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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

In the future, as population rates continue to explode, it’s looking more and more likely that millions of people are going to be living in densely populated urban areas, so-called regional mega cities.  With so many people living in close proximity in industrialized areas, air quality is going to become a major issue.  Especially when you consider, as the World Health Organization points out, that air pollution already silently kills seven million people annually.

Our knee jerk reaction to hearing about air pollution in cities is to suggest that we just need to plant more trees.  But that’s not always feasible; there’s really isn’t anywhere to put all those trees.  What you really need to do is come up with a way to streamline the air cleaning process.  To make it as efficient as possible.  In short, to create a condensed version of an entire forest.

Thankfully the CityTree does that and more.  That’s because it’s not really a tree at all.  It’s a moss culture!  Created by Green City Solutions, a German company, the culture can provide the environmental benefit of 275 actual trees!  It doesn’t get any more streamlined than that!

According to CNN, “The huge surfaces of moss installed in each tree can remove dust, nitrogen dioxide and ozone gases from the air. The installation is autonomous and requires very little maintenance: solar panels provide electricity, while rainwater is collected into a reservoir and then pumped into the soil.  To monitor the health of the moss, the CityTree has sensors which measure soil humidity, temperature and water quality.”

Because moss have the largest leaf surface area of any plant they’re able to have a significantly larger impact than just a normal tree.  Put several of these installations up around your city and you’re basically good to go.  And when you consider that these CityTrees are aesthetically appealing, look like works of art, can come with benches for seating, and provide a place for advertising, there’s no reason not to install them.

So far, cities such as Oslo, Paris, Brussels and Hong Kong agree.  Hopefully, these “trees” will continue to catch on and make their way to a city near you.  “Moss instead of loss.”  Kind of has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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Is the CityTree the Greatest Idea Ever?

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During the summer months the amount of money that it requires to power your house increases exponentially.  For low income families in a warm weather climate such as Arizona that means faces a tough choice: air condition your home or put food in your bellies.  But what if it didn’t have to be that way?  What if your home could actually generate the energy that you needed?

That’s the promise of a new solar paint from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology capable of generating hydrogen fuel from sunlight and the moisture in the air.

According to Science Alert, this incredible breakthrough works by combining, “the titanium oxide already used in many wall paints with a new compound: synthetic molybdenum-sulphide. The latter acts a lot like the silica gel packaged with many consumer products to keep them free from damage by absorbing moisture.”

The paint can easily be applied to any existing surface, even a brick wall.  In fact, according to Futurism,“The paint could be used to cover areas that wouldn’t get enough sunlight to justify the placement of solar panels, maximizing the capability of any property to generate clean energy. Any surface that could be painted — a fence, a shed, a doghouse — could be transformed into an energy-producing structure.”

Best of all this paint would work in just about any climate whether they be damp or dry.  Even areas far removed from bodies of water would benefit from this technology so long as there is at least some water vapor in the air.

Unfortunately, it’ll be a few years before this paint is commercially viable.  But on the bright side low income families will have one less difficult choice to make when it is.

Is energy producing solar paint the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Yesterday I wrote about how President Trump’s ill-fated decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement was an exercise in futility since corporations and local governments are still going to adhere to the terms of the agreement while a new electric car battery technology makes fossil fuels obsolete anyway.

But that’s not the only good news in our on-going battle to save the planet for we may soon have a new way to generate an unprecedented amount of carbon neutral, clean energy.  So much energy, in fact, that it would be enough to cover 40% of the world’s energy needs!

According to Futurism:

“Researchers at Penn State have developed a new hybrid technology that merges the most effective pieces of existing methods for capturing energy created from differences in salt concentrations in water. This new blended process generates unprecedented amounts of electrical power in places where saltwater and freshwater meet.

Until now, the most successful and commonly used method for seizing the energy from salt concentration differentials has been pressure retarded osmosis (PRO). PRO selectively lets water through a semi-permeable membrane while holding salt back and creating osmotic pressure that moves turbines, generating power. However, the membranes tend to clog up, and the method is less useful with extremely salty water. Reverse electrodialysis (RED), solves some of these issues by transporting salt through its membranes rather than water, but it generates only small amounts of power.

