Building the World

May 12, 2022
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CITIES: Fast Forward Food

“Noodle Bowl for Lunch” by Tran Mau Tri Tam, 2016. Wikimedia/Unsplash: CC0 1.0. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer. Included with appreciation.

Cities are known for fast food: the drive-through, the grab and go, the snack stop, pop-up restaurants, food trucks, street cafes and food stalls. Fast food can also be found on shelves of urban convenience and grocery stores. One of the world’s favorite quick treats is the instant noodle. In 2020, 116 billion servings of instant noodles were enjoyed. (Cairns 2022)

“Singapore Skyline at Night with Blue Sky.” Merlion444, 2009. Wikimedia Creative Commons 1.0 public domain. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer, Included here with appreciation.

Singapore, a city created with trade and diversity as founding principles, is home to the launch of new kind of instant noodle  –  good for taste and for the environment, too. Based in Singapore, WhatIF Foods has introduced a noodle made from the Bambara Groundnut.

“Vigna subterranea” as illustrated by A. Engler in Die Pflanzenwelt Ostafrikas und der nachbargebiete. Volume 2, 1895. This work is the public domain and is included with appreciation.

Bambara (Vigna subterranea) is in the legume family and grows underground (like peanuts): it originated in West Africa and is now grown across the world. It’s what is known, nutritionally, as a complete food: offering protein, carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. WhatIF Foods produces “BamNut” flour made into noodles. The noodles are a bit pricier than the cheapest brands, but many people may value their superior nutrition.

Map of West Africa by Mondo Magic, 2009. Dedicated by the artist to the public domain (CC 1.0) and included here with appreciation.

Bambara Groundnut, or Vigna subterranea, currently comprises a very small part of food supply market (production in Africa is 0.3 million tons) versus the more traditional noodle dough made from wheat (776.6 million metric tons per year globally). But that may change – because Bambara is drought-tolerant. Many areas of the world already suffering drought (from states served by the Colorado River in the United States, to African and Australian areas experiencing drought and expecting more due to climate change and warming). Crops that can survive in dry soil will be in demand. Recent figures from the United Nations reveal that dry soil chokes 40% of agricultural land, and 56 acres (23 hectares) of arable land are lost to drought EVERY MINUTE.

“Corn shows the effects of drought in Texas,” by USDA’s Bob Nichols, 20 August 2013. This photo is the public domain and included here with appreciation to USDA and Bob Nichols.

There are 300,000 edible plant species, but just three (rice, maize, wheat) comprise 86% of all exports. According to Professor Victoria Jideani of Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa, governments should subsidize agricultural diversity, such as the bambara groundnut, that can resist drought, support food security, and broaden the plant-based dietary options for a future-forward table. By 2050, 68% of the world’s people will live in cities. Land is limited, not only by population growth demands but also by agricultural needs. Optimal use of arable land will be one of the factors in balancing population, food security, and environment.

Bangkok, Thailand is a global megacity offering some of the tastiest food in the world, including legendary noodles. Image: “Food Stalls Bangkok,” by Ian Grattan, 2012. Wikimedia CC2.0. Included here with appreciation to Ian Grattan and Bangkok.

WhatIF Foods are currently sold in Singapore and produced in factories located in Australia and Malaysia, are sold in Asia, and in the regulatory approval process in the European Union. Privately financed, the company is now attracting investors. In the United States, you can purchase WhatIF products (noodles are just one of the products) online. Looking for instant noodle recipes? Here’s eight from eight countries.

Adetokunboh, Adeola, Anthony Obilana, Victoria Jideani. “Enzyme and Antioxidant Activities of Malted Bambara Groundnut as Affected by Steeping and Sprouting Time.” March 2022. Foods 11 (6): 783. DOI:10.3390/foods11060783

Cairns, Rebecca. “This Singaporean startup has reinvented the instant noodle.” 9 May 2022. CNN Business. https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/08/business/whatif-bamnut-sustainable-instant-noodles-climate-hnk-intl-spc/index.html

Cheetham, Peter and Christoph Langwallner, co-founders of WhatIF Foods. https://whatif-foods.com/

Jideani, Victoria. Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Victoria-Jideani

United Nations Environment Programme. “#FridayFact: Every minute, we lose 23 hectares of arable land worldwide to drought and desertification.” 12 February 2018. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/fridayfact-every-minute-we-lose-23-hectares-arable-land-worldwide-drought

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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CITIES: (Eiffel)Tower of Transmission

“Eiffel Tower at Night” by Mike Brice, 2005. Image: wikimedia.

