Building the World

May 4, 2022
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CITIES: No Mow May

NO MOW MAY. This month, let your lawn grow with wildflowers to feed seasonal pollinators like bees. Photo: “Wildflowers” by Richard Croft, 2007. Wikimedia CC 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Public parks like Boston’s Greenway or New York City’s Central Park might be the lungs of the city, but urban and suburban yards may be the pop-up restaurants for seasonal pollinators like bees that will help the world through climate change. American lawns occupy 40 million acres, and may be the largest irrigated “crop” in the United States – three times more than irrigated corn. (Milesi, University of Montana and NOAA National Geophysical Data Center)

“Automaton Lawn Mower by Ransomes, Sims & Jeffries of Ipswich, England,” advertisement circa 1867. Public Domain.

No Mow May is an organization in the United Kingdom advocating the absence of lawn mowing, letting lawns grow wild, for this month, offering a spring habitat and feeding ground of wildflowers and clover critical for emerging bees and early pollinators. In addition to homes, colleges are included: Lawrence University recently joined the organization Bee City, USA, and its affiliate: Bee Campus USA.

Fewer lawns, more bees. “Abeille” by Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin, 2010. Wikimedia, CC 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Yards, and campuses, participating in No Mow May noted three times more bee species abundance and five times more bee attendance than in lawn areas.

Another benefit of No Mow May? Water retention. People water lawns. In an era of drought and water scarcity, lawns may be phased out. That what happened in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lake Mead, water reservoir of the Colorado River, supplies Las Vegas with water. A new law by the Southern Nevada Water Authority prohibits lawns, and watering of nonfunctional turf, in response to drought conditions on the Colorado River. Image: “Lake Mead” by Kjkolb, public domain. Included with appreciation.

A new law, related to water shortages in the Colorado River, enacted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, decreed first-ever permanent prohibition of non-functional turf (soccer fields are functional, household lawns are not). Residents are digging up grass and replacing it with rocks and cactus, creating xeriscapes, a kind of landscaping reducing or eliminating need for irrigation.

Do you have grass in your yard or on your campus? Participate in No Mow May: for a printable yard sign, click here

Bee City USA. https://beecityusa.org

Bee Campus USA. https://beecityusa.org/current-bee-campus-use-affiliates

Del Toro, Israel and Relena R. Ribbons. “No Mow May lawns have higher pollinator richness and abundances: An engaged community provides floral resources for pollinators” 22 September 2020. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. doi: 10.7717/peerj.10021

Milesi, Cristina. “More Lawns than Irrigated Corn.” 8 November 2005. Earth Observatory, NASA.gov. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Law/lawn2.php

No Mow May. Plantlife.  https://www.plantlife.org.uk

Osann, Ed. “Toward Sustainable Landscapes: Restoring the Right NOT to Mow.” 6 May 2016. Natural Resources Defense Council. https://www.nrdc.org/resources/toward-sustainable-landscapes-restoring-right-not-mow

Southern Nevada Water Authority. “An Act relating to water; prohibiting, with certain exceptions, the use of water from the Colorado River to irrigate nonfunctional turf on certain properties.” Assembly Bill No. 356, 22 March 2021. https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/81st2021/Bills/AB/AB356_R1.pdf

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April 29, 2022
by Building The World
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CITIES: Parks – Lungs of the City

Olmsted’s “Emerald Necklace” in Boston. “Boston Public Garden panorama.” by Rick Harris, 30 April 2006. Creative Commons CC2.0. With appreciation.

Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Chicago’s Jackson Park, the U.S. Capitol Grounds in Washington, D.C., and New York’s Central Park: these were some of the public parks and landscapes that Frederick Law Olmsted (born 200 years ago this week) created. One of Olmsted’s seven principles of a successful public landscape was sanitation: below the surface and woven into the soil are drainage and engineering innovations that serve to enhance health and well-being of the environment, and those who visit it for refreshment and renewal. Olmsted believed public parks could give a city ‘lungs,’ and those who visited a place to breathe. In fact, this year’s bicentennial events include “Lungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music” with the American Wild Ensemble performing works inspired by outdoor spaces and parks. Before practicing landscape architecture full-time, Olmsted had been director of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an organization that later became the Red Cross. Public health was a life-long passion for Olmsted, along with a belief that clean air, plants, and a beneficial environment were essential to human, and natural, health.

Parks are Lungs for Cities. “An aerial view of Central Park, Central Park Conservancy: Aerial Summer 2,” by Centralparknyc, 2008. Creative Commons 3.0, wikimedia. With appreciation.

