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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

I’m a hypocrite.  I say that I care about the environment.  Say that I am worried about Climate Change.  And yet I still eat meat as often as possible.  Still drive a gas guzzling car.  Still fly around the world, expanding my carbon footprint every chance I get.  Shouldn’t I put my money where my mouth is though?  Finally take the action that I so desperately want others to take?

Well, tomorrow I get my chance.  As do you.  For tomorrow we strike.  That’s right.  For the very first time, everyone, not just school children, will be going on strike to put pressure on governments around the world to take significant action towards curbing Climate Change.

To date there are 5,225 events taking place in 156 countries on all 7 continents.  Hundreds of companies are giving their employees time off to participate.  Thousands of websites are shutting down as well.  All while millions of people participate in what will be the largest climate protest in history.  In fact, events are already underway in Australia as the festivities kick off.

It’s all part of the global movement started by autistic teenager Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish climate activist who recently made headlines by sailing across the Atlantic to deliver speeches to the U.N. and U.S. Congress.  Unafraid to tell it like it is to powerful adults Thunberg has kick-started a global movement culminating in this historic global strike on the eve of a three day U.N. Climate Summit that could very well be a significant turning point in human history.

With roughly ten years left before the planet is ruined irreversibly it’s now or never to take a stand. Something that we all should be doing, even if we were hypocrites up until now.  So hopefully these protests show our politicians in power just how dire this situation is.  And just how important it is to us that they take this threat seriously.   So, whoever you are, wherever you are, please join me in going on strike tomorrow.  For our future, our children’s future, and the future of the planet.  

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Is a global climate strike the Greatest Idea Ever?!

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#1,549 – Dark Power

There are a lot of things that we can harness power from.  The wind.  Flowing water.  The sun’s rays.  Not to mention splitting atoms and burning hydrocarbons.  But that hasn’t stopped one man, Electrical engineer Aaswath Raman from the University of California in Los Angeles, from thinking of yet another potential source of power: darkness.  That’s right.  It may soon be possible to harness electricity from a pitch black night sky.

According to the New York Times:

“His prototype device employs radiative cooling, the phenomenon that makes buildings and parks feel cooler than the surrounding air after sunset.  As Dr. Raman’s device releases heat, it does so unevenly, the top side cooling more than the bottom. It then converts the difference in heat into electricity.  In the paper, Dr. Raman described how the device, when connected to a voltage converter, was able to power a white LED.”

A neat parlor trick.  One that we’ve employed before.  As the Times explains, “Humans have taken advantage of this effect for millenniums. Six thousand years ago, people in what are now Iran and Afghanistan constructed enormous beehive-shaped structures called yakhchal, which used this passive cooling effect to create and store ice in the desert.”

And now we may be using it turn on light bulbs.  An ingenious approach in my opinion as we utilize a naturally occurring phenomenon that we’ve long known about to solve a very modern problem.  From an innovation standpoint it just doesn’t get much better than that.

However, as innovative as this approach is it’s worth noting that the new technology will only be able to generate a tiny amount of power.  A fraction of what a solar cell can produce.  But since solar cells don’t work at night this could be a very useful alternative in certain situations.

At the very least it once again proves to us the importance of thinking outside the box.  Of seeing a solution in a place that doesn’t normally let us see very well at all: the night sky.

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Is generating electricity from darkness the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The creation of plastic in 1907 was a revolutionary breakthrough that changed society in the decades to come.  To appreciate just how big this impact was just think about how many things there are in our daily lives from silverware to toys that are made from plastic.  Modern airplanes include plastic.  About half of your car is made from plastic as well.  Tennis rackets include it.  So too do stents given to heart attack patients.  They even make up most pairs of eye glasses.  Suffice it to say plastics are everywhere.

This may not seem like a big deal on the surface.  A versatile material that can be used in a variety of ways would typically be seen as a good thing.  But there is an environmental impact to our excessive plastic consumption habit.  Especially when you consider that it takes 400 years for a piece of plastic to degrade and that a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t even recycled! That according to a recent scientific study that National Geographic reported on.  A statistic so mind-boggling that Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society named it as their statistic of the year in 2018.

As the New York Post puts it:

“We’re surrounded by plastics for much of our lives. Plastics are cheap and easy to make, they’re often incredibly durable and they last just about forever. Unfortunately, those upsides are also terrible news for the environment, as plastic waste continues to pile up despite recycling efforts and public awareness campaigns.

