Building the World

April 7, 2022
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ENERGY: Nuclear to Solar in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solar Chernobyl. https://solarchernobyl.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 29, 2022
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TRANSPORT: Ten Mile Markers on the Road to the Future

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

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

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

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

TEN MILE MARKERS ON THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE

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

TELECOMMUTE: work from home 3 days per week if possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN-Water. www.unwater.org

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

World Water Day. https://www.worldwaterday.org/

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

March 2, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 4, The Promise

UNEP meets in Nairobi to draft global plastic treaty 2022. Image: “Nairobi night skyline.” by Nbi101, 2013. CC4.0 Wikimedia.

GLOBAL TREATY TO END PLASTIC POLLUTION: This week, 175 UN Member States are meeting in Nairobi to decide upon a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. “Ambitious action to beat plastic pollution should track the lifespan of plastic products – from source to sea – should be legally binding, accompanied by support to developing countries, backed by financing mechanism tracked by strong monitoring mechanisms, and incentivizing all stakeholders – including the private sector,” states Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP 2022).

UNEP logo. wikimedia

BUSINESS CAN LEAD THE WAY: While governments can agree, it is business and industry that will make the difference. Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) announced the switch to reusable and refillable packaging. Some of the brands may be familiar to you: Crest, Cascade, Gillette, Pampers, Pantene, and Tide all plan new packaging. Partnering with TerraCycle’s Loop program, P&G’s Ambition 2030 campaign will aim for a circular manufacturing process with as little plastic as possible. Some products like Pampers will come with a bin: when it is full, just text a pick-up service that will take your waste for repurposing and drop off a new container. TerraCycle partners with UPS helped to design packaging, with an eye to the role of transportation as “an enabler for circularity. UPS’ director for global sustainability believes “Loop is the signal for the future.” For more brand innovations, click here.

“Crest toothpaste,” photographer Scott Ehardt, 2005. Dedicated to the public domain by Scott Ehardt. Wikimedia.

TRASH OR TREASURE? Most plastic packaging is used only once. Only 14% of plastic collected is recycled. But it’s more than just trash – it’s valuable. Yet, 95% of that value – mainly of plastic packaging material – is lost to the economy. It is worth $100 billion – annually. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2022).

Reused and recycled plastic is not trash; it is a commodity of value. Image: “Money Flat Icon GIF Animataion by videoplasty.com, CC 4.0 Wikimedia.

PLASTIC OF THE FUTURE Here are some ways to end plastic pollution:

Innovate so all plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable

Ensure future plastics are free from hazardous chemicals

Catch and filter plastic trash carried by rivers (93% from just a few main rivers)

Redesign the plastics system from source to sea

Set up collection, regulatory, and policy government guidelines

Join UNEP agreement with government and business to solve plastic pollution

Transform recycled and reused plastic into a commodity of value

READ the Draft Resolution, “End plastic pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument.” 2 March 2022. HERE.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “Plastics and The Circular Economy.” https://archive.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/plastics-and-the-circular-economy

Ivanova, Maria. Moderator: “Looking Back: 50 Years of the UN Environment Programme.” 4 March 2022.UNEP and Center for Governance & Sustainability, University of Massachusetts Boston.  https://www.environmentalgovernance.org/unepdialogue

Szczepanski, Mallory. “The Loop shopping system aims to change the world’s reliance on single-use packaging.” 6 February 2019. Waste360. https://www.waste360.com/waste-reduction/terracycle-partners-major-brands-launch-sustainable-shopping-system

UNEP. “UN Environment Assembly opens with all eyes on a global agreement on plastic pollution,” 28 February 2022. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/un-environment-assembly-opens-all-eyes-global-agreemen-plastic

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

February 25, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 3, The Carriers

“The first turn of the Yangtze River at Shigu, where the river turns 180 degrees from south to north-bound.” Jialiang Gao, www.peace-on-earth.org, 1 February 2003. CC by SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Cities are where most plastic is used, and then discarded. But how does it get into the sea? By 2050, there may be more plastic in the oceans than marine life. It is time to act. And we know what to do, and where to do it.

According the the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, “Rivers carry trash over long distances and connect nearly all land surfaces with the oceans.” (Patel 2018). Rivers deliver up to 2 million metric tons pf plastic into the seas. We now know which rivers contribute 93% of trash and plastic clogging the world’s oceans.