Olmsted’s vision of a city’s need for green space developed at a time when urban areas were becoming unhealthily crowded. Central Park, in New York City, result of a design competition won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, was the first landscaped public park in the United States. For its time, it was a macro project: 20,000 workers carved a new landscape enhancing existing terrain (and sadly relocating some groups dwelling there). Over 270,000 shrubs and trees were planted, along with sculpting of a new reservoir from what had formerly been a swamp. Built in 1858, a time before air-conditioning, Central Park provided urban denizens with a literal breath of fresh air. Olmsted stressed the value of “the feeling of relief experienced by those entering them, on escaping from the cramped, confined and controlling circumstances of the streets of the town. In other word, a sense of enlarged freedom is to all, at all times, the most certain and the most valuable gratification afforded by a park.”(Wilson 2020).

“Hiking on Appalachian Trail,” by Chewonki Semester School, 2009. Creative Commons 2.0. With appreciation.

Similarly, the Appalachian Trail, suggested by architect Benton MacKaye in a 1921 article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, for the purpose of preserving original land, in the form of a protected trail of great length (it can take five-to-seven months to hike the whole Appalachian Trail), so that people could experience true wilderness. The earlier 1911 Weeks Act granted the United States government authority to buy private land to establish national forests (Hanson 2022). Later, the Wilderness Act encouraged acquisition of land in original nature: since its founding, mover than 100 million acres have been so dedicated. MacKaye suggested, in the seminal article, “new approach to the problem of living.” (MacKaye 1921)

“Street Restaurant during COVID-19 Emergency Rules,” by Eden, Janine and Jim, 1 September 2020. Creative Commons 2.0. With appreciation.

The importance of outdoor space was re-experienced during the recent pandemic. Families held outdoor reunions; restaurants opened up sidewalk cafes, parks welcomed those who needed a break from home isolation. Central Park, 153 years after its opening, proved Olmsted right.

Buenos Aires, world megacity with a population of 16 million (megacities are 10 million+): the name of the city means “Good Airs.” This photo features the Puerto Madero section of Buenos Aires. Image: “High-Rises of Puerto Madero” by Deensel 2018. Creative Commons 2.0, wikimedia. With appreciation.

Cities are home to over half of the world’s population; by 2050, that percentage will grow to 68%. As cities grow, so can parks. Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, a circle of parks surrounding Boston, gained a new jewel when the Central Artery Project rebuilt the highway underground and replaced surface land with the Greenway, including a carousel.

Ride a carousel in the middle of the city – Boston’s latest jewel in Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace. “Greenway Carousel, Rose Kennedy Greenway,” by Daderot 2014. Dedicated to the public domain (CC0) by the photographer. With appreciation.

To participate in one of the many events celebrating the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, click here.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy. https://appalachiantrail.org

Henson, Alex. “The Founder of the Appalachian Trail Imagined Something Even Grander: Utopian vision of a Harvard forestry grad.” November/December 2014, Volume 35, Number 6.  Humanities Magazine, National Endowment for the Humanities. https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/novemberdecember/statement/the-founder-the-appalachian-trail-imagined-something-even

MacKaye, Benton. “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” 9 October 1921, pages 325-30, Journal of the American Institute of Architects.

Blackmar, Elizabeth and Roy Rosensweig. “Central Park History.” https://centralpark.org/hiistory-of-central-park/

Davidson, Frank P. and K. Lusk Brooke, “National Trails System,” Building the World. Greenwood: 2006.

National Association for Olmsted Parks.” https://olmsted200.org

Weeks Act of 1911. https://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/Documents/Weeks%20Law.pdf

Wilderness Act of 1964. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/Environ-Cultural/wilderness_act.pdf

Wilson, Michael. ” ‘It Sort of Gives You Hope,’ One Place New Yorkers Go to Escape Their Homes. New Yorkers have headed outdoors to the parks to enjoy sunshine and nature – as long as they are 6 feet away from each other.” 19 March 2020. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/nyregion/nyc-parks-coronavirus.html?referringSource-articleShare

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April 22, 2022
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Earth Day 2022

TAKE ACTION NOW. “Earth seen from Space” photograph by Nasa.gov. Wikimedia commons.

As the world transitions from fossil fuels, some say the change of direction was caused by an oil spill. April 22 is celebrated around the world as Earth Day. Begun in 1970, Earth Day was proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) when the senator was among those who witnessed a damaging oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Nelson reached out to leaders of the future – students – and across the political aisle to Congress leader Pete McCloskey, as well as to student activist Denis Hayes (who later became president of the Bullitt Foundation). Together, the three proposed a day for a teach-in about the environment. April 22 was chosen because it was between Spring Break and Graduation. Hayes recruited a team of 85 who recommended that April 22 receive a special name: Earth Day.

