Building the World

August 19, 2022
by Building The World

WATER/ENERGY: Hydroelectricity – What is the Future?

Lake Mead is shrinking through prolonged drought. That will affect hydroelectricity generated by the Hoover Dam. Image: “A Comparison of Lake Mead 2000 and 2015,” by Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory, using Landsat data from U.S. Geological Survey. Image from the Public Domain: wikimedia and Included with appreciation.

Drought affecting the Colorado River, and resultant depletion of reservoirs Lake Mead and Lake Powell, may soon bring about Tier 2 shortage conditions. When Lake Mead’s water level falls below 1,050 feet above sea level, the new normal will reduce water allotments for Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Arizona will face a 21% reduction. Lake Mead’s drought is so big that is it now visible from space. Water for drinking, agricultural irrigation, and industry will be affected.

Will water continue to course through the Hoover Dam’s jet-flow gates? “View of Hoover Dam with jet-flow gates open,” by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 1998. Public Domain image. Creative Commons, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

But there may be more consequences. The Colorado River, down 40% from 2021, flows through the Hoover Dam, generating electricity. If Lake Mead’s water recedes below 1,000 feet (just 50 feet above Tier 2 danger level), “dead pool” will happen, meaning water cannot flow downstream to power the dam. The Hoover Dam supplies electricity to Arizona, California, and Nevada. Western parts of the United States have suffered a prolonged drought; hydropower has dropped to 14% below its 10-year average.

Hydroelectric power is also threatened in other locations around the world. Italy recently suffered electricity reductions due to drought on the Po River. India and Pakistan share water usage, including hydroelectric access, under the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty; eight new hydropower plants have just been approved.

“Murray-1 Hydroelectric Power Station, Snowy Mountains,” by photographer Ear1grey, Dr. Rich Boakes. CC3.0, wikimedia, included with appreciation.

The Murray River of Australia, key to Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric, is now seriously affected by drought; water for drinking, agriculture, and electricity may be threatened. Brazil’s water flows into hydro dams reached a 90 year low, affecting facilities including Itaipú. The alternatives, when hydro fails to produce, may include greater reliance on fossil fuels. Many are concerned about that direction.

The Indus River may add eight new hydropower plants. Image: “Indus River near Skardu, Pakistan,” by Kogo, 2004. GFDL Public Domain, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

In a world of climate change, increasing droughts may lead to a rethinking of hydroelectric power which, in 2020, generated 1/6th of the world’s electricity. Hydroelectric facilities can be found in 150 countries, with China the largest producer. Global investment in hydroelectricity is significant, and growing; will it be a wise investment?

Hydroelectric Power has a low carbon footprint, and is valuable in a time of climate change. Illustration: “Carbon Emissions by Electricity Source,” by Vattenfall and Japan’s Central Research Institution for the Electric Power Industry, 1999. Image in the public domain, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Hydropower is low-carbon electricity, a property valuable in a world trying to limit carbon emissions. Hydropower is also continuous, an important factor to balance intermittency of renewables like solar or wind. The future of hydroelectric power is linked to the future of water. How will recent funding of climate preservation and protection support water sustainability? Will water innovations help harness the power of water to power the future?

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Colorado River.” Renewing the World: WATER. pages 86-95.  Cambridge: 2022. ISBN: 9798985035919.

CNN. “New water cuts coming for Southwest as Colorado River falls into Tier 2 shortage.” 16 August 2022.

Energy Information Administration. “Drought effects on hydroelectricity generation.” 30 March 2022.

“Hydro Electric Projects in Indus Basin.”

Itaipú Binacional. “ITAIPÚ will host global Water and Energy Conference.” 24 January 2022.

National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and American Planning Association. “Falling Dominoes: A Planner’s Guide to Drought and Cascading Impacts.” 31 October 2019.

Robbins, Jill. “Dry Rivers Threaten Production of Clean Energy.” 23 August 2021. Voice of America: Science & Technology.

United Nations/India and Pakistan. “Indus Waters Treaty.” 1960.

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

August 11, 2022
by Building The World

ENERGY: Mine your own business

Are old coal mines the new gold mines? Image: “Round Mountain Gold Mine” by Patrick Huber, 2008. Creative commons license: 2.0. Included with appreciation.