Top Rivers Carrying Plastic to the Oceans

Yangtze River

Yellow River

Hai River

Nile River

Meghna, Brahmaputra, Ganges Rivers

Pearl River

Amur River

Ganges River

Niger River

Nile River

Mekong River

Source: Schmidt, Christian et al., 2017

Could the engineering that led to the great success of Grand Canal of China now address rivers in that system that carry plastic? Might the achievement of the High Dam at Aswan have a second calling to filter plastic from the Nile River?

“Nile River in Aswan,” Ibrahim El-Mezayen, 12 February 2016. CC4.0, Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

Many of the world’s greatest successes came from crises, failures, and problems. Now that we know which rivers are carrying plastic, what kinds of solutions and innovations, such as filters and collection devices, can be fitted on these rivers to stop the flow of plastic?

Patel, Prachi. “Stemming the Plastic Tide: 10 Rovers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans. 1 February 2018. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stemming-the-plastic-tide-10-rivers-contribute-most-of-the-plastic-in-the-oceans/

Schmidt, Christian, et al., “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea,” Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 51, No. 21, 7 November 2017. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.7b02368

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

February 18, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 2, The Producers

Cities are filled with plastic products – where are they made? Image: “Slovnaft – New Prolypropylene Plant” by Miklova. CC by 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Cities are the largest depositories of plastic products. Plastic was the largest category of waste disposal in Singapore in 2020 – 763,000 tons. Singapore recycles only 4% of its plastic waste. Other cities may do a bit better: San Francisco is the top city in the world for recycling. But we see only the end of the process.

“Global production and fate of plastics.” based on Geyer et al., 2007. With appreciation to Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Janbeck, Kara Lavender Law. Creative Commons 3.0, wikimedia.

Where do these products originate? It’s an enormous market – global sales of items manufactured in plastic reached $79 billion in 2018, and with growth of 8.5% per year since then. Europe set the highest value worth of exported plastic, with Asia and North America just behind. Plastic may grow to a $754 billion market by 2027 (unless the world does something soon to reduce the use of plastic). Plastic products may fill our cities, but where do they originate? Who are the producers?

TOP TEN PLASTIC PRODUCERS

Dow Chemical Company (coatings)

LyondellBasell (polyethylene and polypropylene)

ExxonMobil (olefins)

SABIC (polymers)

INEOS (food and product packaging)

BASF (world’s 6th largest manufacturer of plastics)

ENI (various plastics)

I.G. Chem (materials)

Chevron Phillips Chemical (polyalphaoelfins)

Lanxess (polymers)

Source: BizVibe 2022

The plastic you see, in your shampoo container or beverage bottle, is the end of the production process. It’s what you recycle: that’s part of the solution. Some consumer products, like beverage and cosmetic companies, are reducing their use of plastic packaging. But as we address plastic pollution, should we also concentrate on the origination?

Geyer, Roland, Jenna R. Janbeck, Kara Lavender Law. “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made.” 19 July 2017. Science Advances. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1700782

Oh, Tessa. “Explainer: Why Singapore’s plastic recycling rate is so low and what can be done to raise it.” 30 August 2021. Today. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/explainer-why-singapores-plstic-recycling-rate-so-low-and-what-can-be-done-raise-it

“Top 10 Largest Plastic Manufacturing Companies in the World” BizVibe. 2022. https://blog/bizvibe.com/blog/plastic-manufacturing-companies

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

 

 

February 10, 2022
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CITIES: Plastic – Part 1, The Problem

Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. Now the UN will develop a treaty to limit plastic pollution. Image: “Plastic bottles in a pickup truck for recycling.” by Streetwise, 2010. Public domain: creative commons.

Plastic: it is the convenience – and scourge – of our Anthropocene era. Most of it lives in cities, and then landfills. Diplomats are now turning their collective attention to plastic pollution. Modeled on the 2015 Paris Agreement, developed in the city of the Eiffel Tower, the first stage of the UN initiative is assessment: how much plastic is being manufactured? With what chemicals? Who are the main players? What happens when plastic is discarded?

Plastic Facts and Figures:

Since its invention, 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced

Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Most is in landfills

United States generates 287 pounds of plastic waste, per person, per year

During the pandemic, single-use plastic wrapping products for safety increased 19%

8 million metric tons of plastic enter global waters – each year (that is equivalent to a dump truck offloading every minute of every day

Microplastics are now found in the organs of fish

Microbeads and plastic fibers are found in 80% of the world’s tap water

Led by Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, the UNEA-5 team will convene in Nairobi on 28 February 2022. Preparing for that meeting, we will next take a look the main manufacturers, and preview some innovations that may signal hope.

