Fishes in the Boston Common?

fish Boston is a beautiful city. It is rich with 400 years’ worth of history and culture. Toward the end this century, this historic city will be underwater. However, what is the cause? You guessed it, global warming. It is predicted that within a few decades, globally, oceans will increase somewhere between two and six feet. [*] For coastal cities like Boston, this means big trouble, or in other words: fishes swimming in the Boston Common. The photos below show how as little as 5ft and as much as 25 feet of water can affect the look of the Boston area. [*] Based on the past trends of consistent sea level rise in the Boston area, it is very possible that Boston will be under water sooner than we think. [*]

This picture shows what Harvard's Campus would look like with 5 feet in sea level rise.

This picture shows what Harvard’s Campus would look like with 5 feet in sea level rise. *

This picture shows what Harvard's Campus would look like with 25 feet in sea level rise.
This picture shows what Harvard’s Campus would look like with 25 feet in sea level rise.*
This picture shows the increasing trend of sea level rise in the Boston area.

This picture shows the increasing trend of sea level rise in the Boston area.*

Where’s the Evidence? (That it’s actually global warming) Global warming is the phenomenon in which the temperature of the earth is increasing. Global warming is caused by many factors, but primarily it is the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and deterioration of important atmospheric layers. It is back by strong evidence that human activities has contributed greatly to many of the factors that cause global warming.  Some human activities that contribute to the global warming crisis are pollution and the burning of fossil fuels.

This diagram shows how global warming works.

This diagram shows how global warming works.*

Having the temperature of the earth change has serious impacts on environment. This rapid change in climate temperature causes drastic weather conditions such extremely hot summers, heavy rainfall, and fridge winters. [*]  Additionally, an increase in global temperature causes the ice from the north and south poles to melt. When there is more ice melting, this leads to rises in sea levels because there is more water being released into the oceans. Rising sea levels means that in near future, cities like Boston will be partially underwater. Solutions Due to the serious threat of dramatic sea level rises, Boston has started to rethink ways to build infrastructure or modify existing structures. As of recently, the city has made it mandatory that departments consider sea level rise during planning decisions. [*]  Nonprofits like the Urban Land Institute want to turn Boston into the Amsterdam or Venice of North America by replacing streets with canals so water can flow through. [*]

This is a picture of what the new layout of Boston would like with canals in place. This a solution to the rising sea level problem.

This is a picture of what the new layout of Boston would like with canals in place. This is  a solution to the rising sea level problem. *

However, I think there is an easier and simpler solution; let’s stop global warming. Maybe instead of trying to build dams or canals, we should change our habits so that the world’s temperature does not continue to rise.  Tackling global warming as our main issue will save us money and heartache down the line. The only way that we can keep fishes out of the Boston Common is to change the way we interact with our world. The first step is to use less or more efficient forms of energy.

The Melting Ice Caps and How They Affect Us

There is plenty of evidence to confirm that the polar ice caps are indeed melting and that global warming is to blame. The most noticeable evidence is the fact that the ice caps have decreased drastically in size over the past 100 years or so. Figure 1 displays this visually.

Figure 1 from enviromatters.wikispaces.com

polar-ice-caps-melting

This poses an incredibly dangerous threat to polar bears and other inhabitants of arctic regions, as well as to the ecosystems of the biome. However, the ecosystem disruption in the ice caps is only one of many drastic repercussions of the melting ice caps.  An article published by the National Academy of Sciences’ Research Council lists two other majorly destructive consequences of this crisis.

Growing scientific research heavily suggests that changes in the arctic regions are leading to changes in the weather of the mid-latitudes. The increasingly warmer air in the arctic regions is leading to a greater persistence in abnormal weather conditions such as intense snow, intense heat, intense cold, intense rain, essentially any other extreme types of weather, including dangerous storms. “The basic idea is that a warmer Arctic plays games with the jet stream, the stream of air high above us in the stratosphere that carries our weather and that is driven by temperature contrasts between the mid and high latitudes,” writes Chris Mooney of the Washington Post. “If the Arctic warms faster than the mid latitudes do, then the jet stream could slow down, goes the theory. It could develop a more elongated and loopier path, leading to a persistence of particular weather conditions.” Figure 2 shows the elongated, loopy jet stream patterns.