That first Earth Day was so successful that many trace the birth of the environmental movement to the raised awareness. Another factor: NASA landing people on the moon the year before, in 1969, giving everyone on the planet a sense of Earth’s community.

1970 became a turning point. The Environmental Protection Agency was created, and new legislation passed: Environmental Education Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and the Clear Air Act. 1972: the Clean Water Act. 1973: Endangered Species Act (co-authored by Pete McCloskey, who also worked with Climate One ), and that same year, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

What began in the United States soon went global, as befits Earth Day. In 1990, Earth Day reached 141 countries, raising a movement that led to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Now, Earth Day is honored by 193 countries. As Earth Day notes, it is the “largest secular observance in the world.”  (earthday.org)

Are you ready to help? There are many ways you can participate in Earth Day’s TAKE ACTION NOW

Hayes, Denis. “50 Years: Earth Day” 23 April 2020. https://youtu.be/YVJufelR5Aw

McCloskey, Pete. “Oil and Smokes” Climate One. https://www.climateone.org/video/pete-mccloskey-oil-and-smokes

Nelson, Gaylord. “A Vision For The Earth,” speech on Earth Day 1970. https://youtu.be/y3RCPAtmpv8

Pazzanese, Cristina. “How Earth Day gave birth to environmental movement: Denis Hayes, one of the event’s founders, recalls the first and how its influence spread,” 17 April 2020. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/04/denis-hayes-one-of-earth-days-founders-50-years-ago-reflects/

Thulin, Lila. “How an Oil Spill Inspired the First Earth Day,” 22 April 2019. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-oil-spill-50-years-ago-inspired-first-earth-day-180972007/

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April 14, 2022
by Building The World
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WATER: Noah’s Ark for Marine Life

“Noah’s Ark,” by Edward Hicks. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Public Domain, USA. Image: wikimedia

Coral reefs cover just 1% of the ocean floor but support 25% of all marine life. According to The Ocean Agency’s founder Richard Vevers, even if we meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, we may lose 90% of our coral reefs by mid-century due to ocean warming and acidification that causing coral reef bleaching. Working with the Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decisions at the University of Queensland, The Ocean Agency and a team of scientists selected 50 coral reefs that are most likely to survive climate change with a little help. The reefs chosen are a sample “large enough to allow protection of reefs in all major regions” (UQ 2017).

“Coral planting and reef restoration,” by Profmauri, 2011. Creative Commons 3.0, wikimedia.

Given this ‘Noah’s Ark’ for coral and marine life, how can this precious resource be preserved? Much like the examples of humans helping Nature as in the National Trails System, Roman Aqueducts or the New River, natural coral reefs may get a boost from engineering innovations. Coral can be grown in a lab, where growth that could take 100 years in the ocean can be accomplished in two years under laboratory conditions. Once the tiny corals are ready for transplanting, they can be placed on reefs that are suffering but still able to recover; it’s a process known as “reskinning.”

“The Silent Evolution” by James deCaires Taylor. Photographer, allenran 917, 2014. Creative Commons 2.0.

Another option: forming new coral reefs using underwater sculptures like those created by James deCaires Taylor for the Australia’s Museum of Underwater Art on Great Barrier Reef, and Mexico’s Mesoamerican Reef, largest in the Western Hemisphere, for the Museo Subacuático de Arte. Some debate whether such sculptures are helping or harming marine life. Similar underwater sculpture gardens created by Angeline Chen and Kyle Block, founders of Global Coralition, are located in Koh Tao, Thailand, and in the Dominican Republic, where art honors the traditional water deities of the Arawak/Taino cultures of the Caribbean.

“Blue Spotted Stingray in Koh Tao, Thailand coral reef,” photographer Jan Derk, 2004. Generously dedicated to the public domain by Jan Derk. Creative Commons. With appreciation to Jan Derk.

Vevers worried that coral is an emergency that is invisible to all but divers and the denizens of the ocean. To make the invisible visible (coincidentally the theme for World Water Day 2022 referencing groundwater), The Ocean Agency reached out to Jeff Orlowski and Larissa Rhodes to collaborate on a Netflix film: “Chasing Coral.” During filming, the most dangerous coral bleaching event in history occurred. The film debuted at Sundance and has helped to make coral’s plight more accessible. Watch the film here.