When is an icon also a beacon? The Eiffel Tower has a new capability: digital radio transmission. A helicopter installed the antenna, extending the tower’s height to reach 1,083 feet.  Communications transmission is a tradition of the iconic tower. Gustave Eiffel’s sculpture, built for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, was originally slated for removal twenty years after the exposition. The land permit contract expired after two decades, reverting the area to the city of Paris.

Guglielmo Marconi with radio equipment, 1901. Life Magazine. Image: wikimedia.

But Gustave Eiffel was always devoted to science, even building a special space in the tower for government technological observations and use. So, when a new communications technology pioneered by Hertz, Marconi, Tesla and others developed in the 1890 decade, Gustave Eiffel suggested the tower – for many years the world’s tallest structure – be used as the site for a radio antenna. On 5 November 1898, Eugène Ducretet transmitted the first radio contact from the Eiffel Tower: it would travel 2.49 miles (4 kilometers) to the Pantheon. The next year, the Eiffel Tower’s new radio capability transmitted a signal from Paris to London. Later, television signal capability added to the Tower’s importance and permanece.

When the Paris Agreement entered into force, the Eiffel Tower displayed the message in green. Image: photograph by Jean-Baptiste/Mairie de Paris and U.S. Department of State, 4 November 2016. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Eiffel Tower communicates in another way: color. When the historic Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, to begin a new era of cooperation as the world’s countries and businesses pledged to stop climate change, the Eiffel Tower displayed the message while the structure gleamed in green lights. More recently, Paris illuminated the Eiffel Tower in the blue and gold of the Ukrainian flag.

“Skyscrapers of Shinjuku, with Mt. Fuji in view.” by photographer Morio 2009. Creative Commons 3.0. wikimedia.

By 2050, 68% of the world will live in cities: the increasing density will mean more high-rise buildings, skyscrapers, and towers. Economies of scale may influence municipal regulations for water and sanitation systems, energy options, and transport links. Tall buildings like Willis Tower in Chicago might also provide new forms cellular and internet transmission. 

“Dipole xmting antenna animation” by Chetvomo. With appreciation to Chetvomo. Image: Wikimedia commons.

Lemoine, Bertrand. “How did radio save the Tower?” 10 February 2020. https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/news/130-years/how-did-radio-save-tower

United Nations. “68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.” 16 May 2018. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects-html

VIDEO: “Eiffel Tower grows by 20 feet.” CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/travel/videos/travel/2022/03/16/eiffel-tower-height-change-lon-orig-na.cnn

Willis Tower, Chicago. https://www.willistower.com/history-and-facts/antennas

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

December 7, 2021
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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

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

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

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

Image: Earthshot Prize.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earthshot Prize. https://earthshotprize.org/

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

Takachar. https://www.takachar.com/

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

September 16, 2021
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ENERGY: Jobs of the Future

Jobs of the Future will focus on renewable energy. Image: “Energy on the Grid,” by photographer Kenueone, 2016. Public Domain CC0 1.0. Original image: https://pixabay.com/electricity-sun-wind-1330214.

Born after 1996? Or 1981? You are 70% more likely to rate climate change as the top priority for your future (Pew Research Center 2021). Universities are responding, integrating climate and environmental studies into the curriculum. University of Massachusetts Boston founded the School for the Environment, as well as the Sustainable Solutions Lab and Stone Living Lab. MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) founded in 2014 involves design, engineering, humanities, policy, science, social science, and technology. Harvard’s Center for the Environment (HUCE) offers research, policy, science, climate leaders program, and special events like “Literature for a Changing Planet.” University of Southern California inaugurated “Sustainability Across the Curriculum” weaving the environment into majors of  20,000 undergraduates.

