Building the World

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

August 9, 2021
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ENERGY: HOT(TER)

“SUN” by NASA, STEREO Science Center, 2010. Image: public domain.

The long, hot summer – but it’s not August, it’s not even 2021. It’s the whole 21st century. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released findings today. Here is a summary:

  • Climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying
  • Warming is speeding up
  • Every region of the world is facing climate change
  • Human influence is a major cause – and could be the cure (IPCC 9 August 2021)

Do we have the power to respond? Image: TVA Sign at Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY, USA. By Photographer Billy Hathorn, 2015. Image: CC0 1.0 Public Domain. Wikimedia.

It’s (almost) not too late. Can we meet the challenges? Some changes, like rising seas, may be permanent. Other results may last a century but could be eased or even reversed. There is still time to determine the future we choose (Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, 2020). Throughout history, people have responded to crisis with innovation. Energy transitions have been turning points in civilization: Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric power gave the world the first homes with refrigerators when the TVA opened the town of Norris. Danger led to the Manhattan Project and development of atomic energy. Geothermal, solar, wind, and wave power offer options in every region.

“Spinning Globe Map.” by Anonymous101, 2007. Image: public domain, wikimedia commons.

Regions all share climate change but conditions will vary. “For the first time, the Sixth Assessment Report provides a more detailed regional assessment of climate change, including a focus on useful information that can inform risk assessment, adaptation, and other decision-making, and a new framework that helps translate physical changes in the climate – heat, cold, rain, drought, snow, wind, coastal flooding and more – into what they mean for society and ecosystem.” (IPCC 2021)  Regional information and options can be explored in detail in the newly developed Interactive Atlas here.

Climate Nexus. “IPCC: Human-Caused Climate Change Impacts Severe, Widespread.” 9 August 2021. https://climatenexus.org/climate-change-news/ipcc-climate-change-2021-report/

Figueres, Christiana and Tom Rivett-Carnac. The Future We Choose. 2020. ISBN: ;9780593080931.

International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Sixth Assessment: Summary.” https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2021/08/IPCC_WGI-AR6-Press-Release_en.pdf

IPCC “What Matters?” 2018. VIDEO: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/mulitimedia/video/

Plumer, Brad and Henry Fountain. “A Hotter Future Is Certain, Climate Panel Warns. But How Hot Is Up to Us.” 9 August 2021. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/climate/climate-change-report-picc-un.html?referringSource=articleShare

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

June 7, 2021
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ENERGY: Arctic Refuge

“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” Photograph by Steven Chase, US Fish and Wildlife Service. Image: wikimedia commons.

US Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will keep its mission as a refuge, at least for now. Leases to drill for gas and oil have been suspended, pending review. This follows cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, on 20 January 2021. When the Alaska Highway was built, and later the Trans-Alaska pipeline, it was a matter of war and then of preservation of another kind. But the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) covers 19.6 million acres including the Mollie Beattie Wilderness. It is the second largest wilderness area in the US, and contains 1 million acres of coastal plains. Coasts are attractive as access points for ships and drilling operations. But coasts are also critical for habitat, and already of concern for rising seas.

“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” Image: wikimedia commons.

Mollie Beattie, conservationist and former director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (the first woman to head the agency), once said: In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it’s un-environmental, it is un-economical. That is the rule of nature.

Alaska Wilderness League. “Arctic Refuge.” https://www.alaskawild.org/places-we-protect/arctic-refuge/

Gup, Ted. “Woman of the Woods – Mollie Beattie, a Natural as Fish and Wildlife Chief,” Washington Post. https://web.archive/org/web/20050306030214/http://www.esew.org/mollieb.htm

Harwood, John and Liz Stark. “Biden administration to suspend oil and gas drilling leases in Arctic refuge, undoing a Trump-era decision.” 1 June 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/01/politics/oil-and-gas-arctic-leaders/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

April 30, 2021
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CITIES: Leafing Out

“Chestnut trees in blossom, Boulevard Arago, Paris, France.” 2012. Image: wikimedia commons

Today is Arbor Day; it began in 1872 when the newly settled state of Nebraska noted the need for trees and instituted a tree-planting holiday. But this year, there will be less greenery, because American cities are losing 36 million trees – per year.  Increased development is the main reason for urban tree loss, but arboreal disease, insects, fires, hurricanes, and storms also bring loss. When city trees are replaced by buildings or parking lots, the ground that formerly absorbed rain is now impervious.  Paris, France announced a goal of making 50% of the city’s surfaces permeable. Gardens and lawns near the Eiffel Tower will also be extended in preparation for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

TEN BENEFITS OF TREES

Heat reduction – when tree canopy covers 40% of an area, there is a 10 degree (F) cooling