Birnbaum, Michael and Min Joo Kim. “Plastics production is skyrocketing. A new U.N. treaty effort could cap it. 8 February 2022. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/02/08/plastic-pollution-un-treaty

Ingilizian, Zara. “Waste-free consumption: 3 reasons why cities will lead.” 14 June 2019. World Economic Forum: Shaping the Future of Consumption. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/3-reasons-why-cities-can-stem-the-tide-of-the-plastic-crisis/

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution – it’s time for change!” https://www.unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution

UNEP-5. https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/resources/updates/towards-unea-5-2/

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

January 29, 2022
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SPACE: Do Look UP – Citizen Scientists Needed NOW

Do Look UP. Nasa invites your views as a citizen scientist. Image: “Lucas Bornhauser,” by photographer Lucas Bornhauser, luboco, 2016. With appreciation. Wikimedia commons.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande, Tyler Perry and others star in the science fiction noir comedy “Don’t Look Up” by Adam McKay. It’s an allegory about climate change, government, politics, and media. The film set a Netflix record for the most views in a single week: maybe you have seen this movie. If you are among those, like DiCaprio and others, who are concerned about climate change, you may wonder what you as an individual can do. NASA has an invitation for you. Do Look UP!

“Don’t Look Up” Poster. Image wikimedia. Souce impawards.com/2021. With appreciation to the film team and impawards.

GLOBE CLOUD CHALLENGE welcomes citizen scientists to use the GLOBE Observer to identify clouds in their own area, timing observations with satellite flyovers. Satellites have a hard time identifying clouds, but these formations are easily seen from Earth. NASA hopes to collect 20,000 cloud observations.

“Cirrus clouds: sky panorama.” by Fir002/Flagstaffotos. Image: wikimedia. CC by NC. With appreciation.

What are clouds and why do they appear? Formations of water vapor change into gas that condenses with dust or salt from sea spray to form liquid or ice: when the accumulation is sufficient, a cloud happens. Even if you’ve never flown through a cloud, you’ve probably walked through one: on land, the same process produces fog.

“Fog Particles at Night” by Bill Larkins, 2011. Image: creative commons CC by SA 2.0 wikimedia. With appreciation.

High, thin clouds let sunlight through yet still prevent heat from escaping to space via infrared radiation: there is a net warming result. Low, thick clouds reflect sunlight but have no impact of infrared radiation: there is a net cooling effect. Without clouds, we’d have a much warmer planet. With climate change and global warming, clouds are very much part of the solution.

“Infrared image of storm clouds over central United States from GOES-17 satellite,” NOAA, 2018. Image: public domain. With appreciation to NOAA.

NASA’s cloud-observation satellites include Aqua, Aura, Calipso, CloudSat, and Terra fly over the Earth. Soon, the data will be matched with NOAA’s GOES-T. Clouds are one of the aspects related to climate change. According to Marilé Colón Robles, lead atmospheric scientists for the Clouds team at Langley Research Center, “Each cloud affects Earth’s energy balance differently.” (NASA 2022)

“Cloud types” by Valintin de Bruyn, for Coton, 2012. Image: wikimedia. With appreciation.

Here’s how to participate. Download the GLOBE Observer APP (available to those in 120 GLOBE member countries. Register as an observer, and then go outside and look UP. The challenge runs until February 15, 2022. After that, keep the app active: as a citizen scientist, you can also use the app to observe and report on three other categories: mosquito habitat mapping, land cover, and trees. Here’s the link: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/globe-observer/id1090456751

“The five components of the climate system all interact.” by Fernkemilene, 2019. Creative commons CC by SA 4.0. With appreciation,

If you are not able to go outside, you can still participate. With the NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE app, you can look at photos, identify cloud types, and tag via a Zooniverse online platform. Here’s that link: https:www.zooniverse.org/projects/nasaglobe/nasa-globe-cloud-gaze

“Charged Cloud.” animation by NOAA, 2016. Public Domain. Creative Commons. With appreciation.

NASA. “NASA GLOBE Cloud Challenge: 2022: Clouds in a Changing Climate.” 12 January 2022. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/nasa-globe-cloud-challenge-2022-clouds-in-a-changing-climate

NOAA. “Clouds and Climate.” https://psl.noaa.gov/outreach/education/science/clouds_and_climate.html

Pearce, Fred. “Why clouds are the key to new troubling projections on warming.” 5 February 2020. Yale Environment 360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-clouds-are-the-key-to-new-troubling-projections-on-warming

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 15, 2021
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WATER: Jason and the Return of the Argonauts

“Argo Temperature/Salinity Float Network” by Dmcdevit, 2007 for Global Warming Art. License GNU Free 1.2. Image: wikimedia.