“Coral reef locations,” by NASA, 2006, from Millennium Coral Reef Landsat Archive. Public Domain. 50 are chosen for “Noah’s Ark” preservation. For information on each reef, visit http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/landsat.pl

Art may help to raise awareness, and respect, for the world’s coral reefs. In addition to nurturing 25% of marine life, coral provides 1 billion people with food, jobs, and income that generates $375 billion in economic benefits. Coral reels are not visible to most of us, so they may be out of mind. But there is much each of us can do. Recycling plastic that can harm reels and marine life, being cautious about the use of some sunscreens when enjoying the beach, or by supporting ocean sustainability and coral reef regeneration, we have an opportunity to build a modern-day Noah’s Ark for coral.

Beyer, Hawthorne L, et al., “Risk-sensitive planning for conserving coral reefs under rapid climate change.” 27 June 2018. Conservation Letters, Volume 11, Issue 6, e12587. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12587

DeCaires, Jason Taylor. “An underwater art museum, teeming with life.” TED talk. December 2015. https://www.ted.com/talks/jason_decaires_taylor_an_underwater_art_museum_teeming_with_life?language-en

Drury, Madeleine. “Are giant underwater sculptures helping or harming marine life?” 07/09/2021. Euronews.com. https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/o7/13/are-giant-underwater-sculptures-helping-or-harming-marine-life

Global Coralition. https://www.globalcoralition.org

Netflix and Exposure Labs: “Chasing Coral,” Film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGGBGcjdjXA

The Ocean Agency, “50 Reefs.” Video: https://youtu.be/pFfVpO_q4sg

University of Queensland, Global Change Institute. “Which reefs are the most important to save?” 24 February 217. https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2017/02/which-reefs-are-most-important-save

Vevers, Richard. “Interview,” https://youtu.be/8hMAgr4p7Sg

Wilson, Amy. “Microfragmentation: a breakthrough for coral reef restoration.” 18 September 2018. Medium.com. https://medium.com/@amykwilson/microfragmentation-a-breakthrough-for-coral-reef-restoration-6a2e86c4e2

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April 7, 2022
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Nuclear to Solar in Ukraine

Chernobyl may transition from nuclear to solar energy. Image: “Nellis Solar Power Plant,” photograph by Nadine Y. Barclay, 2007, of U.S. Air Force. Nellis Solar covers 140 acres and supplies power to Nellis Air Force Base. Public Domain. Included with appreciation to Nadine Y. Barclay.

Russian troops invading Ukraine recently attempted to seize Chernobyl, a nuclear facility built when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Chernobyl was the site of one of the world’s most devastating nuclear disasters in 1986, years before Ukraine gained independence on 24 August 1991. After the accident, the plant was shuttered, but radioactivity remains, blanketed by a concrete and steel barrier reinforced by a 35,000 ton confinement system added in 2016. Further protection was established when with the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 1000 square miles wide, with its inner core of the most dangerous area termed the Red Forest.

The Red Forest. “Radioactive hot spot” by photographer Jorge Franganillo, 2017. Image: CC by 2.0, wikimedia. Included with appreciation to Jorge Franganillo.

In February 2022, when Russian troops entered the zone, crossfire hit a laboratory building, causing a fire that was quelled, but not without concern of potential radioactive energy released. Additionally, Russian troops dug trenches to lay landmines, likely disturbing radioactive land and then spreading contamination as tanks rolled through. Ukraine fought off the Russian troops who left the Chernobyl area in March 2022. Ukraine retook the plant on 3 April 2022. But worries about radioactive contamination remain.

“The Dangerous View – Pripyat – Chernobyl,” by photographer Ben Fairless, 2008. Image: CC 2.0 Creative Commons wikimedia. Included with appreciation to Ben Fairless.

Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster occurred during a 1986 routine power check. Operators turned off the automatic safety systems to evaluate a steam turbine when the plant’s power suddenly plummeted. The automatic system could not function to restore power, but the operators were not too worried because power was supposed to decline. Then, suddenly, the reactor entered into a chain reaction that melted the core, triggered two more explosions and blew a 1,000 ton roof off the building. Radioactive contamination spewed into the air for the next nine days. The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rated Chernobyl a 7, the most dangerous level. In 2011, Fukushima Daiichi would reach a similar rating.

The Manhattan Project developed atomic energy, and bombs. Image: “Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” by photographers George R. Carson, and Charles Levy. Courtesy of United States Department of Energy. Image: public domain. With appreciation to George Carson, Charles Levy, and U.S. Department of Energy. Image: Wikimedia.