“Shift Change at Clinton Engineering Works, Oak Ridge, TN, August 1945,” by Ed Westcott, US Army photographer. Public Domain. Over 82,000 people were employed. Energy jobs will dominate the future.

Upon graduation, a new generation will find the jobs of the future. Throughout history, great undertakings, like the Manhattan Project, Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric, attracted those seeking careers in new energy. Now, a similar surge in energy employment means you can do well by doing good: average pay for climate scientists is $73,230; environmental lawyers earn median salary of $122,960. Not all jobs require traditional degrees: urban farmers earn $71,160. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics/Guardian 2021).

“New Crops: Chicago Urban Farm,” by Linda N. Creative Commons CC 2.0. Wikimedia.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the transition to a global net zero energy system will see renewables like solar and wind power dominate, while bioenergy and carbon capture will develop innovative approaches. There are 400 milestones to guide development, with total annual energy investment of $5 trillion by 2030.

Education + Jobs = Health of the Planet. Graphic by Nevit Dilmen, 2011. Image: creative comons, public domain.

Climate change will cause an era of innovation more comprehensive than we have seen in the history of the world. Every field will be impacted; every field will see innovation. Rachel Larrivee, 23, Boston-based environmental consultant, says it well: “I’m in the first generation who knows the extent to which climate change poses an existential threat to life on Earth, and also the last generation who may be able to do anything about it.” (Lashbrook, 2021.)

International Energy Agency (IEA). “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.” Report May 2021. https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

Lashbrook, Angela. “‘No point in anything else:’ Gen Z members flock to climate careers. Colleges offer support as young people aim to devote their lives to battling the crisis.” 6 September 2021. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/06/gen-z-climate-chnage-careers-jobs

Pew Research Center, by Alec Tyson, Brian Kennedy, Cary Funk. “Gen Z, Millennials Stand Out for Climate Change Activism, Social Media Engagement With Issue.” May 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2021/05/PS_2021.05.26_climate-and-generations_REPORT.pdf

Thanks to Yujin Asai of dotmeta.com for sharing this research.

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 2, 2021
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WATER: Microplastic Filter Innovations

Microplastics in four rivers – Image. “Microplastics in freshwater ecosystems: what we know and what we need to know.” by Martin Wagner, et al., Environmental Sciences Europe. 26, 2014. doi: 10:1186/s12302-014-0012.7

Did you know that 35% of the plastic in our water is microfibers? Those microfibers come from our clothing, released into the water supply during laundering. Microfibers are too small (0.5mm) to be captured by traditional filters. Currently, 2/3rds of clothing contains some percentage of synthetic materials. A typical washload of polyester clothing may shed 9,000,000 microfibres with every wash. Now there is something we can do to stop this problem: attaching a filter to washing machines to catch the microfibers. While the origin of microfibers in clothing is the garment industry, a major source of plastic microfibers is the effluence of laundry water. PlanetCare is expanding their product to a larger version for commercial laundries. 

“SEM picture of a bend in a high-surface area polyester fiber with a seven-lobed cross section” by Pschemp, 2000. Image Wikimedia.

Other companies are developing microfiber filters for washing machines. Environmental Enhancements offers the Lint LUV-R. Xeros Technologies produces the XFiltra. Filtrol makes a similar product. Cora Ball and Guppyfriend use a different technology: devices that collect microfibers inside the washing machine during the laundry cycle. While attached filters catch more fibers (87%), these tend to be the longest ones; Cora Ball inserts and Guppyfriend washing bags capture 26%, mainly the smallest fibers. Using both approaches would increase success.

Fast Company “G-Star Raw x Planetcare collab to flight microfibre pollution.” 8 October 2019. https://www.fastcompany.co.za/business/g-star-raw-x-planetcare-collab-to-fight-microfibre-pollution

Kart, Jeff. “Science says laundry balls and filters are effective in keeping microfibers out of waterways.” 2019. Forbes.https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkart/2019/02/01/science-says-laundry-balls-and-filters-are-effective-in-removing-microfibers/?sh=208899e6e07a

Rabinovich, Ben. “World Oceans Day: Check out these amazing inventions currently cleaning our oceans.” 4 June 2019. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-7104173/World-Oceans-Day-Check-amazing-inventions-currently-cleaning-oceans.html

Tuttan, Mark and Katie Pisa. “Washing your clothes is causing plastic pollution, but a simple filter could help.” 14 November 2019. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/14/world/microfiber-filter-plastic-pollution-int/index.html

Zupan, Mojca.  2019 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD7iTYhAC_U

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 27, 2021
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SPACE: Big Ticket to Ride

“Movie poster of documentary SPACE TOURISTS,” by Christian Frei, 2009. Original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/8157718@NO2/7135867365/sizes/2/in/photostream. Public domain.