As we transition from coal, what will happen to those old mines? Two approaches are worth considering. One is a necessary expense; the other is a new kind of gold mine.

Days of the California Gold Rush (1848-1865) began an era of intense and often unregulated mining. In a frenzy of attack, 370 tons of gold worth (in today’s value) $16 billion were unearthed. In the United States, the 1872 General Mining Act regulated gold mines opened up by the Gold Rush, as well mines for extracting substances including lithium – needed today for batteries powering electric vehicles. Current competition for lithium mining rights is active across the United States, and the world. But what happens afterwards?

Will we soon see the end of coal mining? Image: “Coal mining,” illustration from The Graphic, 1871. Image: wikimedia. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

When a mine is depleted, it is often abandoned. In the U.S., there are 390,000 abandoned mines on federal land. More than 67,000 present physical dangers; 22,000 pose environmental risks. Mines seep metals and toxic materials into streams and rivers, polluting drinking water for humans and wildlife. Moreover, mines on sovereign land of original Native Indigenous Americans are insufficiently protected. From 2008 to 2017, the U.S. spent $2.9 billion addressing mining problems. Could cleaning up old mines become profitable? There is precedent. The Abandoned Mine Land Fund, instituted in 1977 as a mandate for the coal industry to clean up abandoned mines and upgraded by an addition proposed by Representative Liz Cheney, yielded not only improved environmental and health benefits but fees for future use; by 2020, more than $11 billion poured into the fund. What should we do with the money? Is there an incentive leading to opportunity?

Coal-fired plants are already wired to the grid. Close the mine but keep the infrastructure. Image: “Electricity Grid Schematic,” by M. Bizon, 2010. Based on Datei: Stromversongung. Image: wikimedia 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Coal-fired plants are essential for the future: not for coal, but for their existing infrastructure. Coal-fired plants are wired to the grid. Getting permit permissions is a lengthy process;  building grid connectivity infrastructure is expensive. Using existing wired infrastructure may be one answer. In the United States, former coal-fired plants are now being repurposed as battery, solar, and wind facilities. Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, and North Dakota are among states phasing out coal while turning plants into renewable energy centers. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, seaside coal plants already wired to the grid are now being connected to offshore wind energy. Worldwide, there are 8,000 coal-fired power plants: China has 1,000; India has 285; the USA has 240. All of those are candidates for energy reuse and revitalization.

Can we turn old coal mines into a new form of gold mine? Gold from the sun? Image: “Saulés elektriné” by Aiseinau, 2021. Creative commons license. Included with appreciation.

Mining is an ancient practice but its environmental safeguards need an upgrade, both in the United States and worldwide. New mines for lithium and other materials may develop. Coal mines will close but can serve a new goal. How can owners of coal-fired plants benefit from this opportunity? Repurposing coal-fired plants – already wired to the grid – to support renewable energy could turn what is now a liability into a new kind of gold mine.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Phoenix Rising: The future of coal-fired plants and coal mining.” Renewing the World: Energy. Forthcoming. For related information,

Heinrich, Martin and Chris Wood. “This mining law is 150 years old. We really need to modernize it.” 28 July 2022. The New York Times.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Queued up: Characteristics of power plants seeking transmission interconnection.” 2021. https://emp.lbl.gob/queues

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “Power plants seeking transmission connection – interactive data visualization link.”

McGowan, Elizabeth. “Federal funds to help turn Virginia coal mine into solar farm.” 8 March 2019. Energy News.

Misciagna, Vanessa. “A county torn over lithium mining could set the tone as America looks for renewable energy sources.” 15 April 2020. The Denver Channel.

Shao, Elena. “In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal in U.S..” 13 May 2020. The New York Times.

State of Illinois. “Coal-to-Solar Program.” 2022.

United States. Government Accountability Office. “Abandoned Hardrock Mines.” March 2020.

United States, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. “Status of the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund (AML Fund).” Amendment initiated by Representative Liz Cheney.

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

July 9, 2022
by Building The World

WATER: Po River Crisis

Po RIver of Italy. Illustration from wikipedia. Public Domain.