The Penn State researchers solved the problems by creating an electrochemical flow cell that features both the RED and Capacitive mixing (CapMix) technologies. CapMix is a fairly new technique that draws energy from the voltage that is created when two electrodes are immersed in water whose salt concentration changes. While CapMix yields too little power to be viable by itself, marrying it to the RED technology increased energy production efficiency by more than four times compared to RED alone — attaining a higher level of energy production density than even the PRO method.”

In other words, all that you’d need to harness the awesome potential of this new technology is access to a coastline.  Something that wouldn’t be an issue here in America.  Better yet, if you combine the energy output of this technology with the estimated 25% of our energy needs that solar power could meet and that’s already 65% of the world’s energy accounted for.  Throw in wind power, traditional hydroelectric plants, electric cars, etc. and it’s not a stretch to imagine a world in the not too distant future that operates entirely without fossil fuels at all!  Take that Trump!

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Could 40% of the world’s energy needs be met by exploiting the differences in salt concentrations in water?

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Bridges and roads that repair themselves.  Thirsty concrete that absorbs rainwater to prevent flooding.  Bio-luminescent streets that light up at night as cars drive by.

Over the last several years, new materials, building techniques, and scientific know-how have allowed us to re-imagine what our infrastructure should look like.  Now we can add one more ingenious solution to that mix: roads made of recycled plastic.

According to Futurism:

“Engineer Toby McCartney wants to use recycled plastic instead of oil to repair some of the world’s 40 million kilometers (24.8 million miles) of road. The idea would solve more than one problem: poor road quality, the continued use of fossil fuels, and the waste plastic epidemic. His Scottish start-up, MacRebur, mixes waste plastic into asphalt to create roads that last longer and are less prone to getting potholes.”

I love this idea because it’s simple yet elegant, addressing several issues in one fell swoop, without having to invent a radical new process.  A proverbial killing two birds with one stone approach to innovation.

It makes me wonder if this cross-disciplinary approach (waste management and transportation) could lead to other fixes for global issues?  Could we address overpopulation and climate change at the same time?  The obesity epidemic and clean water shortages?  How many other problems could we solve by thinking outside the box, by changing our perspective, by using one problem to solve another?

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Is using plastic to make roads the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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Did you know that the reason why the Dinosaurs were so much bigger than modern day mammals and animals is that there used to be more oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and as a result of this everything that lived at that time was super-sized.  In the millions of years since Dinosaurs roamed the Earth life has obviously adapted to make due with less oxygen.  And in fact the amount of Oxygen on Earth has actually steadily decreased even further over the last few years.  However, the amount of the decline was so minimal that we haven’t noticed its effects yet.  But that day is coming.  Thanks to climate change it’s only a matter of time before oxygen levels drop to an unsafe level.  And when that happens it’ll be too late to say I told you so to all those climate change deniers since we’d all be dead.

Thankfully, we probably won’t have to worry about that thanks to the exploits of a high school student named Wyatt Pontius who, in addition to having a name that sounds like a character in a Clint Eastwood movie, has figured out a way to change the composition of leaves so that they produce more oxygen.  An innovation that he has dubbed “releaf”.  An innovation that could very well save the planet and every living thing on it.

According to Uproxx:

“The result of his work was that the leaf was able to produce about 375% more oxygen than a typical leaf. It’s a potentially world saving discovery as we face increasingly lowering amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere.  A recent study showed that at the rate that the oceans’ temperatures are rising, the photosynthesis of phytoplankton could be interrupted by 2100. This is a big deal. Phytoplankton produces two thirds of the world’s oxygen. If it stopped producing, we’d be looking at a mass extinction of life on Earth. Those modified leaves will become essential in a hurry.”

In addition to counteracting the effects of climate change the releaf might also be a boon to space travel considering that it will enable us to produce more oxygen using fewer resources.  A cost cutting measure that could let us travel further away from home and for longer stretches of time.  If we’re ever going to become a space faring species it’s probably going to be because of a series of tiny innovations like this one instead of just any one thing.