Atomic energy, developed during the Manhattan Project, came into the world with an initially deadly effect: bombs dropped during World War II destroyed lives and cities, leaving behind radioactivity lingering for generations. After the war, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 established principles for the development of this new form of power. Recently, while accidents like Chernobyl and 2011’s Fukushima confirmed fears of the danger of nuclear power generation, some energy experts noted that because nuclear energy is carbon-free (except during construction or decommissioning of reactors and plants), and because nuclear power is available over 90% of the time, it may be a necessary support to intermittent renewables like solar or wind. Fission energy, such as that developed by the Manhattan Project, leaves considerable radioactive waste: disposal and storage remain a contentious problem. Another form of nuclear power, fusion energy created when two atomic nuclei are combined into one larger nucleus, is now under active development: ITER in France and England’s Joint European Torus (JET) are reaching rapid advancements. Fusion energy promises many advantages, among them the impossibility of an unintended chain reaction such as destroyed Chernobyl. ITER is scheduled to begin operation in 2027. It might be noted that nuclear fusion is the same energy process as the sun.

“ITER Tokamak and Plant Systems” drawing by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA. Creative Commons 2.0 wikimedia. Included with appreciation to Oak Ridge.

If nuclear fusion enters the energy mix, what will happen to decommissioned fission plants? Chernobyl may offer one response. In 2017, a Ukrainian-German joint venture announced construction of a new facility on the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that will host a different kind of power: Solar Chernobyl.

The sun generates energy by nuclear fusion. Image by NASA, Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), 2010. Wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation to NASA and SDO.

Hallam, Jonny. “Video shows Russian forces dug trenches in highly radioactive off-limits area near Chernobyl.” 7 April 2022. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-putin-news-04-07-22/index.html

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “Fusion: Frequently asked questions.” https://www.iaea.org/topics/energy/fusion/faqs

McFadden Brendan. “Chernobyl: Russia troops disturbed radioactive soil by digging trenches and laying landmines, Ukraine claims.” 3 March 2022. Inews. https://inews.co.uk/news/chernobyl-russia-troops-disturbed-radioactive-soil-by-digging-trenches-and-laying-landmines-ukraine-claims-1554854

Rhodes, Richard. Energy: A Human History. New York: Simon & Schuster 2018. ISBN: 9781501105357

Solar Chernobyl. https://solarchernobyl.com

The Conversation. “Nuclear fusion hit a milestone thanks to better reactor walls – this engineering advance is building towards reactors of the future.” 4 April 2022. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/nuclear-fusiion-hit-a-milestone-thanks-to-better-reactor-walls-this-engineering-advance-is-building-toward-reactors-of-the-future-178870

United States Congress. “Atomic Energy Act of 1946,” https://www.atomicarchive.com/resources/documents/deterrence/atomic-energy-act.html

World Nuclear Association. “Chernobyl Accident 1986,” updated April 2022. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/chernobyl-accident.aspx

Yergin, Daniel. The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. New York: Penguin 2011. ISBN: 9781594202834

Appreciation to Shira P. White for research on Ukraine, and to Jean-Louis Bobin and Lucien Deschamps for research on nuclear fusion energy.

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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March 29, 2022
by Building The World
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TRANSPORT: Ten Mile Markers on the Road to the Future

Ten Mile Markers to the Future. Image” Numbers 1 to 10 Rotation Illusion” by Nevit Dilmen, 2012. Wikimedia: Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation .

Many governments, and most scientists, are clear that we need to stop using fossil fuels to halt climate change (and perhaps geopolitical conflict). But transitioning from today’s energy sources and systems to a new energy paradigm is not as clear. Where and how to start?

“500 Series Shinkansen train at Tokyo Station,” 2005. Photographer ⊃ Wikimedia: CC 3.0. With appreciation.

Let’s start with transport, because it is a sector already altered by the recent viral pandemic. Can we preserve some of the energy-saving practices as we move into the future? Here are ten steps recommended by the International Energy Agency:

TEN MILE MARKERS ON THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE

REDUCE SPEED: cut speed limit on highways by 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) per hour

TELECOMMUTE: work from home 3 days per week if possible

CAR-FREE DAY: large cities could ban cars from central urban roads one day per week

MICRO MOBILE: build bikeways, skating lanes, and walking paths

CAR SHARE: take an Uber; get a Lyft; commute with buddies

DELIVER THE GOODS: redesign freight trucks and trains for better energy use

EV: accelerate use of electric vehicles by financial incentives and supportive infrastructure

ZOOM: cut all non-essential business travel in favor of teleconferencing

TRAIN: incentivize high-speed, maglev, and hyper-loop trains with overnight sleeper cars

If the above actions were achieved, “Full implementation of these measures in advanced economies alone can cut oil demand by 2.7 million barrels a day within the next four months.” (IEA 2022)

Logo of International Energy Agency. www.iea.org. Image: wikimedia. With appreciation to IEA.