Air quality – trees absorb carbon emissions and pollution

Energy reduction – trees reduce energy costs by $4 billion per year

Water quality – trees cleanse surface water, returning it to groundwater

Flood reduction – trees absorb water and reduce runoff to rivers and streams

Noise reduction – trees muffle traffic noise and add natural sounds of birds and wind

UV radiation protection – trees absorb 96% of ultraviolet radiation

Aesthetics – trees improve property appearance, and value

Health – tree-lined areas have statistically lower human sickness and death rates

Habitat – trees house birds; forests promote wildlife diversity

If you’d like to help maintain and nurture urban tress, consider helping organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation, and Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition.

Block, India. “Paris plans to go green by planting “urban forest” around architectural landmarks.” 26 June 2019. Dezeen.com. https://www.dezeen.com/2019/06/26/paris-urban-forest-plant-trees-landmarks/

Chillag, Amy. “US cities are losing 36 million trees a year. Here’s why it matters and how you can stop it.” 18 September 2019. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/20/health/iyw-cities-losing-36-million-trees-how-to-help-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

March 31, 2021
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TRANSPORT: Suez Canal

Ever Given container ship stuck in the Suez Canal. What is the future of shipping? Image: wikimedia.

One ship 1,300 feet long (400 meters); 14 tug boats; 30,000 cubic meters of mud and sand cleared; 369 ships waiting in line behind the behemoth vessel: these are the elements that marked the reopening of the Suez Canal this week. When the Ever Given stopped traffic on 23 March, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) estimated a $14 million revenue loss for each day of the blockage. Moreover, trade along the waterway that contributes 2% to Egypt’s GDP also stopped – costing $6.7 million per minute. (Russon 2021) Alianz insurer reported the Suez Canal March 2021 blockage cost between $6 billion and $10 billion.

Ever Given earlier in March in the port of Rotterdam. Image: wikimedia.

Almost everything we touch has reached us, at some stage in the supply chain, via ship. Suez averages 106 container vessels and cruise ships per day. Trends in the container shipping industry reveal continuous pressure for size increase: since 1968, container ship capacity has increased 1,200%. (World Shipping Council, 2021) Why the pressure for bigger? One reason is because shipping is twice as energy efficient as rail and seven times more than vehicle. Shipping emits 3.1% of global CO2, but that percentage could rise as other industries decarbonize. The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) is a globally-binding design standard established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to reduce climate damage caused by shipping: ships built from 2020-2024 will be required to improve energy efficiency by 15-20%, and by 30% after 2025. Many of those ships will transit the Suez Canal.

Suez Canal, southern part, as viewed by Hodoyoshi satellite, 2015. Image: Axelspace Corporation, via wikimedia commons.

As container ships get bigger, canals will too. In 2015, Suez built a parallel waterway deepened by dredging one million cubic meters of sludge daily. Six companies did the work: Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company (USA), Jan de Nul Group and Deme Group (Belgium), National Marine Dredging (UAE), Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord (Netherlands). The Panama Canal, begun by Ferdinand de Lesseps but completed by the US, recently installed new locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides that are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than the originals. American ports like Baltimore, Charleston, Miami, Philadelphia, and Virginia have seen increased container traffic from the Panama expansion, according to the Supply Chain Management Program at MIT. The current US proposal “American Jobs Plan” allocates $42 billion for ports (air and sea) that may spur improvements.

Aida performed in the Arena di Verona, Italy, 2006. How can we celebrate great infrastructure in our times? Photographer: Christian Abend. Image: wikimedia commons.

Egypt’s famous waterway opened in 1869; 1.5 million people worked on the canal’s construction, evidence that infrastructure building creates jobs. Ferdinand de Lesseps, retired diplomat, visited his childhood friend now the khedive and viceroy of Egypt, in 1854 and gained concession to build the canal. Diplomacy remained a central value: the Suez contract Article VI states “tariffs of dues for passage…shall be always equal for all nations.” (Building the World, p. 193) To mark the inaugural opening of the Suez Canal, Giuseppe Verdi composed the opera Aida.  Should the “American Jobs Plan,” aimed at rebuilding infrastructure, include funding for art?

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. Building the World: Great Engineering Projects in History. Volume 1, Chapter 16, “The Suez Canal,” pages 187-204. Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, 2006. ISBN: 9780313333736

DC Velocity. “Has the Panama Canal expansion changed anything?” 20 December 2018.  https://www.dcvelocity.com/articles/30335-has-the-panama-canal-expansion-changed-anything.

Edwards-May, David, and Li Denan. China’s Grand Canal: Mirror of Civilisation. Xanadu Publishing 2020. ISBN: 9781784591830.

