Building the World

September 9, 2021
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WATER: Foreseeing the Future

New Orleans in 1803. Image: “Under My Wings Everything Prospers” by J. L. Bouqueto de Woiseri. 1 January 1803. Public Domain. Image: wikimedia commons.

Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana, in August 2021, bringing severe wind and water. New Orleans was watching. After Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, the city built a flood-prevention system of gates, levees, pumps, and walls. Sixteen years later, almost to the day, Ida tested Katrina’s resilient infrastructure. The city emerged relatively unscathed( Hughes, 2021). But just 60 miles away, storm surge toppled the Lafourche Parish levee. Overwhelmed by floods, damaged sanitation and sewage systems threatened public health. The discrepancy between a prepared city and an unprotected town foretells the future of coastal communities in climate change.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused damage that resulted in the building of a storm protection system, tested by Hurricane Ida in 2021. Image: “Hurricane Katrina, 28 August, 2005” from NOAA. Public Domain.

It’s not just flooding. Even though New Orleans avoided Katrina’s flooding in Ida, there were other dire effects. Like power outages. Hundreds of thousands of people remained without electricity a week after the storm. Refrigerators were off, so were air-conditioners: in the 90 degree (F) heat, the situation was dangerous. Those who could escaped to nearby places with electricity for an “evacuation vacation.” Many were not so fortunate.

“Hurricane Ida at Landfall in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, 29 August 2021. Image: weather.gov. Public Domain.

Coastal communities face an uncertain yet certain future. By 2040, providing storm-surge systems like sea walls for American cities with populations greater than 25,000 is estimated to cost $42 billion – that would include New Orleans. But what about Lafourche Parish? Protecting smaller communities and towns would raise the cost to $400 billion. (Flavelle 2021). Protecting against flooding is only part of the problem, however: wind damage to above-ground electrical poles, wires, and transformers is cause for alarm. During Hurricane Ida, 902,000 customers lost power when 22,000 power poles; 26,000 spans of wire, and 5,261 transformers were damaged or lost – more than Katrina, Zeta, and Delta combined (Hauck 2021).

“Map illustrating areas of the Netherlands below sea level.” By Jan Arkestejin. Pubic Domain Image: wikimedia.

Even with abundant funding, infrastructure takes time to build. Storms, however, will not stop. While rebuilding more resilient storm barrier and electrical systems, communities may look to the Protective Dikes and Land Reclamation practices of The Netherlands as a case example of immediate resilient response. The Dike Army (Dycken Waren), composed of residents responding together in times of need, was part of the system. As Louisiana, and other areas significantly damaged by Hurricane Ida, consider how to rebuild, it may be time to call to arms a new kind of Dike Army, perhaps a regional Civilian Climate Conservation Corps (4C), to serve and protect coastal communities and habitats: both terrestrial and marine. Disaster response would be in addition to the goals of the Civilian Climate Corps proposal of the US in January 2021. The 4C’s motto is up for a vote: some want “For Sea” and some like “Foresee.” What’s your vote?

“CCC” pillow from CCC museum in Michigan, USA. Image: public domain.

Flavelle, Christopher. “With More Storms and Rising Seas, Which U.S. Cities Should Be Saved First?” 19 June 2019. The New York Times.

Hauck, Grace. “Week after Hurricane Ida’s landfall, hundreds of thousands still without power.” 5 September 2021. USA TODAY. https://wwwusatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/09/05/hurricane-ida-louisiana-residents-without-power-families-homeless/5740682001/

White House, Biden-Harris. “Civilian Climate Corps.” 27 January 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/27/fact-sheet-president-biden-takes-executive-actions-to-tackle-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad-create-jobs-and-restore-scientific-integrity-across-federal-government/

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

August 9, 2021
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ENERGY: HOT(TER)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2021
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SPACE: Red Traffic

“Riding dragon gods” illustration from Myths and Legends of China by E.T.C. Werner, 1922. Image Project Gutenberg.

Not only is the sky getting crowded with satellites, some working and others defunct but still orbiting, the planets are seeing traffic. This weekend, China landed on Mars, after arriving in orbit on 10 February. China’s Tianwen-1 mission features an orbiter, lander, and rover named Zhurong (Chinese god of fire). Watch the landing here.

“Diagrama of the Perseverance Rover with Instruments.” NASA. 17 June 2020. Image: nasa.gov/wikimedia.