Considering its impact on saving life on Earth and helping us to establish life on other planets it’s suffice to say that the releaf may not just be one of the greatest ideas of 2017, but of any year.  Thank you Wyatt, for saving us all!

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Is releaf the Greatest Idea Ever?

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This past weekend I saw my first ever Cirque du Soleil show, a prequel to the movie Avatar – the box office bonanza that featured the inhabitants of Pandora fighting to defend their sacred lands from greedy Earthlings who wanted to mine it for the rare natural resource Unobtainium.  The movie’s storyline really resonated with me at the time and does so again now as we similarly fight for the survival of our own planet.  Not from an invading population but, rather, from the one that is already here.

Well, at least some of us are fighting.  Consider the startling contrast as armed forces attack protesters with mace, rubber bullets, and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures in Standing Rock, North Dakota, all in the name of protecting fossil fuel profits, just as Donald Trump, who is on record as saying that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, is set to take office and undo all the great strides that were made during the Obama administration.

CNN put this contrast into perspective when they reported the following:

“’The disaster that Donald Trump represents for the climate cannot be understated,’ Jamie Henn, a spokesman for 350.org, an environmental advocacy group, told CNN last week. ‘He is the only head of state in the world who is an all-out climate denier and he has the most radical, anti-environmental policies of anyone to ever assume the role of the presidency.’”

Now, more than ever, we need a strong willed President with steel resolve who will move Heaven and Earth in order to save the Earth.  Which I should point out, is the only planet so far, in an infinitely large Universe, that we know for sure is capable of supporting human life. However, instead of getting a champion for our cause we’re left having to defend ourselves against an Internet troll.  It shouldn’t have to be this hard.  Wanting to protect the planet should be part of our base programming.  Aren’t we designed for survival?  Doesn’t evolution favor traits that help us survive?  How is it possible then that we could be so willing to blatantly shoot ourselves in the foot?  To willfully destroy our only home.  To destroy ourselves from within.  Logically it doesn’t make any sense.

You know, what else doesn’t make sense?  Denying climate change, the idea that the actions of mankind are altering weather patterns and the climate as a whole.  Why does it matter if mankind is responsible or not?  If things are changing for the worse try to fix them regardless of whose fault it is.  And if you are that much in denial that there’s even any change occurring at all, then just stand aside and be indifferent while others waste their time trying to fix something that, according to you, isn’t even broken.  The only reason to actively oppose those who want to fight back against climate change is if you are an even more ardent protector of the Earth and believe that a geo-engineering effort to counteract climate change is actually going to make things worse.  But that’s never the case.  The only people who oppose climate change are those who don’t understand it. It’s the opposite of survival of the fittest.  It’s destruction by the dumb-witted.

It would seem then that we’re fighting an uphill battle that we’re destined to lose, especially as climate scientists suggest that we’ve already passed the point of no return in terms of global warming.  But all hope may not be lost.  That’s because a group of 21 young people and children have taken it upon themselves to sue the federal government for the right to a stable climate.  And they may just win.

As Slate reports:

“After a week that sent advocates of a habitable Earth reeling, new hope has emerged that could make way for substantial climate action in the near term—even during a Trump administration: The children and young adults suing the federal government for their right to a stable climate can now proceed to trial, an unprecedented move in the American legal system.  The path was cleared by a federal district court judge in Oregon who wrote an opinion preliminary finding that a stable climate is a fundamental constitutional right. In the groundbreaking decision, announced on Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled in favor of a group of 21 children and young adults in their suit against the federal government. In denying the government’s motion to dismiss, Aiken, based in Eugene, Oregon, opened a path for an eventual court-mandated, science-based plan to bring about sharp emissions reductions in the United States. The case, Juliana v. United States, will now go to trial starting sometime in 2017 and could prove to be a major civil rights suit, eventually finding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

While this may sound like the plot of a Legally Blonde sequel it is rooted in precedent.