Figure 2 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/16/the-arctic-is-unraveling-due-to-global-warming-and-the-consequences-will-be-global/

imrs.php

Another destructive side-effect of the meltdown of the ice caps is that it releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, thus increasing global warming. The ice and permafrost (frozen ground) in arctic regions contains massive stores of frozen carbon, “some 1,330 and 1,580 gigatons worth, and that may be a low end estimate,” says The Washington Post. How did carbon get inside the ice caps? The National Research Council explains that dead plants, which are essentially made of carbon, freeze and lock their carbon in place if the climate is cold, but decompose and release their carbon into the atmosphere in warmer climates. Should the ice caps melt and lose their freezing climate, “the volume of carbon emissions could be enough to set back worldwide efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning by adding an entire new source of greenhouse gases beyond the usual suspects, like fossil fuels and deforestation,” says the Washington Post.

Sources consulted:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/16/the-arctic-is-unraveling-due-to-global-warming-and-the-consequences-will-be-global/

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/PolarIce/polar_ice2.php

enviromatters.wikispaces.com

For the First Time in 40 Years… Economic Growth Hasn’t Lead to an Increase in CO2 Emissions.

On an average, people tend to commonly associate CO2 emissions with the economy. So, what I am trying to get at is that many people think that if there is a global economic growth, in correlation, we expect to see an increase int he CO2 emissions as well. However, for the first time in over 40 years, we are seeing that this is not the case. This my friends is amazing news for all of us who care about the environment. While this is great news, the question still remains; what has triggered this trend to finally changed? Well, there are several factors and the International Energy Agency has evaluated all of the reasons that they believe that there hasn’t been an increase, but rather a decrease in the CO2 emissions, even though there was an increase in economic growth.

China is the worlds largest CO2 emitter and it is also the country where a majority of the worlds industrial work takes place. Over the past two years, China has taken an initiative to reduce the amount of CO2 that they emit by shifting towards using renewable sources of energy, rather than using non-renewable sources of energy. In China’s case, they have led the world in the amount of solar installations with the hope of cleaning up the countries polluted air. In figure 1, you will see that by the end of 2015, China hopes to add as much as 15 gigawatts of solar energy, which will power around 16 million houses. They want to accomplish this task by installing cheap solar panels on top of commercial buildings, rather than just confiding panels in the rural areas.

Figure 1.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.07.23 PM

Additionally, the second factor that has attributed for there to be a decrease in the amount of energy used is the idea that awareness causes people to change their behaviors. People are greedy. Unfortunately,  this is the hard truth. If you tell them that they will save money by buying certain types of technology, they will be willing to do it. This has been happening all over the U.S. The more aware people become about the energy that they are using, the more willing they are to change their behaviors and their electronics. Over the past year, home energy efficiency has decreased drastically, causing there to be an overall decrease in energy. In figure 2, you will see that there is a decrease in the amount of energy in a per capita basis as well as a GDP basis. 

Figure 2.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.25.06 PM

The third, which can be overruled, but it is still just as important. The IEA has reported that one of the reasons there is a decrease in CO2 emissions is because transportation has become more efficient. Cars are now being made in order to be more efficient.

Now, the final reason that CO2 emissions have decreased, while the economy prospers, is due to the fact that there was a natural gas boom, due to fracking. Robert Starvins, a leading environmental economist said, “This has, in turn, led to significant increases in dispatch of gas-fired electricity generation, relative to dispatch of coal-fired generation, as well as increased investment in new gas-fired electric generation capacity, and cessation of investment in new coal generation in the United States.” 

Now, lets rejoice. While the world still needs to make huge strides to bettering the environmental conditions, the progress we are making is incredible. China, the worlds leading CO2 emitter has come to its senses and so is the rest of the world.

Nuclear Power Plants

Do you know an alternative energy source that when functioning and used correctly is a great alternative to solving our energy crisis? However does that energy source have multiple side effects such as explosiveness, radiation, and death? Yes, incase you have not figured out, I am writing to all of you about nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants are one of the many alternatives that the Earth can use to generate clean energy without doing much harm to the environment.

However, nuclear power plants, although a great alternative energy source can be dangerous and deadly. In 1986, in Ukraine, the nuclear power plant known as Chernobyl exploded. Towards the end of the night, Reactor 4 was preparing for a routine test to supply energy to the main power lines. Due to mishandling by a worker, the test did not go as planned and the reactor exploded. Immediately following the accident, over 100,000 people were evacuated within the surrounding areas, due to the high amounts of radiation.

ukraine map

Along with many health effects caused by the explosion, there were many environmental effects. Many of the surrounding areas were evacuated due to the excess radiation. Along with the health impacts there were many agricultural impacts.Many agricultural products, meats, and milks were contaminated in areas around Chernobyl including the countries Belarus, Russia, and many other places. However, years after the accident, the radiation levels in agricultural plants and animals began to decrease due to the decay. Since the accident, according to the article,about 4000 cases of thyroid cancer had been diagnosed in exposed children by 2000. That study took place many years after the accident. What would the number be at now? Would it continue to increase or would it plateau out?

path_of_exposure

Although nuclear energy is a good alternative energy source that would help solve the Earth’s downward spiral. Is it really worth it? I don’t think so. What if one day you had to evacuate your home and only bring things you could carry on your back? That is the risk that you run whenever you generate energy from such a dangerous energy source.