Ride with Bezos? Price still unknown – the only ticket was auctioned for $28 million: for a ten minute ride, Blue Origin’s meter runs fast as a rocket. Fly with Branson? Over 600 seats on Virgin Galactic are pre-sold, going for $200, 000 to $500, 000 for a hour’s excursion. Prefer a longer stay? A space vacay to the International Space Station by Elon Musk and SpaceX: $55 million. There are other costs – environmental.

“First successful flight of the Wright Flyer: traveled 120 ft. (36.6m) in 12 seconds, on 17 December 1903. Image: Library of Congress, ppprs.00626

One way to evaluate financial, and environmental, costs of private space travel could be to look back to 17 December 1903 when the Wright Flyer took off from Kitty Hawk. In December 1944, the Convention on International Civil Aviation  established rules for civil aviation: stated goals were safety and international cooperation. In 2004, the world had 900 airlines, tallying 22,000 aircraft serving 1,670 airports. (Spaceports, overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, are now in high construction demand.) In 1960, civil aviation flew 100 million people; by 2017, 4 billion passengers.  In 2019, revenues in the global aviation industry reached $838 billion. However, passenger air travel spikes the highest (and fastest) growth in individual emissions. Flight shaming (flygskam) is a resulting development. Branson and Bezos both drew criticism for spending funds on space tourism when there is a world in need below.

“A simulation of ACRIMSat (Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor Satellite)” by NASA/JPL, 2006. Public domain.

Commercialization of space might also be examined through the development and expansion of satellites. COMSAT, the first commercial satellite operator, began with Intelsat and Inmarsat. When “Early Bird” launched in 1965, the Communications Satellite Act had just established a policy for a commercial communications satellite system open to many nations cooperatively. Comsat began with a $5 million line of credit. Sales by 1996 were $1 billion. Launching satellites produces carbon pollution, and also another kind of pollution: traffic. As of 1 August 2020, there were 2,787 satellites orbiting Earth – 1,364 of them communications satellites both government and commercial.

What can we do to reduce space emissions pollution? Image: “Space Shuttle launched with two solid-fuel boosters (SRB.” NASA, 1981, public domain.

Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, a commercial airline, ferries passengers worldwide, diluting the energy burden per seat. But Virgin Galactic carries just six, tallying a much higher per-person emissions cost; the one-hour flight is equivalent to driving a typical car around the Earth. One concern is the type of fuel used by Virgin Galactic: the system runs on a kind of synthetic fuel that burns with nitrous oxide, shooting black carbon into the stratosphere. Blue Origin uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, causing 750 times less climate-forcing magnitude than Virgin’s (Ahmed 2021). SpaceX will bring four passengers to space in September, causing the equivalent of 395 transatlantic flights worth of emissions.

“Image of depleted Ozone Layer at South Pole, Antarctica” by NASA, 2006. Image: public domain.

Space tourism projects market growth of 17% each year in the coming decade. Price-per-flight will be reduced, and innovations will increase. Just as SpaceX introduced reusable rockets, a game-changer for the space industry (landing 44 of 52 attempts), and Axiom is planning to launch its own commercial space station at the cost of $1.8 billion to NASA’s $150 billion for the International Space Station, privatization of space will streamline the industry. But because rockets emit 100 times more CO2 per passenger than flights (Marais 2021), and because rocket exhaust is released directly into the atmosphere from a higher point of entry, the ozone layer (earlier protected by the 1987 Montreal Protocol) may be again under threat.

Aviator Amelia Earhart and Purdue University President Edward C. Elliott, with Lockheed Electra, 1936. Image: public domain.