As Fast Company reports:

“‘Neither this Congress or this administration are prepared to take the difficult steps to achieve the climate targets that science requires,’ says Philip Gregory, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. ‘Like the civil rights cases from the ’50s and ’60s when the school districts wouldn’t integrate the schools and Congress and the state legislatures wouldn’t pass legislation, children there turned to the courts. And here, these 21 kids turned to the courts because there really is no other place for them to go.'”

Will Juliana v. United States join Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, and The People vs. O.J. Simpson as one of the most influential court cases in U.S. history?  That remains to be seen.  But, if this suit is successful, it would, at the very least, be the greatest twist of irony of all time as the court ruling would force Donald Trump, a notoriously litigious bastard, to enact climate policies that fly in the face of everything that he allegedly believes in.

I for one, sincerely hope that it is successful because what we really need to do is get some momentum on our side in the fight against climate change.  To turn the tide in our favor before the tide comes in for good, permanently changing our coastal borders.  A court mandated ruling asserting our right to a vibrant eco-system could be the push that we need to fight back against the ignorance of climate change deniers and the general apathy of mostly everyone else.

Am I putting too much faith into our court system?  A system that has failed us before.  A system that has, in many cases, played favorites towards people from one socio-economic background or another.  A system that is far from being infallible.  Susceptible to bribery, and corruption like anything else.  A system that could be heavily influenced by Trump’s eventual appointments to the Supreme Court.  Probably.  But, when all us fails, faith is usually exactly what you turn to.

Court system, don’t fail me now!

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Is suing for the right to a stable climate the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I have a great memory.  So much so that I can even remember getting bathed in my kitchen sink as a baby.  But there’s one moment from my childhood that really stands out.  I was spending the day in someone else’s house, either my neighbor’s or my babysitter’s, I can’t remember which, when I became distraught over a musically inclined, educational Fisher Price toy that was malfunctioning.  My quick thinking babysitter/neighbor tried to distract me by taking me out into the front yard and asking me a very simple question: is the tree alive?  

That’s probably not the best question to ask a distraught seven year old but it changed my focus and got me thinking.  Was it alive?  According to my babysitter/neighbor it wasn’t.  It couldn’t talk or walk.  But my seven year old self wasn’t so convinced.  It seemed alive to me.  Seemed like there was more to it than meets the eye.  As far as I was concerned that tree had feelings and was capable of feeling pain.  Now close to thirty years later I finally have my confirmation.

That’s because a new study has shown that trees have evolved the ability to tell when they are being eaten by deer and can even launch defenses to ward off the attack.  If they weren’t “alive” they wouldn’t be able to do that.  They would just be passive victims.  Having the ability to defend themselves shows an advanced intelligence that we have yet to truly appreciate.

As I Fucking Love Science explains the saplings are able to launch, “a chemical defense against the marauding herbivores by producing astringent tannins that taste bad and put the creatures off. But the plant needs to know whether or not damage to its buds is indeed caused by a munching deer, or more benignly caused by other things such as wind.”

So what happens is that, “when a bud is damaged, the trees can sense the animal’s saliva in the wound. When it does, it triggers a response from the sapling, which produces a hormone known as salicylic acid, that in turn causes the plant to increase the concentration of tannins in that part of the plant. Not only that, but it also spurs the plant on to produce more growth hormones that cause the remaining buds to grow more vigorously, and make up for those that have been lost to the deer.”

Amazing.  Trees and all plants for that matter are really much more advanced than we give them credit for having evolved in lockstep with predators for thousands of years.  They may not talk the way we do but they can still communicate.  They may not walk the way we do but they can still move to put themselves in better positions such as when they bend towards a source of light.  Just because they don’t match the definition of what a living thing is doesn’t mean they’re not alive.  It just means that it’s time to re-write the definition.

Clearly there’s still so much that we don’t know about the plant life on this planet.  So many more mechanisms that are in place to ensure their survival that we have yet to uncover.  Hopefully, you’ll remember that the next time you’re tempted to rip a leaf off a tree or knock down a twig.  Even if you don’t have a memory as great as mine.

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If trees can tell the difference between getting eaten by a deer and getting swayed by the wind what else can they do?

 

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