How can you grow the bountiful produce so treasured by Italy, and the world, in salty water? The worst drought in 70 years, caused by lack of snow and dearth of rain in Italy’s Po River valley, is choking once-verdant farmland. The Po River is 450 miles (650 kilometers) long, birthed in the Alps and running to the Adriatic Sea. One-third of Italy’s population lives near and depends upon the Po River, savoring the bounty of its farmland. Coursing fresh water from the Po usually overwhelms any drifting waves from the Adriatic, but with the Po’s drought, salty seawater is entering at a rate driving inland as far as 18 miles (30 kilometers). Crops are suffering, and so are cucina povera specialities like manzo all’olio or pisarei e faso.

“Italian cuisine,” by photographer who dedicated this image to the public domain and remains unknown. From wikimedia.

Warming weather and drought have also wreaked havoc elsewhere in Italy. The Marmolada glacier in the Italian Alps collapsed on 4 July 2022, killing seven hikers, including two experienced mountain guides. in an avalanche of melting snow mixed with rocks. Prime Minister Mario Draghi stated the cause of the tragedy was climate change. Temperatures in the area have reduced glaciers by half since warming began. More avalanches are feared.

“View of the Marmolada Glacier” taken by photographer of the Italian army circa 1915-1918. Source: Creative Commons license 2.5. With appreciation to the Italian Army.

Hydroelectricity is also affected by drought. One-fifth of Italy’s energy comes from hydroelectric facilities, mainly located in the mountains. In the first four months of 2022, hydro power fell 40% (compared with 2021) due to drought. A water plant in Piacenza was closed on 21 June due to low water levels of the Po, the river that provides the water for the hydroelectric plant. At a time when Europe is trying to reduce dependence on imported energy, hydro power is essential.

Keeping the lights in Piacenza’s magnificent cultural treasures, homes, and businesses.  Image: “Teatro Piacenza,” by photographer Lorenzo Gaudenzi, 2010. Creative commons license 3.0. With appreciation.

What can be done? For now, a state of emergency declaration will truck water to 125 towns that must ration drinking water. In agricultural areas, drought-tolerant crops may become the new normal. Hydroelectricity may need a rethink and redesign: the Colorado River, Lake Mead, and the Hoover Dam have recently shown hydroelectric threats. Regarding melting glaciers, there is no quick fix. Water systems may be ready for Italian creativity and innovation, like those developed by ancient Romans who built the Aqueducts. Starting in 313 bce, Romans built 11 aqueducts, yielding about 200 gallons (750 liters) per person per day. That is more than the average American has: in 1975, the average was 150 gallons (563 liters) per day; in 2021, it was down to 115 gallons. Ancient Rome had such an abundance of water that the city became known for its fountains; composer Respighi’s Fountains of Rome.

Blackman, Deane R. and A. Trevor Hodge, eds. Frontinus’ Legacy: Essays on Frontinus’ De Aquis Urbis Romae. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

Brooke, K. Lusk. Renewing the World: Water. Cambridge: Harvard Book Store, 2022. ISBN: 9798985035919.

Evans, Harry B. Water Distribution in Ancient Rome. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Parker, Jessica. “Italians wait for rain where longest river runs dry” BBC 8 July 2022.

Patel, Kasha. “”Scenes from Italy’s worst drought in 70 years.” 7 July 2022. The Washington Post.

Respighi, Ottorino. Fountains of Rome. Performed by Berlin Philharmonic.

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

June 16, 2022
by Building The World

WATER and ENERGY: Beyond a Drought

June 2022: an early heat wave intensifies drought. Image: “Heat Wave in United States June 13-19, 2021,” by NOAA. Public Domain, creative commons. Included with appreciation to NOAA.

Is it climate change, or just a heat wave? Maybe the former is intensifying the latter. This week, 60 million people in the United States are enduring extreme heat. Texas broke a heat record on June 12 as the electrical grid strained with the number of people turning on air conditioners. Families noted unusual new residents as outdoor insects crawled into any available shelter to escape sweltering heat. Wildfires sparked: more than 30 recent conflagrations burned one million American acres.

Drought may impact hydroelectricity. Image: “Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, – 2007” by photographer Waycool27, and dedicated to the public domain by the photographer. Included with appreciation.

