meeting, we will next take a look the main manufacturers, and preview some innovations that may signal hope.

Birnbaum, Michael and Min Joo Kim. “Plastics production is skyrocketing. A new U.N. treaty effort could cap it. 8 February 2022. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/02/08/plastic-pollution-un-treaty

Ingilizian, Zara. “Waste-free consumption: 3 reasons why cities will lead.” 14 June 2019. World Economic Forum: Shaping the Future of Consumption. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/3-reasons-why-cities-can-stem-the-tide-of-the-plastic-crisis/

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution – it’s time for change!” https://www.unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution

UNEP-5. https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/resources/updates/towards-unea-5-2/

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February 3, 2022
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SPACE: International Space University

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard ISS in 2017. In 2031, could this be you, studying science in an international space university? Image: NASA 2017. Public Domain: wikimedia.

In 2030, the International Space Station will be “relocated.” Where? Point Nemo: the most remote from land area of the ocean. NASA announced the transition “De-Orbit” plan, along with goals for the next decade. Future space goals include:

Enable Deep Space Exploration

Conduct Research to Benefit Humanity

Foster a U.S. Commercial Space Industry

Lead and Enable International Collaboration

Improve Humankind

While NASA’s statement praises the International Space Station (ISS) for two decades of scientific, technological, and diplomatic achievements including “biological, physical, biomedicine, materials, and Earth and space science,” the next decade is to continue science while “laying the groundwork for a future in Commercial LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Destinations by 2030.” (NASA January 2022)

Commercial enterprise in space includes Axiom. “Logo of Axiom Space,” public domain, wikimedia commons.

Speaking of the Commercial Leo Destinations (CLDs) by 2030, NASA makes a clear statement: space is moving from diplomatic cooperation to commercial collaboration. Recognizing the “over 20 commercial facilities operating aboard ISS today,” NASA names several enterprises (investors, take note) including: Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman Space Systems. Yet, NASA’s comment that “the ISS remains the sole example of how an international team can productively and successfully cooperate over the course of decades in space” leaves open the question of how such cooperation may continue.

“University of Karachi” photograph by M. Yousuf Siddiqui, Creative Commons 4.0, wikimedia. Thank you to M. Yousuf Siddiqui for inclusion of this image.

Is there now an opening for a consortium of universities (by their very name, “universes” that are centers of inclusion) to plan an educational, research-based, international space university? Such a center of learning could continue the ISS vision, even as space’s sole center of international cooperation plans to transition. While private enterprise is a leader in innovation, commerce is proprietary. There remains a need for at least one place in space that belongs to all of those on Earth who share, equally, in the promise of space. If you were to found and name a university in space, what are your ideas?

NASA. “International Space Station Transition Report: pursuant to Section 303 (c) (2) of the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.I., 115-10). January 2022.  https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/2022_iss_transition_report-final_tagged.pdf

Newman, John Henry. The Idea of a University. 2016. Download free, Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24526

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January 29, 2022
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SPACE: Do Look UP – Citizen Scientists Needed NOW

Do Look UP. Nasa invites your views as a citizen scientist. Image: “Lucas Bornhauser,” by photographer Lucas Bornhauser, luboco, 2016. With appreciation. Wikimedia commons.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande, Tyler Perry and others star in the science fiction noir comedy “Don’t Look Up” by Adam McKay. It’s an allegory about climate change, government, politics, and media. The film set a Netflix record for the most views in a single week: maybe you have seen this movie. If you are among those, like DiCaprio and others, who are concerned about climate change, you may wonder what you as an individual can do. NASA has an invitation for you. Do Look UP!

“Don’t Look Up” Poster. Image wikimedia. Souce impawards.com/2021. With appreciation to the film team and impawards.

GLOBE CLOUD CHALLENGE welcomes citizen scientists to use the GLOBE Observer to identify clouds in their own area, timing observations with satellite flyovers. Satellites have a hard time identifying clouds, but these formations are easily seen from Earth. NASA hopes to collect 20,000 cloud observations.

“Cirrus clouds: sky panorama.” by Fir002/Flagstaffotos. Image: wikimedia. CC by NC. With appreciation.

What are clouds and why do they appear? Formations of water vapor change into gas that condenses with dust or salt from sea spray to form liquid or ice: when the accumulation is sufficient, a cloud happens. Even if you’ve never flown through a cloud, you’ve probably walked through one: on land, the same process produces fog.

