Building the World

November 6, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: 20 Years of International Cooperation

Emblem of the International Space Station, celebrating 20 years of cooperation. Image: nasa and wikimedia.

Twenty years ago this week, three people whose nations were formerly enemies embarked upon a journey of scientific and social cooperation. NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian space engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev set foot in a laboratory orbiting 227 nautical miles above Earth. They left behind conflicts, differences, and rivalries. Living and working together for 136 days, they built what has become the International Space Station.

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the ISS Cupola observing Earth. Image: nasa.gov.

During the last two decades, what is perhaps civilization’s greatest success in peace has welcomed 241 people from 19 nations. The International Space Station was an investment of many countries (costing over $100 billion) but it has yielded a good return on investment. We now know how to build in space, we have studied the effects of microgravity, we have developed new technologies including Lasik laser surgery, and we have learned to live cooperatively.

“Golden sunset on Earth seen from International Space Station on 18 April 2015. Image: nasa.gov

International Space Station is scheduled and financed for the next four – five years. Some say it will be privatized after that, with commercial ventures supporting the $4 billion per year upkeep. There are plans for Axiom Space, located in Houston, Texas, to build a commercial module addition to the Space Station. But many are reluctant to pursue privatization of what has been a monument of international cooperation. In Japanese, the International Space Station has a poetic name: Kibo, meaning Hope. It was Japanese astronaut Wakata Koichi who composed the first poem ever written in space:

Afloat in the darkness before my eyes

the watery planet bluely flows

How strong is my affection for that ancient home of ours,

how deep my gratitude for the gift of life.

Tomorrow, I will dare the blue sky

and open up worlds unknown

For there we have our dreams.

Axiom Space. “Missions to the International Space Station today; the world’s first commercial space station tomorrow. Axiom Space. https://www.axiomspace.com/

Chang, Kenneth. “How the Space Station Became a Base to Launch Humanity’s Future.” 2 November 2020. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/02/science/international-space-station-20-anniversary.html?referringSource-articleShare

International Space Station. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Koichi, Wakata. “Afloat in the darkness.” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). http:issjaxa.jp/utiliz/renshi/index_e.html

Stickland, Ashley. “Humans have been living on the space station for 20 years.” 2 November 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/02/world/space-station-20th-anniversary-continuous-human-presence-scn-trnd/index.html.

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

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October 26, 2020
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SPACE: Bienvenue, Bennu

Bennu and Osiris-Rex animation. Image: wikimedia/nasa.

Bennu is an asteroid 4.5 billion years old and 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth, but it may hold secrets to the origin of our planet and our solar system. That’s why NASA launched the OSIRIS-REX (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission on 3 December 2018.  On 22 October 2020, the spacecraft that had been circling Bennu descended at 1.5 inches per second, reached out an arm, landed for 6 seconds, and vacuumed up stardust. The collection mechanism was nicknamed Tag-Sam (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism). Later, the sample will be sequestered in a chamber to preserve its pristine nature and avoid contamination.

OSIRIS-REX kicks up a little dust, maybe more than expected. Image: wikimedia.

The mission may have been a bit more successful than planned: Bennu’s surface was softer than imagined and the probe picked up so much material than its door was not able to close completely. There has been some leaking, and mission scientists are trying to close the leak before losing the valuable contents. If successful, OSIRIS-REX will begin the return to Earth in March of 2021 and bring the capsule back in 2023.

Bennu, as seen by orbiting Osiris-Rex. Image: nasa.gov.

The USA is not the only rock collector in space. JAXA, Japan’s space agency, already sent Mission Hayabusa, to Itokawa, bringing back 1,500 grains from the asteroid. Now, Hayabusa2 visited a second asteroid, Ryugu, and is on the way back to Earth, expected to return in December 2020 with samples.  JAXA representatives and the University of Arizona Bennu project team plan to exchange data and even portions of their respective samples. The USA brought back lunar material to Earth during the Apollo missions to the moon.

Bennu, an Egyptian flying deity that landed on a rock and called out a song to determine the course of nature. Great heron associated with Osiris. Image: wikimedia.

The mission to Bennu was conceived by Michael J. Drake, born in Bristol, England, UK who held senior science positions at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and was principal investigator of the team. A plaque honoring Drake states Michael J. Drake inspired and led this mission that will help us to understand “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going?”

