Building the World

June 9, 2022
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ENERGY: Taxing the air (from cows and sheep)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCBC. “Climate change: how cow burps and pink seaweed can affect the planet.” 17 August 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49368462

Friedlander, Blaine. “Study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane.” 14 August 2019. Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. https:/news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/08/study-fracking-prompts-global-spike-atmosphereic-methane

Global Methane Pledge. https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/

Hoskins, Peter. “Climate change: New Zealand’s plan to tax cow and sheep burps.” 9 June 2022. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61741352

Plewis, Ian. “Taking action on hot air: Why agriculture is the key to reducing UK methane emissions.” 24 May 2022. University of Manchester, UK. https://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/sci-tech/2022/05/taking-action-on-hot-air-why-agriculture-is-the-key-to-reducing-uk-methane-emissions/

Spang, Edware et al., “Food-Energy-Water-(FEW) Nexus: Informal Water Systems.” https://spang.ucdavis.edu/food-energy-water-few-nexus

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

November 9, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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TRANSPORT: Rebuilding Back Better

“Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge” by Eric Vance, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2011. Image: Public Domain, Wikimedia.

Transportation infrastructure is one of the paths to a better future. From electric vehicle charging stations, to bridge repair or replacement, American roads will soon experience the biggest rebuilding project since the US Federal Highway System of 1956. Here’s a summary of what to expect over the next five years (Lobosco and Luhby, 2021):

Roads – $110 billion for road repair and upgrades. It is estimated that 173, 000 miles of US roads are in bad condition;

Trains -$66 billion for passenger and freight trail, modernizing the Northeast corridor, and upgrading intercity rail to high-speed capability, with additional funds of $12 billion;

Broadband – $65 billion to improve reach and signal strength of Internet;

Bridges – $40 billion to repair or replace the 45,000 bridges in poor shape;

Public Transit – $39 billion to modernize and upgrade subways and buses;

Airports – $25 billion to repair aging airports and upgrade to low-carbon tech;

Marine Ports – $17 billion for improving marine ports, a major part of the supply chain;

Safety – $11 billion for better protection for cyclists and pedestrians;

Buses and Ferries – $7.5 billion for zero or low-emission ferries and school bus transport;

Electric Vehicles – $7.5 billion for a national network of electric charging stations;

Communities – $1 billion to reconnect neighborhoods divided by highways. This was one of the goals of the Central Artery Project in Boston.

In addition to the transport upgrades, the American Infrastructure Bill will begin rebuilding the electric grid ($65 billion) and correct water infrastructure problems from Flint to Benton Harbor and beyond, replacing lead service lines and old pipes. Finally, uncapped gas wells and abandoned mines will be remedied with a $21 billion fund. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (HR 3684) passed on 6 November 2021, as nations gather in Glasgow to address response to climate change at COP26. It is now time to rebuild the world.

Lobosco, Katie and Tami Luhby. “Here’s what’s in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.” 5 November 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/28/politics/infrastructure-bill-explained/index.html

United States Congress. “H.R. 3684: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr3684/text

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

 

November 4, 2021
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ENERGY: Ending and Reversing Deforestation

“Amazon rainforest in the Urubu River, near Silves, Amazonas State, Brazil” by Andre Deak, 2008. Image: wikimedia

Trees help combat climate warming, absorbing emissions of carbon dioxide. In many areas of the world, deforestation – cutting and clearing trees to use land for other purposes – depletes forests that absorb the warming gas. This week, world leaders meeting in Glasgow for COP26 pledged $19 billion to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Among the signatories was notably Brazil, where Itaipú supplies hydroelectric energy but also stresses forest land. Brazil’s Amazon forest has suffered significant deforestation in the recent decades. Canada, China, Russia, nations of the EU, the UK, and the US also signed the declaration, with over 85% of world forests represented.

“Map of ecoregions of Central Africa.” Encyclopedia of Earth, 2016. Image: wikimedia commons.

Importantly, 30 global financial organizations also agreed to end investment in activities tied to cutting forests. Companies including multinational insurance giants Aviva and Axa signed on. A fund to protect the world’s second largest rainforest, in the Congo Basin, completed the pact.