Heat waves add to concern about drought, an ongoing challenge. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest water reservoir, recently marked its lowest level on record since 1930. The Colorado River, source of Lake Mead’s water, recently reported historic new water shortages, triggering enforced reductions along the Upper and Lower Basin states. Now 143 feet below the target full level, Lake Mead’s drop is as deep as the Statue of Liberty is high. That water drop threatens the water supply of millions of residents, farmers, industrial operations, and others. At 36% capacity, if the water in Lake Mead continues to fall (it has been losing more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – every day – for the last 22 years), the hydropower capability of the Hoover Dam (which formed Lake Mead) will also be threatened. Engineers and scientists are watching: if Lake Mead drops another 175 feet, the Hoover Dam will reach “dead pool” (895 feet) and the great dam will fall silent. Because 90% of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead, that city will not only have less electricity but very little water. (Ramirez et al., 2021)

“Tennessee Valley Authority” Image 2977 by TVA, 2018. This image is the public domain and included with appreciation.

It’s not just Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam that are of concern due to heat and drought. The Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s first hydroelectric major achievements, warned customers both residential and commercial to turn off the lights. Nashville Electric Service asked people to turn down air conditioning. Itaipú, harnessing the Paraná River, has similarly found drought threatening its hydroelectric capability.

“Talbingo Dam of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric.” There are 16 dams in the system. Photograph by AYArktos, dedicated to the public domain, creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Hydroelectricity, as the term indicates, is dependent upon water. Australia recently announced Snowy Hydro 2.0, in an effort to double electrical output of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric. But the snowy part is problematic now that climate change is threatening snowmelt. Further concern is that 35% percent of the “Australian Alps” have seen wetland loss. Now, snow cover may reduce by 20% to as much as 60%.

What happens if water becomes non-renewable? Image: “Dry riverbed in California,” by NOAA, 2009. Included with appreciation.

Drought has serious consequences for agriculture, habitation, and now hydroelectricity. Hydroelectric power is one of the earliest and most widely applied methods of generating electricity from renewable sources. What happens if or when water becomes non-renewable?

Daley, Beth et al., “Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains.” 22 March 2017. The Conversation.

David, Molly. “Nashville Electric Service asks customers to help lessen energy use during high temperatures.” The Tennessean. 13 June 2022.

Ramirez, Rachel, Pedram Javaheri, Drew Kann. “The shocking numbers behind the Lake Mead drought crisis.” 17 June 2021. CNN.

Spang, Edward, William Moomaw, Kelly Gallagher, Paul Kirshen, David H. Marks. “The water consumption of energy production: An international comparison.” 2014. Environmental Research Letters. 9. 105002. 10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002 and

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

June 9, 2022
by Building The World

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.

Friedlander, Blaine. “Study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane.” 14 August 2019. Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. https:/

Global Methane Pledge.

Hoskins, Peter. “Climate change: New Zealand’s plan to tax cow and sheep burps.” 9 June 2022. BBC News.

Plewis, Ian. “Taking action on hot air: Why agriculture is the key to reducing UK methane emissions.” 24 May 2022. University of Manchester, UK.

Spang, Edware et al., “Food-Energy-Water-(FEW) Nexus: Informal Water Systems.”

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

April 7, 2022
by Building The World

ENERGY: Nuclear to Solar in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallam, Jonny. “Video shows Russian forces dug trenches in highly radioactive off-limits area near Chernobyl.” 7 April 2022. CNN.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “Fusion: Frequently asked questions.”

McFadden Brendan. “Chernobyl: Russia troops disturbed radioactive soil by digging trenches and laying landmines, Ukraine claims.” 3 March 2022. Inews.

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

Solar Chernobyl.

The Conversation. “Nuclear fusion hit a milestone thanks to better reactor walls – this engineering advance is building towards reactors of the future.” 4 April 2022. The Conversation.

United States Congress. “Atomic Energy Act of 1946,”

World Nuclear Association. “Chernobyl Accident 1986,” updated April 2022.

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

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

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

March 9, 2022
by Building The World

ENERGY: Sustainability – natural and geopolitical

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bulgaria: 100%

Poland: 80%

Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia:  60%

Germany: 50%

Italy: 40%

Belgium, France, Netherlands: 10%

Spain, Portugal: 0%

Source: Poitiers et al., 2022

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

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

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

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

Biden, Joseph R.,President. “Announcement of U.S. Sanctions on Russian Energy,” 8 March 2022, White VIDEO:

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

Houser, Trevor, et al., “US Policy Options to Reduce Russian Energy Dependence.” 8 March 2022. Rhodium Group.