According to current mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta, different parts of Bennu will also have names including Tlanuwa Regio, one of the giant birds of Cherokee mythology, and Amihan Saxum for the Tagalog (Philippines) deity, also a bird, that was said to be the first creature to inhabit the universe. Much can be learned from studying lunar and asteroid samples.  As Neil Armstrong, first human to set foot on a celestial surface, stated: “Geologists have a saying – rocks remember.

Interested in becoming a citizen scientist? Join Target NEOs to identify near-Earth objects (NEOs) and collect data about asteroids. Join here.

More:

Amos, Jonathan. “Osiris-Rex: Nasa asteroid mission confident of success.” 23 October 2020. BBC Science.

Bennu: VIDEO: https://youtu.be/QunVAWABQSc/

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk and Zoë Quinn, “Haybusa Touchdown on Ryugu,” 21 September 2018, Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2018/09/21/space-hayabusa-touchdown-on-ryugu/

Chang, Kenneth. “NASA Mission Springs a Small Leak After Touching an Asteroid: The OSIRIS-REX spacecraft collected rock and dirt samples from Bennu, but it appears to be losing some of what it grabbed.” 23 October 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/23/science/osiris-rex-asteroid.html:referringSource=articleShare.

NASA. “Touching Down on Asteroid Bennu.” 21 October 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/touching-down-on-asteroid-bennu/.

NASA. “Ten Things to Know about Bennu.” 16 October 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/bennu-top-ten/

NASA. “First Official Names Given to Features on Asteroid Bennu.” 6 March 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/first-official-names-given-to-features-on-asteroid-bennu/

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October 16, 2020
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TRANSPORT: 5G Whiz

It all started with DARPA. Image: “Darpa – Big Data.” Wikimedia.

“Gee Whiz” is an old-fashioned phrase, first used in 1876, but the combo of astonishment + speed related to the saying may well describe 5G speed in telecommunications. In this case, the G is for generation. And whiz – it’s still about speed.

5G is fifth generation mobile technology. Back in the days of 2G, mobile phones and texting were new, 3G brought mobile broadcast data, and 4G was faster and came to be called Long Term Evolution (LTE). Now we are at the advent of 5G. Ericsson created the initial 5G platform in 2017, but it is only in 2020 that 5G is coming to market. 5G is a breakthrough because of a something called “latency.”

Will 5G advance human and other mobility? Image: wikimedia.

Latency is the time it takes for information sent to be received. While 4G seemed fast at the time, taking about 30 milliseconds from sender to receiver, 5G could travel that synapse in 1-2 milliseconds. That whiz of time is barely perceptible. Closing the gap of latency will enable leaps the “Internet of Things” (IoT) including:

Autonomous vehicles

Drone navigation

Gaming

Robotics

Will 5G allow next-generation bicycle helmets? Image: wikipedia.

Many breakthroughs in technology began with military or government research, including the Internet that stemmed from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), founded in 1958 by American President Eisenhower in response to Sputnik’s success the year prior. DARPA led to computer networking, the Internet, and graphical user interfaces – and also to the NASA lunar landing.

Now, government may again take the lead in connection. The United States Department of Defense is exploring sharing a new 5G wireless network with commercial enterprises. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are rolling out 5G upgrades, and Google’s Alphabet has advocated sharing the wireless spectrum. A shared network would keep military use, but add commercial partners. License bidding for spectrum access through a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) raised $4.6 billion recently; in December 2020, another auction will determine future power and access. While CTIA, trade association for the wireless industry, may favor private-sector decisions, some advocate sharing. Precedent may be found in FirstNet, AT&T’s $40 billion service for fire-fighters and public safety. In 2021, the Pentagon may direct 100 megahertz of spectrum towards the FCC for auction. What do you think of military and commercial interests – combined or separate?

Drones – both military and commercial – may benefit from 5G. Image “Drohnenflug im Abendrot.” Wikimedia

Meanwhile, 5G network leaders include Ericsson (ERIC) with a market capitalization of $25 billion, Nokia (NOK) with $18.5 billion, and Qualcomm, with $81 billion market capitalization. Ericsson created the first 5G platform in 2017. Huawei is among 35 global carriers active in 5G deployment. New chips will be needed: Qorvo (QRVO) and Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) are active. It will also mean new phones: Apple (AAPL) announced the 5G-capable iPhone 12 this week.