 

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Safety-and-Security/Safety-of-Plants/Chernobyl-Accident/

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/VOA_Markosian_-_Chernobyl02.jpg

Wireless Energy Transmissions: Making the Seemingly Impossible Possible

 In 1901, Nikola Tesla began the creation of the Wardenclyffe, a “power tower”, foreseen to one day be able transfer energy wirelessly in all directions around it. But, soon after this project had begun it was scrapped, and the tower with it, due to low funding and lack of investors.

Fig. 1 Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower

One hundred and fourteen years later, scientists have finally taken Tesla’s work to the next step, and have succeeded in transmitting energy wirelessly. JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or the Japanese equivalent of NASA) has harnessed the power of microwaves, directed this power at pinpoint accuracy at a small target, and delivered 1.9 kilowatts of power 55 meters away for the very first time, no wires attached. Scientists aim to use this technology for the generation of solar power in outer space. But 55 meters is miniscule compared to the 22,300 miles away that scientists aim to place these solar stations. Yet, this could be a major breakthrough in renewable energy: humans may one day be able to harness a virtually undisturbable, inexhaustible source of energy. In space, there is never a time of day or type of weather that is unfit for the capture of solar rays. And we still have billion years, give or take a few, until our sun begins to die. 

Fig 2. What the solar panels in space may end up looking like

Technology like this has existed previous, but in different forms. First of all, typically, energy, or in it’s usable form, electricity, is transmitted via power or distribution lines or wires. In addition to wired transfer, there are also two different types of wireless energy transmission: near-field or non radiative, and far-field or radiative. Near-field is somewhat newly conventionalized, but nonetheless relatively commonly used for charging devices, such as phones, electric toothbrushes, and cardiac pacemakers. You may have see this method in your local technology store as a mat that you can place your phone on to wirelessly charge.

Fig. 3 An example of near-field non-radiative technology: the wireless charging mat

The type of wireless energy conveyance that JAXA has just now harnessed is far-field, or radiative transmission. Also known as “power beaming”, radiative transmission occurs via beams of electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves or laser beams. The solar space stations would use the microwave technique to beam precisely pinpointed streams of energy down to earth.

Fig. 4 Another idea of what the wireless space solar panels may look like

Though inexhaustible radiative wireless energy seems to be faultless, as with any new innovation there are challenges as well as possible flaws. How will JAXA move this gigantic solar system into space? How will they choose to construct it? Maintain it? I assume that this process of but moving from the earth into space, and position will take years. And, what will it look like from earth? Will we be able to see it?

Will it be efficient, more so than existing solar panels? Though they will certainly generate a massive increase in amount, I hypothesize that there will be energy lost along the way, as 22,300 miles is an extremely long distance. And if the beam is concentrated and powered high enough not to be inefficient, what will become of the people, animals or objects that get in it’s way? After reading comments on what informed readers believe will occur, I have come to the conclusion that, because this beam will be incredibly hot, it could cook or vaporize anything in it’s way. Though a JAXA spokesman has said that this beam will not fry a bird or airplane in it’s path due to low-energy density, it is hard to make solid conclusions when this method has only been tested in the range of 55 meters and not yet an exponentially larger scale.

Fig. 5 A third layout of how these panels may be aligned, and how they function

The station itself is bound to cost millions, if not billions of dollars, which will either drive taxes or the cost of energy itself up. In addition, JAXA has been working on this Space Solar Power Systems idea for years, and has only made it to the first, vital step: transmission itself, and for only a short distance. A representative from the Agency has stated that it could take decades before the practical application of the technology becomes a reality. News providers and science enthusiasts have speculated no earlier than the year 2030 or 40.

Fig. 6 A group of JAXA Scientists

Though wirelessly transmitted energy will not be an innovation of the near future, I believe that when the Space Solar Power System is implemented, and the method is working, that it will change the way we think of energy altogether. In fifteen years, nonrenewable resources will begin to dwindle. There will be unrest, and slowly our beautiful earth will begin to be saturated with turbines and panels, streaking across the landscape. An alternate option will be desired, if not necessary. And what better option than putting these energy collectors outside of our world entirely, and making them infinite? It is unavoidable to state that wireless solar space energy could very well be our future. And if so, it will certainly be a bright one.