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

Krauss, Clifford. “Loss of Russian Oil Leaves a Void Not Easily Filled, Straining Market.” 9 March 2022. New York Times.

Poitiers, Niclas et al., “The Kremlin’s Gas Wars: How Europe Can Protect Itself from Russian Blackmail.” 27 February 2022. Foreign Affairs.

Reed, Stanley. “Burned by Russia, Poland Turns to U.S. for Natural Gas and Energy Security.” 26 February 2019. New York Times.

Upadhyay, Rakesh. “The 5 Biggest Strategic Petroleum Reserves in the World,” 29 March 2017.

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



December 7, 2021
by Building The World


“United Boeing 767-300ER taking off from London Healthrow” by photographer and aerospace engineer Adrian Pingstone, 2007. Public Domain wikimedia commons.

Air transport, first achieved in December 1903, reached an important milestone in December  2021. United Airlines flew a commercial jet with a full complement of guest passengers entirely on renewable, non-fossil, fuel derived from sugar and corn. The flight Chicago ORD to Washington DCA flight carried 100 passengers using 100% sustainable fuel (SAF). The achievement followed United’s 2019 Flight for the Planet demonstrating biofuel blend energy, zero cabin waste, and carbon offsetting. The 2021 United success also announced new partners in the Eco-Skies-Alliance, and a pledge to purchase non-petroleum feedstocks to deliver the same performance of petroleum-based jet fuel but with a much smaller environmental effect.

“Sugarcane” by photographer Biswarup Ganguly, 2010. GNU Free/CC3.0 wikimedia.

Sugarcane ethanol is produced by fermenting sugarcane juice and molasses. Brazil and the USA are among the world areas engaged in biofuel production from sugar and corn, with scientific innovations on fermentative processes. There are concerns about land use for biofuel, and deforestation, but SAF remains an important element in new energy options. Brazil is a leader in sugar-based fuel, while U.S. expertise is mainly in corn. (Kang and Lee 2015). The U.S. biofuel industry has created 68,000 jobs, produced 17 billion gallons of sustainable fuel, and saved 544 million metric tons of Co2 from entering the atmosphere. (Minos 2021)

“Refueling a plane in Athens.” by photographer Jebulon. Wikimedia CC1.0 Public Domain.

While biofuels are arguably not as clean and green as electric or solar flight (achieved by small commuter planes such as eGenius), sustainable fuel is a practical step because it works with existing flight infrastructure like aircraft engines, refueling equipment, maintenance, and airport design.”SAF can be 100% compatible with our current aviation fleet and infrastructure,” observed Dave Kettner of Virent, among the partners who flew on the historic occasion, joined by World Energy biofuel producer and distributor, Boeing, CFM International, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office. Electric vehicles may be the answer for automobiles, buses, and trucks: the U.S. Federal Highway System and other major roads of the world will be rebuilt with charging stations and lanes for autonomous vehicles. The Canadian Pacific Railway or Japan’s Shinkansen can be adapted for maglev, electric, or hyperloop trains. But maritime shipping and aviation are not as easily converted from fossil fuels. Air transport has just taken an important step toward a more sustainable future.

Kang, Aram and Taek Sooon Lee. “Converting sugars to biofuels: ethanol and beyond.” 27 October 2015. Bioengineering. doi: 10.3390/bioengineering2040184.

Lewandowski, Jan. “Building the Evidence on Corn Ethanol’s Greenhouse Gas Profile.” 29 July 2021. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

McCue, Dan “United Airlines makes history flying the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind.” 11 June 2019. Renewable Energy Magazine.

Minos, Scott. “United Airlines first passenger flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel is officially off the ground!” 1 December 2021. U.S. Department of Energy.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “Inventing a flying machine.”

United Airlines. “United to become first in aviation history to fly aircraft full of passengers using 100$ sustainable fuel.” 1 December 2021. United Airlines News Release.

World Energy.

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

November 9, 2021
by Building The World

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.

United States Congress. “H.R. 3684: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”

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
by Building The World

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,

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,

Hasselmann, Klaus. “Interview with Klaus Hasselmann” 2009. Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change. VIDEO

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

Nobel Prize.

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.

Parisi, Giorgio. “Statement on receiving Nobel Prize.” 5 October 2021. AUDIO interview.

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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