Red Planet traffic includes: NASA’s rovers Curiosity and Perseverance. (Preceded by Spirit and Opportunity in 2004). Decades ago, NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down on Utopia Planitia, a basin thousands of miles wide in the northern area of Mars. That’s the same place China landed this weekend. Scientists hypothesize that Utopia Planitia may have once been an ocean, so it’s a good site to look for signs of life. In fact, water may still be there – under the surface. NASA’s Reconnaissance orbiter detected ice there in 2016; there may be as much ice as Lake Superior. That’s good news for a number of reasons including potential for agriculture, habitation, and power. Besides China and the USA, other contributors to the study of Mars include Argentina, Austria, the European Space Agency (ESA), and France. Also in the Martian traffic pattern: Hope, an orbiter sent by the United Arab Emirates, arrived in the neighborhood on 8 May and is observing atmosphere and weather, recently releasing images of hydrogen atoms around Mars on 24 and 25 April 2021.

“Animation of Emirates’ Mission around Mars.” Image: wikimedia.

Will traffic on Mars continue to increase? Only every two years. There is a timing window when Earth and Mars are closest, and that is why there is so much activity now. While most traffic is on land, NASA’s Ingenuity, a helicopter, has been logging flight time in the Martian atmosphere – the first time (that we know of…) anyone has flown on the Red Planet.

Goswami, Namrata and Peter A. Garretson. Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space. 2020: Lexington Books. ISBN: 978498583114 and 9781498583121.

Hope Mars Mission. @HopeMarsMission. https://mobile.twitter.com/hopemarsmission/status/1392063293649424386

Myers, Steven Lee and Kenneth Chang. “China’s Mars Rover Mission Lands on the Red Planet.” 14 May 2021, updated 16 May 2021. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/science/china-mars.html?referringSource=articleShare

NASA. Ingenuity. WATCH the flight in 3-D. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/seeing-nasa-s-ingenuity-mars-helicopter-fly-in-3d

NASA. “Where is Perseverance?” Track the Rover. https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/where-is-the-rover/

NASA. “NASA confirms evidence that liquid water flows on today’s Mars.” 28 September 2015. Release 15-195. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-confirms-evidence-that-liquid-water-flows-on-today-s-mars

Tianwen-1. VIDEO of Mars landing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVKGDitCtXU

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

 

April 30, 2021
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CITIES: Leafing Out

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

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

TEN BENEFITS OF TREES

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

Air quality – trees absorb carbon emissions and pollution

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

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

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

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

UV radiation protection – trees absorb 96% of ultraviolet radiation

Aesthetics – trees improve property appearance, and value

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

Habitat – trees house birds; forests promote wildlife diversity

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

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

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

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

March 22, 2021
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WATER: World Water Day 2021

“Water Drop” by José Manuel Suárez, photographer, 2008. Image: wikimedia.

World Water Day, begun in 1993, calls us to honor and preserve the world’s freshwater supply. Water, in the form of drinking water and safe sanitation, is the #6 Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations.  Environmental historians observe that human history can be traced by innovations in water systems. Aqueducts built by the Romans brought fresh spring water to a growing city when the Tiber river became threatened. In England, the New River was one of the world’s first built watercourses, bringing potable water to the burgeoning city of London. The Colorado River Compact defined the rights and use of water for the American states of the Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico) and Lower Basin (California, Arizona, Nevada); sovereign peoples of the Navajo, Havasupai, Walapai, and several others; and México.  Rights of the Whanganui River of New Zealand established legal personhood in 2017, confirming a growing awareness of the rights of nature. Today’s World Water Day 2021 is dedicated to our personal use of water. While 71% of the world has access to safe drinking water, only 45% have use of safe sanitation. To access the country data where you live, the United Nations invites you to explore the world water database here. To tell your own story about how you experience water, record your views here.

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

March 12, 2021
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CITIES: Higher Ground

“Seattle, Washington, as seen from Bainbridge Island ferry 2016.” Photo by Dicklyon. Image: wikimedia commons.

Waterfront property is causing real estate prices to rise – but not in the usual places. Miami’s 2017 Hurricane Irma caused billions of dollars in damage to beachfront properties. Just after that storm, real estate further inland saw price increases. A new term, coined by Professor Jesse Keenan of Tulane University, has entered the lexicon: “climate gentrification.” Three forms of climate gentrification may be considered:

HIGHER GROUND, RISING VALUES – neighborhoods that suffer less damage in storms are becoming desirable, even if such areas were formerly not considered elite;

WATERFRONT PROTECTIONS – property owners of waterfront real estate are investing in weather-proofing measures, spurring rebuilding innovations;

COMMUNITY ACTION – areas with resilience improvements such as elevated infrastructure, flood barriers, and storm drains, are increasing in value.

Miami is one of the cities seeking higher ground. Image: wikimedia commons.