One of the biggest problems with the popular material is that even recyclable plastics aren’t always able to be broken down and used again. In fact, less than one-third of recyclable plastic is repurposed after the recycling process, with the rest being tossed along with other non-recyclable waste…”

Thankfully, there is some good news on the way.  A new kind of plastic that may be 100% recyclable and reusable in a variety of ways.

According to ABC News, “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a plastic that can be recycled over and over again, and turned into new materials of any color, shape, or form. They are calling it polydiketoenamine or PDK, and this new plastic can be disassembled all the way down to the molecular level.”

This is a potential game-changing technology that could revolutionize society (once again) and help us to clean up an environment that has been ravished by human activity, in particular our penchant for plastics.  PDK may even find a home in the future as a filament for 3D printing, giving that fledgling technology the boost that it needs to finally go mainstream.

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Is PDK Plastic the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,461 – Solgami

I want to protect the environment by making eco-friendly choices but there’s only so much that I can do.  As an apartment dweller I can’t even install solar panels despite the fact that I live in the middle of the Arizona desert.  But thanks to Solgami and their new origami-style blinds all that may be about to change.

As Fast Company puts it, “Solar on windows isn’t a new idea, and others have created coatings that can go directly on glass. But the alternatives have been inefficient and darken rooms. ‘Largely, it’s reducing the quality of your light–why would you put something in your window that’s going to cut your light by 50% just to gain a small amount of electricity?’ says [architect Ben] Berwick. Solgami’s design, by contrast, can make an apartment brighter as it works. ‘It’s a bit of a reconnection to the natural setting,’ he says. ‘It’s making your apartment a better place to be.’”

It does that by reflecting light against the folds of the panel in such a way as to let more natural light inside.  An ingenious concept that could finally make it so that everyone, regardless of whether they own their own home or not, can participate in the solar revolution.  Helping to reduce our planet destroying reliance on fossil fuels once and for all.

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Is Solgami the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I’ve never understood climate change deniers.  Are you denying the fact that the climate is changing at all?  Or are you just denying the fact that humans may be responsible for the change?  Either way if there’s even a chance that danger could be looming on the horizon shouldn’t you be doing everything in your power to prevent it?

In other words instead of just reacting to the news that the climate may be changing, why not take preventative measures and protect the environment, at all times, not because you have to, but rather because doing so is just something that one does?  And yet we don’t do that.

Instead we spend more time worrying about fake calamities than we do an actual ecological disaster staring us in the face.  With Y2K it was like the sky was falling.  In 2012 we literally thought the Earth was going to suddenly stop spinning on its axis because the Mayan calendar was ending.  The Large Hadron Collider? A means to opening up a wormhole that will wipe out all life on Earth.  North Korea developing nuclear weapons? The end of life as we know it.  And yet when we’re told repeatedly, by actual scientists mind you and not crack pot conspiracy theorists, that we are in actual danger, we take what we have for granted and turn a blind eye to the very real danger that our ignorance is causing.

I just don’t get it.  The dinosaurs got wiped out by an asteroid that they never saw coming.  We’re faced with an ecological asteroid that we do see coming and could do something about and we still ignore it?  Sadly, that’s a luxury that we just don’t have anymore.

According to a recent U.N. report we only have 12 years to counteract the effects of Climate Change before a global catastrophe unfolds that will wind up killing hundreds of millions of people.  We’re only talking about twelve years.  Barely over a decade.  In other words, the planet is going to be ruined beyond repair at this rate within our lifetimes.  Not our children’s lifetimes. Not our grandchildren’s lifetimes.  But within our own lifetimes.  Forget about having a mid-life crisis.  We’re all going to have a life or death crisis facing us on a daily basis in the near future.

This isn’t something that we can ignore.  We’ve already tried that and it didn’t’ work.  This problem isn’t going to go away on its own.  No miracle cure is coming.  No technological breakthrough is going to clean up our mess for us.  There’s no great idea for me to write about.  The only way to save ourselves is to adapt widespread societal changes on a global scale.  And yet not everyone is on board with this plan.

As Grist puts it, “This report is a rallying cry to save the basic functioning of human civilization, shouted into the din of a news cycle dominated by a media that pretends not to understand, in a world led by anti-democratic politicians that pretend to be doing enough, aimed at a populace that pretends not to care.”

It’s a sad but true commentary on life in 2018.  We’re all either so caught up in our own lives or just totally desensitized to the news at this point to pay any attention to the bigger picture.  If we are doomed it’s a fate that we deserve.  One that we sealed years ago with our iPhone addictions, me first attitudes, and celebrity culture.  Relying on technology hasn’t saved us.  It’s rendered us impotent.  Blinded us to the only truth that really matters: that we were dying a slow death of our own doing.