5G – fifth generation mobile network. Image: wikimedia

Speed has always driven advances in transport. Wheels were faster than walking; cars were faster than horses (we still use the term “horsepower” for speed); jets were faster than propeller-equipped aircraft. Now, a new era of connective transport is arriving, with the advent of 5G. But latency exists in more than signals; it’s also a roll-out timing factor. Full 5G capability requires new infrastructure. China, South Korea, and Switzerland made progress in 2019; in 2020, U.S. low-band is more available than mid-band or high-band, and only in some cities. By 2023, 5G may support more than 10% of the world’s mobile connections. Investors are betting on developing capacity, including chip-makers, with the next wave of significant activity from 2021-2022. Meanwhile, important policy issues regarding 5G access are in discussion: what do you think?

Carpenter, J. William. “5G Network: Top 3 Companies to Invest in Before 2021.” Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing-strategy/062916/5g-network-3-companies-invest-2020-qcom-nok.asp/

DeGrasse, Martha. “Which vendor leads in 5G contracts?” 13 September 2019. Fierce Wireless. https://www.fiercewireless.com/5g/which-vendor-leads-5g-contracts

Fisher, Tim. “5G Availability Around the World.” 16 October 2020. Lifewire. https://www.lifewirecom/5g-availability-world-4156244.

Fitzgerald, Drew. “Pentagon Considers Sharing 5G Network: Private businesses would get opportunity to use spectrum without an auction.” 22 September 2020, page B6. The Wall Street Journal.

Krause, Reinhardt, “5G Stocks To Buy and Watch.” 17 September 2020. Investors.com. https://www.investors.com/news/technology/5g-stocks-5g-wireless-stocks/

McLaughlin, Ronan “%G Low Latency Requirements.” Broadband Library. https://broadbandlibrary.com/5g-low-latency-requirements/

Ranger, Steve. “What is the IoT? Everything you need to know about the Internet of Things right now.” 3 February 2020. ZDNet. https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-the-internet-of-things-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-iot-right-now/

Shankland, Stephen. “How 5G aims to end network latency.” 8 December 2018. CNET.com. https://www.cnet.com/news/how-5g-aims-to-end-network-latency-response-time/.

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

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October 5, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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Let Your Voice Be Heard: Vote

Voice of the Future 2020: You

Voice of the Future 2020: YOU. Let your VOICE be heard – VOTE. Image: ccids.umaine.edu. wikimedia

2020 will be a year the world will long remember: one reason is a global health pandemic that we hope will end; the other is a chance to choose a future that we hope will begin. The United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and invites you to vote on the future you would like to see in the next 25 years. In the United States, a general election is a chance to vote on the future you would like to see now.

The word “vote” is related to the sacred. It’s the same word used to describe a holy or votive candle. Image: wikimedia.

Did you know that the word “vote” has religious origins? The expression comes from Latin (votuma = vow). Candles in places of worship, votive candles, are a reminder of the sacred intention that is inherent in a vow – or a vote.

Ancient Greeks voted with pieces of pottery. Image: wikimeida.

Historians believe democracy (demos = people) + (kratos = rule) began in Greece around the fifth century bce, when people were expected to take an active part in government. In fact, if they didn’t, people were fined and sometimes marked with red paint. In ancient Greece, it was easy to count votes because ballots were pieces of pottery.

London granted right to elect mayor. May 19, 1215. Image wikimedia.

Voting rights have a history fraught with uprisings, lawsuits, amendments, and demonstrations. In 1215, Londoners won the right to elect their mayor. Universal suffrage (voting rights) is still evolving. But turnout matters. In 2016, only 55.7% of Americans cast ballots in the presidential election. Many people didn’t even register: in November 2016, there were 245.5 million Americans ages 18 plus (eligible age to vote) but only 157.6 million were registered. Some countries legally require citizens to vote. Belgium enacts such a law, resulting in an average 87% turnout. If you don’t vote for four elections in a row, Belgium rescinds your right to vote. Do you think the United States should enact a legal requirement to vote? Should there be a review of how Americans are registered to vote, and how the voting process takes place and is counted?

Make sure you are a Voice of the Future – VOTE. Image: wikimedia.

Voices of the Future are those whose ideas, and active expression, build a better world. In the United States, there is an important election on November 3, 2020. Are you registered to vote? Find out here. For ways to cast your vote, click here.