While home-owners may take action, so can government. Galveston, Texas, raised the city up 16 feet with sand and ground development. The city also built a 10-mile-long seawall. Miami drew $200 million from the Miami Forever Bond to improve flood-mitigation infrastructure. New Jersey increased insurance premiums for coastal neighborhoods. Rebuilding coastal cities will cause redesign of canals, harbors, and ports. Boston may experience sea-level rise from a conservative estimate of two feet by 2050, to over six feet by 2100. As coastal cities like Boston, Jakarta, New Orleans and others pump drinking water from reservoirs and aquifers, subsidence of land intensifies the effects of sea rise.

“Panoramic Boston” by photographer Henry Han, 2011. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Sustainable Solutions Lab of the University of Massachusetts Boston suggests state and local government could help with new zoning laws. According to David W. Cash, Dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, “As we watched hurricanes and extreme weather events hit various parts of the United States, it became really clear that Boston was very vulnerable to both flooding and sea level rise.” (Moran 2018). Another important initiative, from the School for the Environment, recommends strengthening and updating the state’s Wetlands Protection Act.

“Aerial View of Great Marsh in Massachusetts.” Image: wikimedia commons.

The future may be safeguarded by a Regional Coastal Flood Protection Agency for Massachusetts. Perhaps broader regional efforts may include Canada and México: rising seas will not stop at national borders. Might there be a regional CCC – Climate Conservation Corps? Could cooperation, and funding, be found with USMCA? How can the world’s regions protect shared coasts through environmental justice and preservation, seeking higher ground?

Are regions the new nations? Image: “North America from Space, based on NASA satellite views.” Artist: Przemek Pietrak, 2015. Image: Nasa/wikimedia commons.

Aune, Kyle T. et. al., “A spatial analysis of climate gentrification in Orleans Parish, Louisiana post-Hurricane Katrina. Environ. Re. 2020 Jun; 185:109384. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32240840/

Boston Harbor Association, lead author Ellen Douglas, University of Massachusetts Boston. “Preparing for the Rising Tide.” 6 February 2013. https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_professor_is_lead_author_of_report_identifying_risks_of_sea_le

Caldwell, Erin D. “UMass Boston report shows that climate change views vary by race.” 28 October 2020. Dorchester Reporter. https://www.dotnews.com/2020/umass-boston-report-shows-climate-change-views-vary-race

Dill, Jackson and Brandon Miller. “Sea level rise is increasing fastest in populous coastal areas, study says.” 9 March 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/09/world/sea-level-rise-increasing-with-sinking-land/index.html

Keenan, Jesse. “Climate gentrification.” https://architecture.tulane.edu/content/jesse-m-keenan

Kreul, Stephanie, et.al., “Governance for a Changing Climate: Adapting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding.” September 2018. Sustainable Solutions Lab, University of Massachusetts Boston https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/centers_institutes/sustainable_solutions_lab/Governance-for-a-Changing-Climate-Full-Report-UMB-SSL.pdf

Miami Riverside Center (MRC). “Miami Forever Bond Project to Mitigate Effects of Sea Level Rise.” 1 March 2019. https://www.miamigov.com/Notices/News-Media/Miami-Forever-Bond-Project-to-Mitigate-Effects-of-Sea-Level-Rise

Moran, Barbara. “New Zoning Codes Would Help Mitigate Boston Flood Risk, Report Says.” 28 September 2018. WBUR. https://www.wbur.org/news/2018/09/28/zoning-boston-flooding-concerns

Nathan, Aparna. “Climate is the Newest Gentrifying Force, and its Effects are Already Re-Shaping Cities.” 15 July 2019. Harvard University Science Policy Blog. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/climate-newest-gentrifying-force-effects-already-re-shaping-cities/

Newkirk, Vann R. II. “How to Build Hurricane-Proof Cities: In the age of climate change, the only way to protect the American coastal metropolis is to rethink it entirely.” 12 September 2017, The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/how-to-build-hurricane-proof-cities/539319/

O’Connell, Annie. “Impacts of Sea Level Rise.” February 2018. Neponset River Watershed Association. https://www.neponset.org/happenings/impacts-of-sea-level-rise/

Tolan, Casey. “High ground, high prices.” 3 March 2021. CNN.com. With Charts and Illustrations. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2021/03/us/climate-gentrification-cnnphotos-invs/

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

November 30, 2020
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WATER: Art and Environment

“Coral Reef” by photographer Jim Maragos, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image: wikimedia.