“Fog Particles at Night” by Bill Larkins, 2011. Image: creative commons CC by SA 2.0 wikimedia. With appreciation.

High, thin clouds let sunlight through yet still prevent heat from escaping to space via infrared radiation: there is a net warming result. Low, thick clouds reflect sunlight but have no impact of infrared radiation: there is a net cooling effect. Without clouds, we’d have a much warmer planet. With climate change and global warming, clouds are very much part of the solution.

“Infrared image of storm clouds over central United States from GOES-17 satellite,” NOAA, 2018. Image: public domain. With appreciation to NOAA.

NASA’s cloud-observation satellites include Aqua, Aura, Calipso, CloudSat, and Terra fly over the Earth. Soon, the data will be matched with NOAA’s GOES-T. Clouds are one of the aspects related to climate change. According to Marilé Colón Robles, lead atmospheric scientists for the Clouds team at Langley Research Center, “Each cloud affects Earth’s energy balance differently.” (NASA 2022)

“Cloud types” by Valintin de Bruyn, for Coton, 2012. Image: wikimedia. With appreciation.

Here’s how to participate. Download the GLOBE Observer APP (available to those in 120 GLOBE member countries. Register as an observer, and then go outside and look UP. The challenge runs until February 15, 2022. After that, keep the app active: as a citizen scientist, you can also use the app to observe and report on three other categories: mosquito habitat mapping, land cover, and trees. Here’s the link: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/globe-observer/id1090456751

“The five components of the climate system all interact.” by Fernkemilene, 2019. Creative commons CC by SA 4.0. With appreciation,

If you are not able to go outside, you can still participate. With the NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE app, you can look at photos, identify cloud types, and tag via a Zooniverse online platform. Here’s that link: https:www.zooniverse.org/projects/nasaglobe/nasa-globe-cloud-gaze

“Charged Cloud.” animation by NOAA, 2016. Public Domain. Creative Commons. With appreciation.

NASA. “NASA GLOBE Cloud Challenge: 2022: Clouds in a Changing Climate.” 12 January 2022. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/nasa-globe-cloud-challenge-2022-clouds-in-a-changing-climate

NOAA. “Clouds and Climate.” https://psl.noaa.gov/outreach/education/science/clouds_and_climate.html

Pearce, Fred. “Why clouds are the key to new troubling projections on warming.” 5 February 2020. Yale Environment 360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-clouds-are-the-key-to-new-troubling-projections-on-warming

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January 17, 2022
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CITIES: Landscapes and Dreamscapes

“I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. on 28 August 1963. Photo shows the view from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. Image: wikimedia.

When Martin Luther King delivered a speech that would ring throughout history, “I Have a Dream,” he did so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in the nation’s capital. King’s words echoed Lincoln’s, who proposed and signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and were framed by the setting of a monument dedicated to equality, freedom, and justice. The crowd assembled stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, in a public gathering space first envisioned by the country’s founders. Today’s march to urge passage of a law to protect  voting rights is part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Peace Walk.

L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C., facsimile, us.gov. Image: wikimedia

With the vision of capital to be both a center of government and a landscape that invited public art and public gatherings, George Washington engaged architect and engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant in 1791 to map out a new city. The plan was inspired by the open boulevards of Paris, L’Enfant’s original home before he at the age of 22 the young engineer volunteered to serve with the Corps of Engineers of the United States Continental Army: it was then that he met Washington. However, the relationship proved volatile and Washington fired L’Enfant in 1792.

Benjamin Banneker” from image on a U.S. postal stamp honoring the brilliant mathematician and surveyor whom many credit with preserving the design of Washington, D.C.’s design. Image: wikimedia.

Benjamin Banneker, a mathematician and astronomer with an apparently photographic memory, saved the capital. Banneker remember L’Enfant’s design and detailed blueprints exactly. He had been engaged by Major Andrew Ellicott to survey the land. Banneker particularly noted L’Enfant’s design of grand open space for monuments, public art, and common ground for gatherings, and kept the vision in the city’s plan. Others on the capital team included Latrobe and Jefferson. Benjamin Banneker and Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a vision, and some background: both shared an African-American heritage.

“Original Plan for Brasilia” by Lúcio Costa” from O Spaço Lúcio Costa, Brasilia, permanent exhibition: photograph by Uri Rosenheck. Image: wikimedia.