So if there is a great idea to be gleamed from all this it’s this: put away your phones.  Stop refreshing your Facebook feed, scrolling through Instagram, or browsing YouTube.  Stop building your brand.  Discontinue your side hustle.  Put your life on hold and live like there’s no tomorrow because soon there won’t be.  Rack up credit card debt like nobody’s business.  Attack that bucket list of yours with rigorous vigor.  Do everything you’ve always wanted to but never had the chance.  Do it all.  Carpe Diem and all that.  Because soon the only thing you’ll be doing is fighting for survival Mad Max style.

As a glass half-full futurist with an optimistic view of the future it pains me to say that.  I want to believe that greener pastures lie ahead.  That scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements will save the day and usher in a new era of great prosperity.  That gene editing, driverless cars, 3-D printing, clean energy, quantum computers, the blockchain, virtual reality, and all the rest will make our lives better.  After all it’s a rhetoric that I’ve been repeating for over five years now, every time I’ve written a blog post.  But I’m not so sure anymore.  This report from the U.N. is dire.  As dire as dire gets.  And I haven’t seen it get much attention since it came out last week.  No emergency sessions in Congress.  No newspaper editorials.  No buzz whatsoever on social media or in the workplace.  Even if we’re not all going to ban together to save the planet you would think that we would at least do what anyone with a terminal diagnosis would do and just go out with a bang.  And yet nothing has changed.  We are literally ignoring our own death sentence, neither taking the drastic steps necessary to change it, nor accepting our fate.  I guess what they say is true.  Ignorance is bliss.

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12 years is all we have left.

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Everyone’s attention right now is focused on the Atlantic Ocean and rightfully so.  Hurricane Florence is no joke.  Larger than the state of North Carolina and wider than the difference from Boston to Philadelphia, this tremendously wet behemoth of a storm has a chance to be the most devastating domestic hurricane in recorded history.

But over in the Pacific Ocean looms an even larger threat.

As Smithsonian puts it:

“Halfway between Hawaii and California, an enormous mound of garbage measuring twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific, menacing the marine ecosystem and steadily accumulating man-made debris. This isle of plastic, better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGB), is made up of roughly 1.8 trillion pieces of detritus, and it shows no signs of breaking down anytime soon.”

Thankfully, there is a plan being put in place to try and counteract the GPGB.  The largest environmental endeavor in human history.

“…the Ocean Cleanup project—an ambitious $20 million campaign spearheaded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat—aims to stop the patch in its tracks by ensnaring offending debris in a 2,000-foot-long free-floating boom, or barrier. Slat and his team launched a test drive of their device on Saturday, Christina Caron reports for The New York Times, and if all goes well, they will move on to the GPGB by mid-October.”

People opposed to Slat’s plan claim this this giant floating barrier will be harmful to marine life.  But isn’t the alternative, doing nothing while garbage piles up, even worse for marine life and the entire ocean ecosystem as a whole?  I for one am in favor of Slat’s plan, or any plan for that matter, that aims to clean up the environment and make the world a better place.

Now if only we could do something about those damn hurricanes.

Is the Ocean Cleanup Project the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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Millions of people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water.  Chemist Omar Yaghi aims to change that through his incredible invention that is able to generate clean drinking water out of thin air.  Cactus style!

As TechCrunch reports:

“Yaghi is a chemist, and has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s eager both to absorb and release water.

It’s essentially a powder made of tiny crystals in which water molecules get caught as the temperature decreases. Then, when the temperature increases again, the water is released into the air again.

“[Omar] Yaghi demonstrated the process on a small scale last year, but now he and his team have published the results of a larger field test producing real-world amounts of water.

They put together a box about two feet per side with a layer of MOF on top that sits exposed to the air. Every night the temperature drops and the humidity rises, and water is trapped inside the MOF; in the morning, the sun’s heat drives the water from the powder, and it condenses on the box’s sides, kept cool by a sort of hat. The result of a night’s work: 3 ounces of water per pound of MOF used.

That’s not much more than a few sips, but improvements are already on the way. Currently the MOF uses zicronium, but an aluminum-based MOF, already being tested in the lab, will cost 99 percent less and produce twice as much water.

With the new powder and a handful of boxes, a person’s drinking needs are met without using any power or consumable material. Add a mechanism that harvests and stores the water and you’ve got yourself an off-grid potable water solution.”

This technology could be a real game-changer for those who live in arid climates or drought stricken areas.  Hopefully, the research will continue to progress and get to the point where it is able to produce vast quantities of water cheaply.

mofbox

Soon we’ll be able to generate water from thin air just like a cactus!

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