As coral reefs around the world suffer effects of climate change, BlueLab Preservation Society has responded to “combine art and science to address issues of sustainability,” according to art director Ximena Caminos. The result: an ‘art-ificial’ reef, designed by artists, for Miami Beach, to stretch seven miles along the coast. Some compare ReefLine to the High Line in Manhattan, but instead of walking shoes, one traverses the area with fins – both piscatorial and human. While the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has lost 50% of its coral, and reefs worldwide are similarly damaged, Florida hopes to re-establish marine life with the underwater art installation. Some have noted that Pantone’s color of the year in 2019 was “Living Coral.” It quickly became a hair color of choice. Can fashion and art play a role in raising environmental awareness?

“The Silent Evolution” in Cancún’s MUSA. Image: wikimedia.

“Ocean Siren,” an underwater sculpture for the Great Barrier Reef by conservationist artist Jason deCaires Taylor, was the first art to be included in Australia’s Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA). “Ocean Siren,” modeled after 12-year old Takoda Johnson, member of the Wulgurukaba People, changes color in response to varying ocean temperatures. Jason deCaires Taylor was also the architect for Mexico’s Museo Subacuático de Arte or Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA), with 500 statues between Cancún and Isla Mujeres, with the goal of protecting the Mesoamerican Reef, largest in the Western Hemisphere. The sculptures are made with a neutral PH cement surface to promote coral tissue growth. Florida’s ReefLine will feature works by artists Shigematsu, Ernesto Neto, and Agustina Woodgate.

Coral reefs: locations. Image: wikimedia.

While some environmentalists may question the practice of drawing more tourists to visit delicate coral reefs, others may find ways of raising awareness of the importance of marine life helpful. Perhaps the movement towards biodegradable beach flip-flops and other products replacing plastic endangering our oceans will accompany Florida’s initiative. What do you think about underwater art and artificial coral reefs?

Blue Lab Preservation Society. https://www.instagram.com/bluelab_preservation_society/?hl=en

DeCaires Taylor, Jason. “An underwater art museum, teeming with life.” TED Talk. VIDEO: https://www.ted.com/talks/jason_decaires_taylor_an_underwater_art_museum_teeming_with_life

Hutchinson, Carrie. “An underwater museum is opening inside the world’s most famous reef.” 29 April 2020. cnbc.com. Includes VIDEO. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/29/museum-of-underwater-art-to-open-inside-australia-great-barrier-reef.html

Palumbo, Jacqui. “An otherworldly underwater sculpture park will open in Miami.” 26 November 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/reef-line-miami-underwter-sculpture-park/index.html

September 4, 2020
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WATER: Beach Weekend? Biodegradable Flip Flops

“Pristine Beach on the Soline Peninsula,” 2011. Photographer Alex Proimos. Image: wikimedia.

Labor Day 2020: for many it’s a beach weekend in flip flops. Too often, beaches are strewn with broken or discarded flip flops that litter the sand and pollute the water. Enter an innovation: biodegradable flip flops from the University of California San Diego and the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.

“Algae in pond, North Carolina.” Photographer: Ildar Sagdejev, 2008. Wikimedia.

Formula: take pond algae, dehydrate to a paste, extract lipids, run through series of chemical changes to produce polymers, pour resulting material into a mold. Present product, manufactured in partnership with Algenesis Materials, is 52% biodegradable and 48% petroleum; by 2025, the flip flops will be 100% made from renewables. If you do leave your flip flops at the beach, they’ll biodegrade and compost in 18 weeks.

Biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in 2021. Image: wikimedia.

It’s the world’s most popular shoe. Over three billion people wear only flip flops, but the footwear lasts only for about two years and is then discarded, eventually entering the world’s waters. East African beaches see 90 tons of discarded flip flops each year. Three billion flip flops end up in waterways and oceans every year. UniqueEco recycles old flip flops into toys; Terracycle shreds them to use for manufacturing picnic benches.  DIY Dreaming uses old flips to make dog beds. Okabashi makes recyclable sandals, and Splaff and Sanuk use natural materials for footwear. But Algenesis may be the first to make flip flops from algae. The footwear industry generates $215 billion annually, and the plastic industry is worth $1.2 trillion. Algensis biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in January 2021.

California Center for Algae Biotechnology. https://algae.ucsd.edu/about/index.html

Elassar, Alaa. “Researchers create eco-friendly, biodegradable flip flops made of algae,” 23 August 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/23/us/uc-san-diego-algae-flip-flops-trnd-scn/index.html

Frerck, Robert. “Flip Flop Factos: Find Out.” Blue Ocean Network. https://blueocean.net/flip-flop-facts-find-out

Segran, Elizabeth. “How one lab is turning algae into flip-flops – and taking on Big Plastic in the process.” 8 August 2020. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90543908/how-one-lab-is-turning-algae-into-flip-flops-and-taking-on-big-plastic-in-the-process/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Take this quiz to calculate your WATER USE.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Sierra C. Lusk for research and inspiration.

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

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