The International Energy Agency was founded (November 1974) to set up a collective action system to respond to disruptions in energy (then, mainly oil) supply. The IEA was created with a treaty: “Agreement on an International Energy Program.” Today, the IEA represents 75% of global energy consumers.

Can highways change energy use? “Car dashboard on highway,” by Arkady Lifshits, photographer. Generously dedicated to the public domain. Wikimedia: Creative Commons 1.0. With appreciation.

While the IEA can act collectively (It did in 1991, 2005, and 2011: could there be another soon?), countries often set energy-saving policies during shortages. In 1973, the United States Federal Highway Interstate System reduced speed limits to 55 mph (89 km/h) by passing the National Maximum Speed Law. As a result, lives were saved as well as energy: road fatalities declined by 16% (Friedman 2009).

England’s New River has walking paths. “New River Bowes Park,” by Nick Cooper, 2009. Creative Commons 3.0 with appreciation.

Walking paths were installed alongside England’s New River in 1603. Japan’s high-speed rail system, Shinkansen, (see above) built for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 (and upgraded for the recent Summer Olympics in 2021), was profitable from day one.

“Eurotunnel: Folkestone Terminal,” by Ed Clayton, 2012. Creative Commons 2.0. With appreciation.

The Channel Tunnel, providing train transit from London to Paris, has brought increased economic and environmental benefits. Every new form of transport has caused changes in civilization: from the Silk Road to the Lunar Landing. Transport has the opportunity, and perhaps obligation, to develop mile makers on the road to the future. 

 

Buttigieg, Pete, United States Secretary of Transportation, and Cristiano Amon, President and CEO of Qualcomm. “The Future of Transportation is Driven by Tech.” CES 2022. VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59HgM5gwmFI

Friedman, Lee S. el al., “Long-Term Effects of Repealing the National Maximum Speed Limit in the United States.” September 2009. American Journal of Public Health: 99(9): 1626-1631. https://www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PM2724439/ and doi: 10.2015/AJPH.2008.153726

International Energy Agency (IEA). “A 10 Point Plan to Cut Oil Use.” March 2022. https://www.iea.org/reports/a/10-point-plan-to-cut-oil-use

United Nations. “Agreement on an International Energy Program (with annex).” and “Accord relatif à un programme international de l’énergie (avec annexe).” Number: 15664, 18 November 1974. https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201040/volume-1040-A-15664-English.pdf

United States. “National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL)” as part of the “Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act.” Public Law 93-239 – Jan. 2, 1974. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-87/pdf/STATUTE-87-Pg1046.pdf

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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March 22, 2022
by Building The World
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World Water Day – Making the Invisible Visible

World Water Day 2022. “Splash!” by José Manuel Suárez, 2008. Image: Wikimedia CC 2.0 creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Today is World Water Day, begun by the United Nations as an international day of observance. This year’s theme is “Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible.” Did you know that groundwater is the largest source of freshwater on earth? How can we sustain and renew this essential element?

Vista nocturna del Río Bravo, frontera El Paso – Ciudad Juárez.” By Iose, 2007. Dedicated by the photographer to the public domain and included here with thanks. Image: Wikimedia.

Groundwater is transnational. Rivers, above-ground water resources, are often boundary lines separating countries. An example is the Rio Grande (called Río Bravo in México), a river that separates what is now known as the United States and México. Another US/México river whose resources are apportioned, and sometimes disputed, is the Colorado River. But the groundwater beneath both nations is also noteworthy: there are as many as twenty  transboundary aquifers shared by México and the United States.

“Groundwater Withdrawals 2010.” by Herbert and Doell, 2019.  Image: CC 4.0 wikimedia. With appreciation.

Transboundary aquifers demand cooperation. Because groundwater is critically important as a freshwater source, and because so many nations share underground aquifers, groundwater may become one of the most important areas of cooperation  –  and perhaps serve as the water of peace.

Interested to know more about world water, and how we can sustain and renew the Water Planet? You might like to explore this new book: Renewing the World: Water.