Stopping and reversing deforestation may be one of the great successes of COP26. Image: COP26 Logo, United Nations. Wikimedia

Some observers noted that a similar pledge, the “New York Declaration on Forests” of 2014, promised hope but ended in disappointment. Some key countries like Brazil, China, and Russia were not signatories of that earlier pact. Brazil holds the planet’s biggest rainforest, and Russia has more than 20% of the world’s trees. Optimists noted that the difference between 2014’s declaration and 2021’s “Global Forest Financing Pledge: Financing the protection, restoration, and sustainable management of forests” is indicated in the title: the key commitment of financing a better future.

Aviva. www.aviva.com

Axa. https://www.axa.com

Rannard, Georgina and Francesca Gillett. “COP26: World leaders promise to end deforestation by 2030.” 2 November 2021. BBC.com. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59088498

United Nations. UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 in partnership with Italy. “The Global Forest Finance Pledge.” 2 November 2021. https://ukcop26.org/the-global-forest-finance-pledge/

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

October 25, 2021
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WATER, ENERGY, CITIES: Earthshot Prize

One of the winners of the inaugural Earthshot Prize, The Bahamas, for a program of coral reef restoration. “Coral Reef” by Photographer Jerry Reid, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013. Public Domain. Wikimedia.

October is a time of prizes. Earlier this month, Nobel Prize winners received momentous telephone calls. Now, inaugural winners of the Earthshot Prize received recognition for innovative solutions to the world’s climate crisis. Named after the “Moonshot” launched by President John F. Kennedy to land people on the moon within a decade, the Earthshot campaign will run from 2021 to 2030. Initiated by Prince William, Sir David Attenborough, and The Royal Foundation, the timeframe was described by Prince William as “A decade doesn’t seem long, but humankind has an outstanding record of being able to solve the unsolvable. Many of the answers are already out there,  but we need everyone – from all parts of society – to raise their ambition and unite in repairing our planet.” ((Ryan and Foster 2021)

Image: Earthshot Prize.org

Bahamas: Growing coral on land and then replant in damaged coral reefs;

Costa Rica: Paying residents to protect and restore rainforests, reversing deforestation;

“Costa Rica forest,” by Nakashi, 2007. Wikimedia.

India: Takachar attaches to tractors, reducing emissions by 98%, turning waste into new products. The enterprise started at MIT and creates biochar and other products.

Italy: city of Milan as a food hub to share restaurant and supermarket food with the needy;

Milan, Italy won as a Food Hub City. “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan,” 2017 by C. Messier. Image: wikimedia commons.

Thailand/Italy/Germany: AEM Electrolyser turns water into carbon-free hydrogen.

Earthshot’s five goals for 2030. “Greetings from the Year 2030” by Riesenspatz. Public Domain, wikimedia.

Earthshot’s five goals by 2030: Protect and Restore Nature, Clean our Air, Revive our Oceans, Build a Waste-Free World, and Fix our Climate. In honor of the Earthshot Prize, Buckingham Palace turned green. The Earthshot prize announcement precedes another event designed to bring green to the UK, and the world. COP26 will soon convene in Glasgow, Scotland to decide the future of climate, energy, and Earth.

AEM Electrolyser. https://www.enapter.com/

Attenborough, Sir David and Prince William of Cambridge, “Announcing the Earthshot Prize.” VIDEO. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFbwTRMwBAc

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk and Zoë Quinn. “ENERGY: The Physics of Climate Change.” Building the World Blog, University of Massachusetts Boston. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2021/10/05/energy-physics-of-climate-change/

Earthshot Prize. https://earthshotprize.org/

Ryan, Hannah and Max Foster, “Winners of Prince Williams Earthshot environmental prize announced.” 18 October 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/16/uk/prince-william-earthshot-prize-intl-gbr/index.html

Takachar. https://www.takachar.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

October 5, 2021
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ENERGY: Physics of Climate Change

“Nobel Prize Medal.” Photographer, Jonathunder. Wikimedia commons.

Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann, and Giorgio Parisi “demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation,” stated the Nobel Prize Committee, when awarding the Nobel Prize for Physics 2021. Half of the prize went to Parisi for discovery of the “interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atoms to planetary scales,” while Manabe and Hasselmann split the other half. Manabe created one of the first climate models that revealed how carbon emissions warmed the planet, while Hasselmann showed that Manabe’s computer simulations could accurately predict the trends of climate change, even while weekly weather fluctuations were still variable. Parisi won for studies of the results produced when metals like iron or copper are mixed, revealing patterns. Parisi commented, when winning the Nobel Prize, that perhaps the Nobel Committee wanted to send the world a message about climate change: “I think it’s urgent. It’s clear that for the future generations we have to act now in a very fast way.” (Brumfiel 2021). Stefan Rahmstorg, climate modeler, stated “Physics-based climate models made it possible to predict the amount and pace of global warming, including some of the consequences like rising seas, increased extreme rainfall events and stronger hurricanes, decades before they could be observed.” (Keyton and Borenstein, 2021)

“Global warming” NASA 2016. Image: public domain, nasa.gov.

Recent weather proves the scientists right: in 2021, 36% of Americans, and many more worldwide, suffered severe effects of climate change through drought and fires, storms and floods. In a few weeks, the world will convene in Glasgow, Scotland for COP26, sequel to the Paris Agreement (COP21). Now it is time for action. What do you think are the highest priorities for climate?

Brumfiel, Geoff. “The Nobel Prize in physics honors work on climate change and complex systems.” 5 October 2021, NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/2021/10/05/1043278925/nobel-prize-physics-climate-change-winner

Hasselmann, Klaus. “Interview with Klaus Hasselmann” 2009. Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change. VIDEO https://youtu.be/uSfmKx2ylSc

Keyton, David and Seth Borenstein. “Physics Nobel rewards work on complex systems, like climate.” 5 October 2021. AP.com

Nobel Prize. https://www.nobelprize.org

Manabe, Syukuro and Richard T. Wetherald. “On the Distribution of Climate Change Resulting from an Increase in CO2 Content of the Atmosphere.” January 1980, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Volume 37, pages 99 – 118.

Manabe, Syukuro. “Why this is happening” Interview upon receiving Nobel Prize in Physics 2021.” AUDIO. Telephone call interview with Manabe explaining the work. https://youtu.be/yt246IKVhr4

Parisi, Giorgio. “Statement on receiving Nobel Prize.” 5 October 2021. AUDIO interview. https://youtu.be/GE-qX8mwvuA

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

September 24, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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WATER: Vertical Migration

“Every night, the largest biological migration takes place.” Image animation: “Diel Vertical Migration” by NASA, 2018. Public Domain.

Did you know the largest biological migration on Earth takes place – every night? It is called Diel Vertical Migration (DVM). This week, as the United Nations 76th General Assembly convened, leaders of over 100 nations attended in person. Speakers included presidents and policy-makers who addressed 12 commitments. But this year, there was additional representation: Nature. The message is one of growing awareness of the Rights of Nature. From the 1962 General Assembly Resolution 1803 (XVII) on “Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources” and the 1982 “World Charter for Nature” to the recognition of personhood rights of the Whanganui River of New Zealand in 2017, the rights of nature will grow in importance during climate change.

“Components of the Biological Pump” by Ducklow, Hugh W. et al., 2015. Image: wikimedia commons.

DVM acts as a biological pump, renewing oceans and lakes, in ways essential to the marine environment. Organisms move up to the top at night, and return to the bottom by day. Crustaceans commute; so do trout. In the process, conversion of C02, and inorganic nutrients, transfer zones. This cleansing and renewing system is one of the treasures of the marine cycle. By bringing attention to vertical migration, the United Nations may set the stage for COP 26 in Glasgow, November 2021, where environmental issues will be decided. Displayed on the night-cloaked facade of the United Nations iconic building, the film “Vertical Migration” brought awareness to the largest migration our world knows, and the importance of marine life in a sustainable, balanced future. View “Vertical Migration.”

Cavan, E.L., et al., “The importance of Antarctic krill in biogeochemical cycles.” 18 October 2019. Nature Communications 10, article number 4742 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12668-7.

Ducklow, Hugh W., et al., “Components of the Biological Pump.” https:tos.org/oceanography/article/upper-ocean-carbon-export-and-the-biological-pump.

Hill, M.N. Physical Oceanography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

United Nations. “Policy Brief.” September 2021. http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/policy-briefs/what-well-be-listening-for-at-unga-76/

United Nations. “Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources.” General Assembly Resolution 1803 (XVII) https://legal.un.org/avl/pdf/ha/ga_1803_ph_e.pdf

United Nations. “World Charter for Nature.” 1982. UN Document A/37/L.4, and ADD.2. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/39295?LN=EN

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

January 11, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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ENERGY: Renewing Hope in 2021

Winds of change are in the air. Literally.