From Cotton Field to Vagina to Landfill: The Story of Tampons and Other Sanitary Products

Wait, My Menstrual Cycle Is Contributing to Environmental Degradation?

I know this not a topic that everyone wants to talk about. However, it has been a fact of life since the beginning of time. The average woman menstruates for 38 years in her lifetime. Unfortunately, in today’s world, 38 years’ worth of menstrual cycles translates into a lot of waste and energy. To be exact, there is approximately 62,415 pounds of sanitary products that end up in landfills[1]. Not to mention the countless tons of fuel that goes into producing these necessities. The truth of the matter is that sanitary items are one of the most unsustainable used products. In North America, over 20 billion pads and tampons are only used once before they are tossed. [2] But how exactly do sanitary items hurt our environment?

How the Waste Affects the Environment

 Cotton

Since most pads and tampons are made up of conventionally produced cotton, there has already been damage done before it even reaches the store self. Conventional cotton farmers usually treat the cotton with toxic pesticides such as aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan[3]. These chemicals are harmful to the people working with them and wildlife. Once sprayed, these toxins often move through the air to other nearby communities contaminating water sources, killing soil micro-organisms, bees, and other beneficial insects.[4]

This image displays all of the toxic chemicals that can be found in pads.

This image displays all of the toxic chemicals that can be found in pads.

Also, most of the cotton is then bleached with chlorine gas.[5] Once the cotton bleached chlorine enters a landfill, it becomes deadly to organisms living in water and the soil.[6] Another harmful chemical found in most sanitary products is called dioxin. Dioxin is a carcinogen that over time accumulates in the food chain. Within an organism it can trigger biological effects such as hormonal disturbances and alterations in cell functions[7] as well as adding to the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and liver damage in humans.[8]

Plastic

It’s not only the cotton that’s harmful, but it is also the plastic applicators and the plastic wrapping. The manufacturing process of producing these disposables consumes a lot of energy[9] and nonrenewable resources which contributes to global warming. Most disposable pads and tampons are made from 90 percent plastic derived from crude oil.[10] When crude oil based plastics reenter the environment it releases large amounts of toxic pollutants which ultimately leads to devastating damage to wildlife and the natural landscape.[11] Combined with other super absorbent materials, the manufacture of sanitary items releases greenhouse gases: nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide which are causing our planet to heat up.[12]

Alternatives

I too was shocked to realize that not only are these feminine products not good for the environment, but they are also harmful to my own health. Fortunately, there are healthier and eco friendlier alternatives. Natracare is a company that produces organic chemical-free pads and tampon. These products are more eco-friendly because they are bio degradable and do less damage to the environment since they are bleached without harsh chemicals or sprayed with pesticides.[13]

However, the best alternatives are menstrual cups or reusable pads which have life uses of 15 years. Products such as the Keeper menstrual cup claims those 40 years’ worth of disposables can easily be converted into as few as four menstrual cups![14] Similar to The Keeper, Lunapads claim to divert more than 1 million disposable pads and tampons from landfills every month. Over the course of one year, that is more than 12 million less feminine products contributing to environmental issues. [15]

This image shows how 4 menstrual cups can replace a truck load's worth of sanitary waste.

This image shows how 4 menstrual cups can replace a truck load’s worth of sanitary waste.

Bringing Beauty back into Green

It is projected that by 2088, the world will run out of fossil fuels. We could even deplete our oil by 2040, or our natural gas by 2060. This may seem inconceivable, but taking into account the rate that we are guzzling energy, and the fact that this rate is constantly increasing may means that our lights will go out too soon. But do not fear! Renewable energy is forthcoming. There will never be a day when the sun is not shining, or the wind is not blowing, or at least, not in the near, foreseeable future. Renewable energy has minute if any emissions that contribute to global warming, improves public health and the environment, and is inexhaustible. Yet today, the world still uses 81% fossil fuels, with 34% oil, 21% natural gas, and 26% coal/peat. All the renewable energy used in the entire world is less than even one of these resources, at only 13% usage. The advantages of using renewable resources are many, and for a better future, a change needs to be made. So why is it that we still use so much nonrenewable energy?