Renewing the World: Water explores the future of the water planet. Image: “The Earth seen from Apollo 17.” Photo by nasa.gov. public domain. Included here with appreciation.

Brooke, K. Lusk. Renewing the World: Waterhttps://renewingtheworld.com

Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or buried Hope? The Status of Mexico-US Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011): 273-290. https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/129/

International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC). “Transboundary Aquifers of the World” https://www.un.igrac.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/TBAmap_2015.pdf

Herbert, Claudia and Petra Doell. “Global assessment of current and future groundwater stress with a focus on transboundary aquifers.” Water Resources Research,  55(3), 4760-4784. DOI:10.1029/2018WR023321.

UN-Water. www.unwater.org

United States Bureau of Reclamation. “Environmental Flows in the Rio Grande-Río Bravo Basin.” 1 February 2022. Drought Adaptation Webinar Series. VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I-prBCOjTs

World Water Day. https://www.worldwaterday.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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March 22, 2022
by Building The World
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CITIES: (Eiffel)Tower of Transmission

“Eiffel Tower at Night” by Mike Brice, 2005. Image: wikimedia.

When is an icon also a beacon? The Eiffel Tower has a new capability: digital radio transmission. A helicopter installed the antenna, extending the tower’s height to reach 1,083 feet.  Communications transmission is a tradition of the iconic tower. Gustave Eiffel’s sculpture, built for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, was originally slated for removal twenty years after the exposition. The land permit contract expired after two decades, reverting the area to the city of Paris.

Guglielmo Marconi with radio equipment, 1901. Life Magazine. Image: wikimedia.

But Gustave Eiffel was always devoted to science, even building a special space in the tower for government technological observations and use. So, when a new communications technology pioneered by Hertz, Marconi, Tesla and others developed in the 1890 decade, Gustave Eiffel suggested the tower – for many years the world’s tallest structure – be used as the site for a radio antenna. On 5 November 1898, Eugène Ducretet transmitted the first radio contact from the Eiffel Tower: it would travel 2.49 miles (4 kilometers) to the Pantheon. The next year, the Eiffel Tower’s new radio capability transmitted a signal from Paris to London. Later, television signal capability added to the Tower’s importance and permanece.

When the Paris Agreement entered into force, the Eiffel Tower displayed the message in green. Image: photograph by Jean-Baptiste/Mairie de Paris and U.S. Department of State, 4 November 2016. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Eiffel Tower communicates in another way: color. When the historic Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, to begin a new era of cooperation as the world’s countries and businesses pledged to stop climate change, the Eiffel Tower displayed the message while the structure gleamed in green lights. More recently, Paris illuminated the Eiffel Tower in the blue and gold of the Ukrainian flag.

“Skyscrapers of Shinjuku, with Mt. Fuji in view.” by photographer Morio 2009. Creative Commons 3.0. wikimedia.

By 2050, 68% of the world will live in cities: the increasing density will mean more high-rise buildings, skyscrapers, and towers. Economies of scale may influence municipal regulations for water and sanitation systems, energy options, and transport links. Tall buildings like Willis Tower in Chicago might also provide new forms cellular and internet transmission. 

“Dipole xmting antenna animation” by Chetvomo. With appreciation to Chetvomo. Image: Wikimedia commons.

Lemoine, Bertrand. “How did radio save the Tower?” 10 February 2020. https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/news/130-years/how-did-radio-save-tower

United Nations. “68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.” 16 May 2018. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects-html

VIDEO: “Eiffel Tower grows by 20 feet.” CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/travel/videos/travel/2022/03/16/eiffel-tower-height-change-lon-orig-na.cnn

Willis Tower, Chicago. https://www.willistower.com/history-and-facts/antennas

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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March 9, 2022
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Sustainability – natural and geopolitical

“Ukraine animated flat.” by Zscout370. CC 3.0. Image: wikimedia.

The crisis in Ukraine has tragic consequences for people and country, but also reveals something else of concern to peace: energy and geopolitical sustainability. While science has made it clear that climate change is driven by energy choices, transitioning from fossil fuels will be a challenge in the best of circumstances. But recent world events remind us of another factor in energy strategy: geopolitical sustainability.

What can the Suez Canal teach us about strategic assets in times of peace, and times of war? “Suez Canal” satellite photo by NASA, 2001. Public domain. Wikimedia.