Some feel private space commercialization may be a misuse of resources more urgently needed on Earth; others predict important innovations will follow July 2021’s first commercial space tourism flights. Some of the most important developments must be in fuel options and emissions management. Will commercial space flight learn from civil aviation? Bezos’ Blue Origin space tourists brought little carry-on luggage, but two significant items hitched a ride: Amelia Earhart‘s goggles, and a piece of canvas from the Wright Flyer.

Ahmed, Issam. “Environmental concerns grow as space tourism takes off.” 18 July 2021. Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2021-07-environmental-space-tourism.html

Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum. ameliaearharthangarmuseum.org

CNBC. “Blue Origin launch re-cap.” 20 July 2021. CNBC.com. https://cnb.cx/36LdlzA.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “Spaceports by State.” https://www.faa.gov/space/spaceports_by_state/

Johnson, Dave. “11 of the biggest innovations shaping the future of spaceflight today.” 12 October 2019. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/spaceflight-travel-innovations-spacex-rockets-2019-10

MacMartin, Douglas G. and Ben Kravitz. “Mission-driven research for stratospheric aerosol geoengineering.” 22 January 2019. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of American (PNAS). https://www.pnas.org/content/116/4/1089

Marais, Eloise. “Space tourism: rockets emit 100 times more CO2 per passenger than flights – imagine a whole industry.” 19 July 2021. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/space-tourism-rockets-emit-100-times-more-co-per-passenger-than-flights-imagine-a-whole-industry-164601.

Pollard, James. “What is the Environmental Impact of Private Space Flight?” 20 July 2021. NBCsandiego.com. https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/national-international/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-private-space-flight/6289612/

Reference for Business. “COMSAT Corporation.” https://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/70/Comsat-Corporation.html

Ross, Martin N. and Dorin W. Toohey. 24 September 2019. “The Coming Surge of Rocket Emissions.” 24 September 2019. EOS, 100. https://doiorg/10.1029/2019EO133493

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “1903 Wright Flyer.” https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000

United Nations. “Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.” 16 September 1987. https://web.archive.org/web/20130602153542/http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/montreal_protocol.php

July 20, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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This SPACE for Sale or Rent

“Atmosphere Layers, showing the Kármán Line.” What’s for sale or rent? Image: based on the work of Theodore von Kármán, vectorized by NOAA and Mysid, 2014. Public domain: wikimedia commons.

When Apollo 11 placed the first people on the moon, on 20 July 1969, NASA might have known the price per person, but seats were not for sale, or rent.

On 20 July 2021, privatization of space demonstrated an aspect of commerce: market pricing, open bidding, for sale or rent. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, auctioned a seat on today’s ride. When the anonymous highest bidder ($28 million) backed out, citing other commitments, the place went to next-in-line Joes Daemen, CEO of Somerset Capital Partners. Daemen in turn bounced the ball to his son, Oliver Daemen, who will become the youngest person ever to go to space.

Space tourism is having a moment. On 11 July, Richard Branson flew aloft on Virgin Galactic for a view of Earth and a glimpse of space: also aboard were three Virgin staff and two crew pilots. On 20 July, Blue Origin’s New Shepard carried Jeff Bezos, brother Mark Bezos, and two other passengers: 82-year-old Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen for 10 minutes of rocket tourism.

Flying to the Kármán Line (100 kilometers: 54 nautical miles/62 miles above Earth, the point considered to be the beginning of space) is not cheap, but prices vary. What’s the cost per passenger for space tourism? Yet unknown. Bezos is funding Blue Origin, founded in 2000, with share sales of Amazon stock, selling 1.85 billion worth of shares in May 2021. Bezos donated the $28 million auction proceeds to a charitable outreach: Club for the Future. Branson filed to sell $500 million in Virgin Galactic shares after the July flight, sparking a brief halt in the stock’s trading. Virgin Galactic currently has 600 reservations for space tourism flights: pricing ranges from $200,000 to $400,000, depending upon date of purchase. To date. Blue Origin has sold seats by auction: scheduled pricing is to follow. SpaceX, founded by Elon Murk, will also carry paying passengers: three people paid $55 million each for a 10-day tour to the International Space Station.