Desilver, Drew. “U.S. trails most developed countries in voter turnout.” 21 May 2018. Pew Research. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/

Epstein, Reid. J. “Confused About Voting? Here Are Some Easy Tips.” 26 September 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/voting-tips.html.

National Geographic. “Democracy: Ancient Greece.” http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/democracy-ancient-greece.

Powell, Luca. “What democracy and voting rights look like around the world.” 8 November 2016. Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/its-2016-here-is-the-state-of-voting-rights-around/

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

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September 21, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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Let Your Voice Be Heard

“The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism,” states the declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations (UN). Founded after the tragedy of World War II, the UN has worked to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedom for all, in the context of sovereign equality of States and the right of self-determination for all. To participate in the 75th anniversary, see videos of presentations here.

Logo of the United Nations. Image: wikimedia.

Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic will require cooperation across borders, sectors, and generations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sets the theme: “Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive, and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.” The UN invites your ideas for the top three priorities of the future. Where would you like to see the world in 25 years, the 100th anniversry of the UN? Let your voice be heard in setting global priorities and shaping our future together:  take the survey.

United Nations. “The United Nations is running the largest ever global conversation as it turns 75 and wants to hear from you.” https://un75.online/#s2.

United Nations. “Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations,” September 2020. https://undocs/org/A/75/L.1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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September 4, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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WATER: Beach Weekend? Biodegradable Flip Flops

“Pristine Beach on the Soline Peninsula,” 2011. Photographer Alex Proimos. Image: wikimedia.

Labor Day 2020: for many it’s a beach weekend in flip flops. Too often, beaches are strewn with broken or discarded flip flops that litter the sand and pollute the water. Enter an innovation: biodegradable flip flops from the University of California San Diego and the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.

“Algae in pond, North Carolina.” Photographer: Ildar Sagdejev, 2008. Wikimedia.

Formula: take pond algae, dehydrate to a paste, extract lipids, run through series of chemical changes to produce polymers, pour resulting material into a mold. Present product, manufactured in partnership with Algenesis Materials, is 52% biodegradable and 48% petroleum; by 2025, the flip flops will be 100% made from renewables. If you do leave your flip flops at the beach, they’ll biodegrade and compost in 18 weeks.

Biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in 2021. Image: wikimedia.

It’s the world’s most popular shoe. Over three billion people wear only flip flops, but the footwear lasts only for about two years and is then discarded, eventually entering the world’s waters. East African beaches see 90 tons of discarded flip flops each year. Three billion flip flops end up in waterways and oceans every year. UniqueEco recycles old flip flops into toys; Terracycle shreds them to use for manufacturing picnic benches.  DIY Dreaming uses old flips to make dog beds. Okabashi makes recyclable sandals, and Splaff and Sanuk use natural materials for footwear. But Algenesis may be the first to make flip flops from algae. The footwear industry generates $215 billion annually, and the plastic industry is worth $1.2 trillion. Algensis biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in January 2021.

California Center for Algae Biotechnology. https://algae.ucsd.edu/about/index.html

Elassar, Alaa. “Researchers create eco-friendly, biodegradable flip flops made of algae,” 23 August 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/23/us/uc-san-diego-algae-flip-flops-trnd-scn/index.html

Frerck, Robert. “Flip Flop Factos: Find Out.” Blue Ocean Network. https://blueocean.net/flip-flop-facts-find-out

Segran, Elizabeth. “How one lab is turning algae into flip-flops – and taking on Big Plastic in the process.” 8 August 2020. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90543908/how-one-lab-is-turning-algae-into-flip-flops-and-taking-on-big-plastic-in-the-process/

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

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August 28, 2020
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ENERGY: Promethean Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfire Propagation Model. Image: wikimedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 22, 2020
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ENERGY: August 22 – Earth Overshoot Day 2020

August 22: Earth Overshoot Day 2020. Image: wikimedia commons.

World time zones came to us via the Canadian Pacific Railway, and clocks are as old as the hourglass or the water clock famously given to Caliph al-Mansur, founder of Baghdad, by a visiting Byzantine emperor. But now there is a new way of reckoning time.

Earth Overshoot Day, calculated by the Global Footprint Network and the National Footprint & Biocapacity Accounts (NFA) with data from 2016 forward from the United Nations (15,000 data points per country, per year), is that day each year when humans have used up all the resources Earth can renew, that year. From Earth Overshoot Day on, the rest of the year racks up an “environmental deficit.