Geopolitics emerged as an economic factor during the Suez Canal crisis of 1959. When the matter was resolved, by a team led by Jean-Paul Calon, the Suez Canal Company became one of the leading financial investment houses. Suez reveals the importance of who controls strategic assets in times of peace, and in times of war. Another case study: the energy crisis of 1973 when the OPEC declared an oil embargo: by 1974, oil prices rose by 300%. What can those lessons teach us today?

“Russia’s petrolem regions.” by Historicair, 2007. Creative Commons 3.0. Image: wikimedia.

Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s natural gas (Poitiers 2022). Some experts recommend that this is the time for the EU to support more energy-vulnerable members, and to restructure the continent’s energy system. In other market areas, there is a significant difference. Russia exports more than half its market output to Europe; but the EU sends just 5% of its exports to Russia. The EU’s market economy is ten times greater than Russia’s. But the figures in energy look very different. Various EU states have differing exposures. For example, here are figures for reliance upon Russian natural gas:

Bulgaria: 100%

Poland: 80%

Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia:  60%

Germany: 50%

Italy: 40%

Belgium, France, Netherlands: 10%

Spain, Portugal: 0%

Source: Poitiers et al., 2022

European gas reserves are currently 1/3 full. But that relatively comforting news is countered by gas prices: on February 24 when Russian troops crossed the Ukraine border, gas prices in the EU skyrocketed by 60%.  Some help may come from Qatar and the United States; Japan and South Korea could send some supplies. But many supply lines are already maxed out: Algeria and Norway are producing and exporting at capacity. Pipelines are under threat. If the Netherlands upped their natural gas exploitation, there is the danger of increased seismic vulnerability. What are the alternatives until we can transition fully to renewable energy? Who has reserves?

“Countries with Natural Gas Reserves: 2014: Russia has the largest reserves” by Ali Zifan, who has dedicated this work to the public domain, CC0 1.0. Image: wikimedia.

In planning a transition from fossil fuels, we need a global redrawing of the energy supply chain. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a new energy vision with strategic withdrawal from Russian oil and gas (the UK gets only 5% of its gas from Russia) but Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz advocated exempting Russian energy from sanctions. (BBC 2022). Meanwhile, the United States announced new policy on Russian coal, gas, and oil. With Ukraine crisis, most serious in humanitarian and democratic concerns, there have been effects on regional and global energy, as well. Russia is the largest producer of crude oil, after Saudi Arabia. This week, oil prices rose to $139 per barrel – a high of 14 years. Will the Ukraine crisis cause a redesign of world energy and accelerate the transition to an energy system sustainable not only in resources but also in geopolitics? Climate change is cited by many as a pressing reason to transition to renewable energy. But the deprivation, suffering, tragedy of war now bring this issue to a painful urgency. Could the current crisis and war lead to a new era of energy with a renewed commitment to peace?

Barsky, Robert B. and Kilian, Lutz. “Oil and the Macroeconomy since the 1970s” The Journal of Economic Perspectives. 18 (#4): 115-134. doi: 10.1257/0895330042632708

Biden, Joseph R.,President. “Announcement of U.S. Sanctions on Russian Energy,” 8 March 2022, White House.gov. VIDEO: https://youtu.be/G7Kr1tHmEP0

Davidson, F. P. and K. Lusk Brooke. Building the World. Volume One, Chapter 16, pages 187-204. Greenwood/ABC-CLIO/Bloomsbury, 2006. ISBN: 0313333734.

Houser, Trevor, et al., “US Policy Options to Reduce Russian Energy Dependence.” 8 March 2022. Rhodium Group. https://rhg.com/research/us-policy-russia-energy-dependence/

Johnson, Boris as quoted in “Ukraine war: PM calls for ‘step-by-step’ move from Russian fuel.” BBC. 7 March 2022.

Krauss, Clifford. “Loss of Russian Oil Leaves a Void Not Easily Filled, Straining Market.” 9 March 2022. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/09/business/energy-environment/russia-oil-global-economy.html?referringSource=articleShare

Poitiers, Niclas et al., “The Kremlin’s Gas Wars: How Europe Can Protect Itself from Russian Blackmail.” 27 February 2022. Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russian-federation/2022-02-27/kremlins-gas-wars

Reed, Stanley. “Burned by Russia, Poland Turns to U.S. for Natural Gas and Energy Security.” 26 February 2019. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/26/business/poland-gas-ing-russia-use.html?referringSource=articleShare

Upadhyay, Rakesh. “The 5 Biggest Strategic Petroleum Reserves in the World,” 29 March 2017. oilprice.com. https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/The-5-Biggest-Strategic-Petroleum-Reserves-in-The-World.html

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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March 2, 2022
by Building The World
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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

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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