There are some who question the ethical and environmental costs of private space. Should billionaires like Bezos, Branson, and Musk spend their money flying to space or solving problems on Earth? What about the emissions of space vehicles carrying not scientific experiments but joy-riding millionaires?

Others point out that innovation often starts with entrepreneurial investment. Early in the 20th century, in 1903, the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.  In 2003, air transport generated 13.5 million jobs and significant contributions to GDP around the world. What innovations might we see from space tourism in this century? How will Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin influence development in space? Watch Blue Origin’s voyage here.

In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the costs of private space: environmental and financial.

Blue Origin. https://www.blueorigin.com

Fitzgerald, Maggie. “Virgin Galactic falls 17% after it gets set to sell $500 million in stock following Branson’s successful flight.” 12 July 2021. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/12/virgin-galactic-shares-rise-after-successful-branson-flight-paves-wave-for-space-tourism-industry.html

Gershgorn, Dave. “How much is a ticket on Blue Origin? Jeff Bezos reveals new details. Let the bidding begin…” Inverse.com. https://www.inverse.com/innovation/blue-origin-ticket-price-cost-auction-date

Klueger, Jeffrey. “Wally Funk Is Going to Space Aboard Jeff Bezos’s Rocket. Here’s Why That Matters: A flight 60 years in the making.” 18 July 2021. TIME magazine. https://time.com/6080695/wally-funk-space-bezos/

Morrow, Allison. “Someone spent $28 million for a seat on the Bezos space flight and now they’re bailing because they’re busy.” 15 July 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/15/business/nightcap-bezos-space-oatly-sunscreen-recall/index.html

Palmer, Annie. “Bezos sells nearly $2 billion worth of Amazon shares.” 5 May 2021. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/05/amazon-ceo-bezos-sells-nearly-2-billion-worth-of-amazon-shares.html

SpaceX. https://www.spacex.com

Taylor, Kiara. “How to Buy SpaceX Stock.” 14 May 2021. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/buy-spacex-stock-151215951.html 

Virgin Galactic.https://www.virgingalactic.com. Stock ticker NYSE: SPCE.

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 4, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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CITIES: Liberty, Diplomacy, Art (and Fireworks!)

“Statue of Liberty” by Tysto (Derek Jensen), 2005. Image is in the public domain, from wikimedia commons.

On Independence Day, France will give a gift of diplomacy to the United States, celebrating the shared value of liberty. France’s national motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), and the American holiday of independence, will join sentiments as a replica of the Statue of Liberty is presented by the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris for a ten-year visit to the land of her big sister. “Little Lady Liberty” (9.3 feet or 2.8 meters) joins the original Statue of Liberty (305 feet or 93 meters) that was a gift from France to the United States in 1886.

“The Eiffel Tower – State of the Construction.” Photograph by Louis-Emile Durandelle. public domain. Image: wikimedia.

While Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi designed the sculpture, the creator of the eponymous Eiffel Tower in Paris, Gustave Eiffel, crafted its internal structure, introducing an innovative design that relied not on weight as support but on a flexible structure with a central pylon supporting a web of asymmetrical girders. Since its arrival in 1885, the iconic monument has stood on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, welcoming those who came to its shores in search of freedom. The visiting French replica will be displayed on Ellis Island to bear witness to Independence celebrations, before moving to other locations, culminating in Washington, D.C. for its unveiling on July 14, in honor of Bastille Day. The visitor will remain for 10 years. As the world seeks to foster shared values, should countries exchange public art for display, especially in national capitals, as an outreach of diplomacy? If you’d like to follow the journey of Little Lady Liberty, click here.

Another iconic display – both on American Independence Day and French Bastille Day? Fireworks!

“Animation gif of Fireworks, July 4, 2007, Gainesville, Florida” by Sistromc. Image: public domain, wikimedia commons.

Chen, Roselle, with editing by Rosalba O’Brien. “Mini Statue of Liberty retraces her big sister’s steps to New York Harbor.” 2 July 2021. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/mini-statue-liberty-retraces-her-big-sisters-steps-new-york-harbor-2021-07/01/.

Varga, Eva. “The Engineering Feats of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel.” https://evavarga.net/engineering-feats-alexandre-gustave-eiffel/

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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