Climate change is hard to grasp, because it is gradual. How can we “tell climate time?” The Doomsday Clock (maintained since 1947 by atomic scientists) is one way; it started as a nuclear threat measurement but now includes climate change. Earth Overshoot Day may help us to learn how to reset that clock. In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was three weeks earlier: in other words, 2020’s pandemic and resultant decrease in resource-consumption and energy emissions reduced our carbon footprint and bought us some time. No one would wish to repeat the pandemic, but considering planned ways for Earth to take a Sabbath might help us apply lessons learned in 2020 to rebuild back better.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. “The Doomsday Clock.” https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/past-statements/

“Energy: A Sabbath for Earth?” 22 March 2020, Building the World Blog, University of Massachusetts Boston. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2020/03/22/energy-a-sabbath-for-earth/

Global Footprint Network. “Earth Overshoot Day is August 22, 20202: more than three weeks later than last year.” https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2020/06/05/press-release-june-2020-earth-overshoot-day/.

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

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August 10, 2020
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SPACE: Here’s looking at you, Earth

Eye of a Chameleon. Image: wikimedia.

Eyes in the sky, Earth Observation Satellites monitor environmental conditions by reporting hot spots and testing efforts to mitigate climate change. OHB-System has just signed a contract to build a new satellite network to monitor carbon dioxide, helping countries achieve goals of the COP 21 Paris Agreement. Part of the Copernicus System, the first OHB spacecraft will launch in 2025; it will be called CO2M.

Scenographia Systematis Copernicani” engraving circa 1660. Image: wikimedia.

CO2M will join the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation program, a system of satellite sensors called Sentinels that watch the Earth from space. Marco Fuchs, CEO of Germany’s OHB-System, oversees the contract with the European Space Agency. Thales Alenia Space (TAS), a French-Italian company, is a sub-contractor, designing carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide spectrometers. Belgian partner, OIP Sensors, will provide a cloud imager. CO2M will track carbon dioxide to a resolution of 2km by 2km across a span of 250 km. Satellites will carry both a CO2 detector and also secondary sensors that can differentiate between human-produced emissions and those occurring naturally.

TAS logo. Image: wikimedia.

Looking for employment or investment opportunities? Check out satellite enterprises: OHB, TAS, OIP

Since COMSAT launched the first communication satellites, space has become the place that allows us to transmit video, communication, and weather information about Earth. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are leaders. Here’s a look at NASA’s program:

NASA’s Earth Science Division Operating Missions. Image: wikimedia/nasa.gov.

ESA’s Sentinel satellite system is comprehensive, and will expand when CO2M joins the initiative. For now, here’s the Sentinel array and specific capabilities:

Sentinel-1: monitor Earth’s surface in all weather conditions

Sentinel-2: monitor land changes

Sentinel-3: observe oceans

Sentinel-4: measure atmospheric gases

Sentinel-5: monitor air quality

Sentinel-6: measure rising seas

When CO2M becomes operational, joining the Sentinel series, it will track CO2 around the whole globe every five days. CO2M’s data, along with other Sentinel reporting, and NASA’s initiatives as well as others, will help meet the climate goals established by COP21 also known as the Paris Agreement. The Eiffel Tower displayed the message: now we must meet the goals. Space, looking at Earth, can help.

“#1Heart1Tree” image on the Eiffel Tower, Paris, during COP21 where climate goals were agreed by most nations of the world. Earth Observation Satellites will help meet those environmental goals.  Photo by Yann Caradec, image: wikimedia.

If you are interested in learning more about Earth Observation Satellites, join the Copernicus Academy’s MOOC, beginning in September 2020.

Amos, Jonathan. “European Sentinel satellites to map global CO2 emissions.” 1 August 2020, BBC.com.

Copernicus Earth Observation System. https://www.copernicus.eu/en

Copernicus Academy, 160 members fromthe EU 28 plus Iceland and Norway, sharing research and providing training on Earth Observation. Join the MOOC starting in September 2020.https://www.copernicus.eu/en/opportunities/education/copernicus-mooc

OHB Magazine. https://www.ohb.de/en/magazine/

NASA, Edited by Andrew J. Butrica. “Beyond the Ionosphere: Fifty Years of Satellite Communication.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1997. https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4217/sp4217.htm

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

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