Cities, especially capitals, have an opportunity to be more than an urban conglomerate. In some ways, a capital is public art. When Brazil moved its capital from coastal Rio de Janeiro to the center of the country, the nation gave a new name, Brasilia, to its capital. Recognizing a new era in global perspective and transport, Brasilia was built in the shape of an airplane.

“Drivers, Processes, and Impacts of Sinking Cities” graphic by Wbliss10, 2019. Wikimedia commons.

With global warming and rising seas, we will see the rebuilding of coastal cities. It is a fact that many capitals, especially ancient ones, were ports. Indonesia plans to move its capital because the current one is sinking at a rate of 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) per year due to coastal location exacerbated by aggressive draining of groundwater under Jakarta. Bangkok, Thailand recently reviewed projections that it could be underwater by 2030, due to a combination of heavy skyscrapers built during a real estate and economic boom, and depletion of groundwater resources,  despite attempts to slow the process including Thailand’s Ground Water Act of 1977. Dhaka, Bangladesh is sinking at a rate of 0.55 inches (1.4 centimeters) and sea level rise in the Bay of Bengal is higher than the global average. Nigeria moved its capital from coastal Lagos to central Abuja.

“Aerial panorama of Bremen and the river Weser – Bremen von oben” by Moinichbins, 2020. Image: wikimedia.

Sea rise may soon cause nations to rebuild and redesign some cities, especially those located near water. How can capitals be both centers of efficient governance and inspirational gatherings? If you were to design a new capital, based on the virtues and values of a nation, how would you create a city that is both a landscape and a dreamscape?

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Jakarta: first capital to move due to sea rise.” 2019 Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2019/05/01/jakarta-first-capital-to-move-due-to-sea-rise/

Keene, Louis. “Benjamin Banneker.” The White House Historical Association.” https://www.whitehousehistory.org/benjamin-banneker

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have A Dream.” 28 August 1963. LISTEN: https://youtu.be/vP4/Y1TtS3s

Rosane, Olivia. “8 World Cities That Could Be Underwater As Oceans Rise.” 5 October 2018. EcoWatch. https://www.ecowatch.com/cities-vulnerable-sea-level-rise-2610208792.html

Thailand. “Ground Water Act of 1977.” http://www.dgr.go.th/en/about/391

Washington D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Walk. 17 January 2022. https://mlkholidaydc.org/

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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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 28, 2021
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SPACE: Journey to the beginning of the universe

James Webb Space Telescope. Image: Nasa.gov.

NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope has successfully unfolded its gimbaled antenna assembly with the data dish that will beam back information about the earliest stars in the universe. Webb will take 29 days to reach the Lagrange Point 2 (L2) that is 1 million miles (1.6 kilometers) from the launch base on Earth. The Webb telescope, costing $10 billion, is considered the successor to Hubble. The upgrade is significant: Hubble could pick up only visible and ultraviolet light. James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) uses infrared detectors and spectroscopes.

An image from Hubble. James Webb is expected to offer even better views. Image: NASA.gov.

Developed by NASA, with contributions by European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency, with manufacturers Northrop Grumman, and Ball Aerospace who built the primary mirror, the new telescope is named after James E. Webb, NASA administrator from 1961-1968 who played a pivotal role in the Apollo lunar program, directing advances to serve education and science. It is interesting to note that Webb was not a scientist, but an attorney and business leader who had served in the public and private sectors. Webb almost turned down the job, but President John F. Kennedy convinced him that he had the right skills for a broad program with significant missions. You can listen to the audio of President John F. Kennedy and James Webb as they discuss human spaceflight: here.

James Webb Space Telescope is on its way. Illustration by Kevin Gill. Creative Commons license CC by SA 2.0. Image: wikimedia.

The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to open a new era in space and science. What would you like to discover about the beginning of the universe? To track the Webb as it travels towards its goal, click here.

NASA. James Webb Space Telescope. Goddard Space Flight Center. https://jwst.nasa.gov/

NASA. James Webb Space Telescope is fully deployed. UPDATE: https://twitter.com/hashtag/NASAWebb?src=hashtag_click

Pultarova, Tereza. “James Webb Space Telescope: The scientific mysteries no other observatory could unravel.’ 24 December 2021. Space.com.

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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