Recent tornadoes, storms, floods caused loss of life and damage of property. While warmer temperatures are known to fuel and intensify tornadoes, scientists are uncertain if tornadoes that swept across four U.S. states were caused by climate change. What is certain is unseen, but even more troubling. Antarctic currents are changing. The above NASA illustration shows the movement of ocean currents including the Antarctic Circumpolar Current:  at 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) wide and two miles (3 kilometers) deep, it is the globe’s largest current. Its motion draws the deepest water from the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans to swirl it to the surface. In the process, the water exchanges heat and carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. It’s called an upwelling.

“Upwelling” in an animation by NOAA. Image: public domain, wikimedia.

With a warming world, upwelling may release more carbon dioxide that had formerly been sequestered in the blue deep of the oceans. Oceans have sequestered 25% of carbon dioxide and 90% of excess heat from burning fossil fuels. What if that were to change? Moreover, the warming upwelling waters that travel through and beneath Antarctic are melting ice shelves like those near the Thwaites glacier. If those ice sheets melt into the ocean, sea rise could advance by as much as 12 feet (3.66 meters). Ice sheets act as a blockade, protecting glaciers: if that blockade breaks, glaciers will also melt more quickly and release even more water to rising seas. (Fountain and White, 2021) Watch a video about the Thwaites glacier here.

“Thwaits Glacier.” NASA, 2014. Public domain, wikimedia.

What can be done? Gathering more data is a first step. Robotic autonomous floats called ‘Argo Floats‘ are a small army of 3900 presently bobbing in the world’s oceans, sending back data. When below water for their ten-day shift, Argo Floats gather data; when they pop up to the surface, they transmit. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  and the Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing (GOMO) program is named after the mythical Jason and the Argonauts who sailed to find the Golden Fleece.

“Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts” by Biagio d’Antonio, circa 1472-1516. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, donated to wikimedia for public domain open access use.

Jason and the Argonauts may be one of the oldest myths of a hero’s quest. The present initiative references not only the ancient Greek myth, but also the ocean mission. The title also indicates its complementary relationship with the Jason satellite altimeters that study the situation from above. The instruments called ‘Argo Floats:’ the measurements of sea surface height are termed ‘Jason measurements’ that report temperature and salinity. (Brown 2019). In 2020, Antarctica observed a 200-year anniversary. Polar regions are among the most important places for climate change, due to a process termed polar amplification. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, offers some protections, but the ban on mining of Antarctic minerals expires in 2048. If or when the Antarctic Treaty is revised, what provisions should be upheld, changed, or added?

Argo Program. NOAA. https://globalocean,noaa.gov/Research/Argo-Program

Brown, Fiona “What we learnt from spending winter under the Antarctic sea ice.” 15 May 2019. CSIROscope. https://blog.csiro.au/

Fountain, Henry and Jeremy White. “Rising from the Antarctic, a Climate Alarm.” 14 December 2021. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/13/climate/antartic-climate-change.html?referringSource=articleShare

Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). “Geoengineering The Southern Ocean? A Transdisciplinary Assessment.” University of Tasmania, Australia. https://www.imas.utas.edu.au/home/home-features/arc-laureate-fellowship-geoengineering-the-southern-ocean-a-transdisciplinary-assessment

Jason satellite program mission. NOAA. https://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/jason-1/summary

Ramirez, Rachel. “Scientists warn a critical ice shelf in Antarctica could shatter within five years.” 14 December 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/14/world/antarctic-thwaites-glacier-climate-warming/index.html

Silvano, Alesandro et al., “Seasonability of warm water intrusions onto the continental shelf near the Totten Glacier.” 3 May 2019. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans/Volume 124, issue 6, pages 4272-4289. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JC014634 and https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018JC014634

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 buildingtheworld
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TRANSPORT: Sugar High

“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. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2019/04/02/building-evidence-corn-ethanols-greenhouse-gas-profile

McCue, Dan “United Airlines makes history flying the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind.” 11 June 2019. Renewable Energy Magazine. https://www.renewableenergymagazine.com/biofuels/united-airlines-makes-history-flying-the-most-20190611

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. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/united-airlines-first-passenger-flight-using-100-sustainable-aviation-fuel

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “Inventing a flying machine.” https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers-online/fly/1903/

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. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-to-become-first-in-aviation-history-to-fly-aircraft-full-of-passengers-using-100-sustainable-fuel-301435009.html

World Energy. https://www.worldenergy.net

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

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