The world's energy consumption by resource

Fig. 1: The world’s energy consumption by resource

     There are multiple reasons. First, these innovations are pricey. The average home solar system costs a little over $10,000. It’s hard to justify the installation of solar panels, which includes paperwork, construction, and a whole load of hassle, to lower your energy bill in the long run, when you oil bill is already only a few hundred dollars per month. The other downside to renewable energy is that it can be an eyesore. There have been countless complaints from angry citizens who believe that wind turbines have ruined their community’s scenic landscapes.  One man commented his on experience with the installation of turbines, stating “One of the most troublesome problems with the proliferation of industrial wind projects in Maine is their encroachment on the “treasures” of the state that we have purchased to protect for future generations. […] We have leveraged with these funds millions of dollars more from other sources to preserve places like the Mahoosuc Range, Rumford Whitecap, Bald & Speckled Mt, Tumbledown & Jackson Mt., and Schoodic Mt.  All these wonderful places are being surrounded by wind turbines.”

Fig. 2: Wind turbines on a scenic landscape

This problem with wind turbines is even plaguing Scotland, with the Daily Mail reporting that “They are famous Scottish landmarks which have withstood wars, weather and centuries of change – but they could not escape the Scottish Government’s green agenda.”  And I agree: these turbines placed around beautiful mountain ranges, historic sites, and rolling hills are certainly an ugly blot on the landscape.

Fig. 3: The Daily mail comments “The View? Gone with the Wind”

Fig. 4: There are even plans of building turbines “taller than the London eye” surrounding Loch Ness

This leads people to despise the idea of renewable energy. Eventually, the turbines will be disposed of due to unhappiness of the people. This only digs the world deeper into the hole it’s already dug much into: we need renewable energy to be used more, yet it’s becoming disliked, so it’s not. But a new option is emerging, something that blows all other ideas for clean energy implementation out of the water. What if, instead of attacking the world’s energy problem with boring, ugly white turbines, or a black, brooding expanse of solar panels, people were to approach this problem from a different angle? Instead of only productivity, why not combine productivity and beauty to create an efficient masterpiece?

 Yes, there is a solution!

Innovative companies are turning ugly wind turbines into something beautiful. They are, in essence, taking the meaning of the word “green” literally. The first of these companies is NewWind, based in France. NewWind has created an artificial Wind Tree, which uses tiny leaf-shaped turbines to harness the power of the wind. They can utilize anything from the smallest breeze to a giant gust of wind. They are completely silent, as well as modern, sleek, and pleasant to view.

Fig. 5: French people observing the Wind Tree

They produce 3.1 kwh of energy.  Though they are not quite as efficient as your typical turbines, which produce anywhere between 5-10 kwh or more, nonetheless, they have been praised and lauded by countless websites and magazines. They are currently are being used in Brittany, France and are set to be installed at the Place de la Concorde in Paris in March, 2015. In my opinion, they are most certainly energy made beautiful.

Vid. 1: Above is a short video showing the Wind Trees in action

Another emerging invention is the Power Flower created by NL Architects.  The biggest advantage of this power flower is that it minimizes space needed to function. Instead of a huge turbine, it’s a thin, lean build that utilizes vertical turbines for maximum space-saving.

Fig. 6: Wind turbines in comparison to Power Flowers

Just like the Wind Tree, it is basically silent and can absorb wind that blows form any direction. Though there are many plans for the Power Flowers to become domestic energy solutions, there have not been many installed just yet. But, the plans look incredibly promising. This is yet another example of a minimalistic, clean, attractive build that will certainly be admired by customers.

Fig. 7: A plan showing how the Power Flowers could be seamlessly integrated into the landscape.

Lastly, the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is an example of an already functioning innovation that has smoothly merged into Singaporean culture. There are many words to describe the Gardens by the Bay, but the first that come to mind are awe-inspiring, breathtaking, and incredible. They are unbelievable feats of architecture, and look like they have popped out of a futuristic movie. They do not make people turn away, but rather, are an attraction that draw citizens and tourists alike near.

Fig 8: A beautiful shot of the Gardens by the Bay

But these Gardens are more than beautiful. As well as spectacular, they are also incredibly efficient. The trees are layered in solar panels, act as cooling ducts for nearby conservatories, collect rainwater, and de-humidify air before this cooling.

Fig 9: The Trees up close

Singapore is filled with high rises, skyscrapers, and a dense city landscape. Their initiative should be one that is followed by cities around the world: to transform their community into a greener place, both physically and energy-wise.

The world is transforming into a viridescent place, and a more beautiful one, too. I believe these three projects, the Wind Trees, Power Flowers, and Gardens by the Bay, will motivate people to become more excited about energy efficiency, rather than despising of it. They will look forward to the beautiful installations, and benefit from the clean energy that they produce. It was once believed that the stark white wind turbine, or black expanse of solar panels was the future, but I believe that real future is the combination of beautiful architecture and renewable energy.