Gooley, Toby. “Has the Panama Canal expansion changed anything?”

Inland Waterways International (IWI).  https://inlandwaterwaysinternational.org/

Navigating a Changing Climate Partnership and World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure. “Mitigation: Moving towards low carbon navigation infrastructure.” @NavClimate.  https://navclimate.pianc.org

Russon, Mary-Ann. “The cost of the Suez Canal blockage.” 29 March 2021. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56559073

Street, Francesca. “What’s it’s really like steering the world’s biggest ships.” 29 March 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/steering-worlds-biggest-ships-suez-canal-cmd/index.html

Tankersley, Jim. “Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy.” 31 March 2021. The New York Times.

Transport & Environment. “Shipping and Climate Change.” https://www.transportenvironment.org/what-we-do-/shipping-and-environment-shipping-and-climate-change

Verdi, Giuseppe. Aida. Performance by Pavarotti. LISTEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8rsOzPzYr8

World Shipping Council. “Container Ship Design.” https://www.worldshipping.org/about-the-industry/liner-ships/container-ship-design.

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
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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

December 31, 2020
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ENERGY: 2020 by the Numbers

The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons, including climate change. Temperatures were 1.08 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 Celsius) warmer than the 1981-2010 average and 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit (1.25 Celsius) above pre-industrial times. Rising temperatures have consequences. In January of 2020, Australia suffered wildfires burning an area bigger than Florida. In summer, Atlantic hurricane season brought 30 named storms, carrying more water (warming oceans produce more water, higher waves, increased flooding). Western United States areas like California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington witnessed fires that destroyed 10.3 million acres. In the Arctic, data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service showed the region is warming faster than feared, more than twice the pace as the rest of the globe, with 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius). Environmental scientists noted that 2020 set a record for carbon dioxide concentrations, rising to 413 ppm (parts per million) in May of 2020, even with Covid-19 lockdowns. (Kann and Miller, 2021)

“Wildfire in Santa Clarita, California.” Image: wikimedia.

Price tag? $95 billion. And that’s just for U.S. climate-related damage, according to Munich Re, insurance company to other insurance firms that covered damage from Atlantic storms and California wildfires. Chief climate scientist of Munich Re Ernst Rauch warned that building in high-risk areas added to losses. Hurricanes  were significant in damage, causing $43 billion in losses. Convective storms (like hailstorms and tornadoes) caused $40 billion. Wildfires added up to $7 billion including destruction of crops, endangering food security. Residential and business properties sustained damage and claimed insurance losses, over 4000 properties in Oregon and many more in California. According to Donald L. Griffin of American Property Casualty Insurance Association, “We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way.” (Flavelle, 2021) Beyond the United States, the numbers are just as dire. Cyclone Amphan struck Bangladesh and India in May, resulting in $14 billion in damage. Asia sustained $67 billion in losses from natural disasters.

Cyclone Amphan May 2020. Image: wikimedia commons.

What does this mean for 2021? Following the money and perhaps led by the insurance industry, new ways to rebuild may lead us into the New Year. We’ll take a look at some hopeful trends, next.

American Property Casualty Insurance Association. https://www.apci.org

Flavelle, Christopher. “U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change.” 7 January 2021. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/climate/2020-disaster-costs.html?referringSource=articleShare

Kann, Drew and Brandon Miller. “2020 was tied for the hottest year ever recorded — but the disasters field by climate change set it apart.” 8 January 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/08/weather/2020-global-temperatures-tied-for-warmest-on-record-copernicus/index.html

Munich Re. https://www.munichre.com/en.html

Thanks to Jason W. Lusk for editorial guidance and suggestions.

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 15, 2020
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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

 

July 28, 2020
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WATER: How much do you use?

How much water do you use? Image: “Blue question mark,” wikimedia commons.

Only 1% of water on Earth is drinkable (actually, it’s 2.5% but only 1% is readily accessible). The rest of the water on the planet rests in the sea, but it is salty and therefore requires desalination to use for drinking or agriculture.

New River, a fresh water supply and a fresh idea. Image: wikimedia.

Ever since the most ancient times, humans have invented ways to find, distribute, use, and power with water. From the Roman Aqueducts and the New River of England that brought fresh water to the growing cities of Rome and London, respectively, to the water use agreements of the Colorado River of the USA and Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric of Australia, the story of civilization is the story of water.

With populations growing and climate changing, water will become more scarce and more important for uses for drinking, agriculture, industry, and energy. While macro systems that deliver water to our taps are large in scale, each of us can do something to protect and conserve water.

 

Take this quiz to calculate your WATER USE.