“Vestas V90-3MW Wind Turbine of Kentish Flats Offshore Wind Fram, Thames Estuary, UK” by Phil Hollman, 2006. Wikimedia Commons.Wind Power innovator BladeBUG may aid maintenance of marine turbines, now 40% of the cost of these energy generators. If offshore wind were more affordable and reliable, it could increase its energy contribution by 18 times. BladeBug, a drone-based innovation founded by Chris Cieslak, won recognition from ORE Catapult (Offshore Renewable Energy in Blyth, UK) and will now integrate with MIMRee (Multi-Platform Inspection Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments). Both are part of a consortium led by Plant Integrity.

“CLT-plate with three layers of spruce” by Pañh, 2018. Wikimedia Commons.

Another renewable natural resource set to develop increased importance: wood. Can timber help to lessen the carbon impact of concrete and steel in the building industry? A form of ultra-thick plywood termed Cross-laminated Timber (CLT)  can be used for walls and floors. While the Eiffel Tower may not be redesigned, France recently ruled that all new commercial buildings must have solar or green rooftops, and has now legislated that all new public buildings be constructed with at least 50% timber. Enter a new term in architecture: “plyscraper.” Leading manufacturers that investors are watching: Stora Enso, KLH Massivholz GmbH, Binderholz, Mayr-Meinhof Holz Group, Hasslacher.

“Beautiful Sunset,” Reem78, 2015. Wikimedia Commons.

Ever since Peter G. Glaser patented solar power satellites, energy from the sun has proven efficient and relatively inexpensive as technologies for solar panels improve. But until Glaser’s innovation can be pursued, solar panels still collect only one/fifth of what is possible. Oxford PV is employing silicon with perovskite that increases solar panel efficiency by 29.52%, setting a new world record. The company originated at Oxford University, where the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was developed.

Will COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland herald a new era for climate and cooperation? Image: “University of Glasgow, Scotland, 1900” Library of Congress image ppmsc.07600

Brilliant medical and scientific researchers created Covid vaccine innovations through rapid cooperative response to a world crisis that some likened to the Manhattan Project. Climate change is another world crisis. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that has championed causes of public health, sees hope for 2021, noting the November United Nations COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, as catalyst for nations to pledge responses to climate change. With new administrations in the United States, new political definitions of the United Kingdom and European Union, increased commitments to energy neutrality by China and others, there is reason for hope. What do you think will be the most important advances in 2021?

For more:

BladeBUG. https://bladebug.co.uk

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk. “Up on a Roof,” 13 November 2015. Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2015/11/13/up-on-a-roof/

Glaser, Peter. “Space Solar Power.” 1999 MA Space Grant Consortium Public Lecture. MIT. VIDEO. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03x_Q4DGfel

Heap, Tom. “Why I’m feeling hopeful about the environment in 2021.” 4 January 2021. BBC Radio 4.

Hutchins, Mark. “Oxford PV retakes tandem cell efficiency record.” 21 December 2020, PV Magazine. https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/12/21/oxford-pv-retakes-tandem-cell-efficiency-record/

Jaffe, Paul. “Power Beaming & Space Solar Innovation: Peter Glaser.” 30 July 2020. HDIAC Webinars. VIDEO. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhFaLgmJsk

IMARC Group. “Top 5 Cross-Laminated Timber Manufacturers Worldwide.” 4 October 2017. https://www.imarcgroup.com/top-cross-laminated-timber-manufacturers-worldwide

OE Digital. “Spider-like Robot to Change Offshore Wind Blade IMR Game.” 28 April 2020. OEDigital. https://www.oedigital.com/news/277974-spider-like-robot-to-change-offshore-wind-blade-imr-game

Souza, Eduardo, translated by José Tomás Franco. ArchDaily. 20 May 2018. “Cross Laminated Timber (CLT): What It Is and How To Use It.” https://www.archdaily.com/893442/cross-laminated-timber-clt-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it

Voytko, Lisette. “Bill Gates Has Big, Scientific Hopes for 2021. Here’s Why.” 22 December 2020. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2020/12/22/bill-gates-has-scienfitic-hopes-for-2021-heres-why/

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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