Attenborough, Sir David. “Fresh Water.” Episode 3. Our Planet. BBC One/Netflix. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2DU85qLfJQ/

Jacobsen, Rowan. “Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here,” 29 July 2016. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/israel-proves-the-desalination-era-is-here/

Spang, E., E. R, K.S. Gallagher, P.H. Kirshen, D.H. Marks. 2014 “The Water Consumption of Energy Production: An International Comparison.” Environmental Research Letters, Volume 9, 105002. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002/meta/

Water Calculator. https://www.watercalculator.org/wfc2/q/household/

Water Footprint Calculator. “Water Websites for Kids.” 13 November 2019. https://www.watercalculator.org/resource/water-websites-for-kids/.

Thanks to Sierra C. Lusk for research and inspiration.

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

June 17, 2020
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ENERGY: Old wells, new problems, emerging solutions

Could biogas drive the future? Image: wikimedia.

Could the next vehicle you drive be powered not by gas from a drilled well but by a cleaner form of energy known as biogas or biomethane? Climate improvement may be encouraged by a solving a problem.

Oil well pump, Midland, Texas. Image: wikimedia.

Oil wells – part of the 20th century landscape – are not only becoming a relic of the past, they are now a menace to the future. Old wells, once dry of oil, continue to emit pollution. More recently, other kinds of wells have been opened for hydraulic fracturing, sometimes called fracking, uses water to power invasive drilling to release oil and gas locked in rock formations. Drillers use underground water, promising to seal off the well. But what happens when the fracking site is no longer productive? Millions of older fracking wells are now starting to leak pollutants. And now, with the renewable energy becoming competitive in price and superior in environmental quality, wells are becoming antiquated. Moreover, the fossil fuel energy industry is stressed by dropping oil prices due to the 2020 viral pandemic: people are driving less; planes are parked in airports. Energy company bankruptcies are growing. Sometimes companies sell the wells to a new owner who then resells, and finally when it is no longer productive, the well is abandoned. No one is responsible for clean-up, since the original builder of the well has long since moved on.

Methane, a dangerous and long-lived pollutant in the atmosphere, is one of the greenhouse gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol. Image: wikimedia.

According to the Groundwater Protection Council, “orphaned wells” are beginning to leak methane. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) flagged methane from abandoned oil and gas wells as an emerging global risk, in an April 2020 report. Worldwide, there may be 29 million abandoned gas and oil wells. Canada, where oil sands mining prevails, reported 313,000 abandoned wells emitting 10 kilotons of methane. The United States has 2 million abandoned wells: most were never properly sealed. China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia (the three other large oil and gas producers, along with Canada and USA) have not revealed their methane leakage from wells. Even small amounts of methane pose dangers. The United States reports methane as the cause of 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, but methane is 84 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in the first two decades of release, and 28 times over a century’s timeframe. Methane is one of the seven greenhouse gases regulated under the Kyoto Protocol: the list includes carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (JFCs), per fluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphurhexaflouride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NFc). These gases are dangerous because they are stable, meaning they stay in the atmosphere once released. Methane has been identified as responsible for 25% of global warming.

Capturing methane in a biogas sytem. Image: wikimedia

Yet methane is a valuable energy source, when harnessed. One possible solution: biogas (biomethane). Biomethane is formed by decomposing organic substances like agricultural or animal waste, even sewage. With upgrades, biogas can achieve an energy productivity equal to natural gas. Biogas can be recovered from waste treatment plants and refined to renewable natural gas (RNG) to generate electricity or even power car. Another method: fuel cell technology using waste; there is no combustion, so no exhaust and related pollution. A sample project using biogas to power fuel cells can be found in Fountain Valley, California; Apple uses fuel cell energy from Bloom Energy.

As the world emerges from the coronona virus pandemic, countries are funding re-entry for businesses, cities, and states. Is 2020 the time to seize the opportunity to capture methane from old wells as the energy sector rebuilds?

Dlouhy Jennifer A “EPA Seeks to Abandon Regulation of Methane Leaks From Oil Wells.” 29 August 2019. Bloomberg News. TransportTopics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/epa-seeks-abandon-regulation-methane-leaks-oil-wells.

Groom, Nichola. “Millions of abandoned oil wells are leaking methane, a climate menace.” 16 June 2020. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-abandoned-specialreport/special-report-millions-of-abandoned-oil-wells-are-leaking-methane-a-climate-menace-idUSKBN23N1NL

Kyoto Pr

The World Energy Foundation. “Methane Capture and Use as a Clean Energy Source.” 16 June 2015. https://theworldenergyfoundation.org/methane-capture-and-use-as-clean-energy-source/.

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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