Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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The Arctic Basin: Warming Faster than the Planet in its Entirety

Arctic Ocean

Melting of the Arctic Sea Ice

“The arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore
June 8, 2018—–The Arctic Basin consists of the Arctic Sea and the surrounding land. The climate of the basin is warming faster than any other area of Earth’s surface. Air temperature over the arctic has increased an average of nearly three degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit) over the last century. This is almost double that of the global average.

The Energy Exchange in Change of State Between Ice and Water

One very important feature of the energy balance distinguishes the Arctic Basin. Over 95% of the earth’s surface, the major change in the state of water in the environment is between liquid and gas. This entails evaporation and condensation. In the Arctic it is between solid and liquid. There is an energy exchange of about 80 calories per gram between solid and liquid. For the rest of the earth the energy exchange is much higher. The energy exchange between liquid and gas is 590 calories per gram. This is nearly seven times that of ice and water.

The implication of this is that melting or freezing takes place with relative small changes in heat added or heat lost in the environment!

The energy exchange in melting artic

Melting of the Arctic

Energy Exchange in the Tundra

Surrounding the Arctic sea is a grassland, generally known as the tundra. Such a grassland is found primarily only in the Northern Hemisphere. The southern margin of the tundra is delimited by the polar margin of a coniferous forest. Specific regions that contain tundra are the northern coast of North America, Iceland, Spitsbergen, coastal Greenland, and the Arctic borderlands of Eurasia.

A significant feature of the tundra is permafrost. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. Extensive area of land in the basin are covered with it. Permafrost can vary from centimeters to many meters thick.

Ice and snow are highly reflective of solar radiation. However, in the summer months some of the solar radiation melts the permafrost. The surface layer of permafrost thaws leaving the deeper layer frozen. The result is that lakes and ponds are a characteristic of the tundra. Once the permafrost melts at the surface, the wet ground absorbs much more radiation and the thawing increases. However, except on the margins of the permafrost, there remains frozen ground beneath the surface.

How deep the permafrost melts will vary. The point is that once the surface thaws the solar energy that is absorbed goes up substantially. This in turn increases the rate of the thawing of the permafrost. As the earth’s atmosphere slowly warms this process is being accelerated.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Energy Exchange in the Arctic Sea

The Arctic Sea is a part of the world ocean that is frozen much of the year but increasingly is open during the summer months. The season when melting occurs has increased by three weeks since records began. At present, even in the summer, there is a large area that remains frozen. As the atmosphere slowly warms more of the ice cover melts. Open water absorbs much more radiation than the ice and this increases the temperature of the water which then increases melting of the ice. As a result, over recent decades, the sea ice has been thinning or melting entirely over large areas. Just as on land the conversion from sea ice to open water is increasing at an increasing rate.

Climate change

The rapidly melting artic

In summary, the arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the amount of energy it takes to change the state of water between solid and liquid is much less than it takes to change the state between liquid to gas. There is thus a net gain in heat that is proportionately higher than that of the rest of the planet. As the summer season increases in length more heat is absorbed in the environment adding to the general global warming!

Warming of the Arctic

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Garden the Sustainable Way

Organic gardening

Gardening sustainably produces healthier food.

Life on earth is incredibly interdependent!

By Linn Smith
May 30, 2018—-Springtime! It’s time to plant the garden and flowerbeds. Here are a few tips for gardening sustainably, without destroying or putting toxic substances into the soil. Instead, sustainable methods provide nourishment to the soil and plants.

Go Organic

In 1987 a United Nations report defined sustainability as, “Practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is what our Planet Earth Weekly site is all about! For years now we have been writing, providing ideas and actions you can take to do just that! Leave a healthy planet for future generations!

Here are a few tips. First, compost. Look around you. Nature naturally decomposes living matter back into the soil, providing humus, decomposing leaves and plant life with microorganisms. Humus helps plants absorb nutrients and combat diseases.

At our house composting means putting otherwise wasted food parts in a steal bowl by the sink, which eventually makes its way to a fenced in compost pile near the garden. Everything organic can be put back into the soil, an environmentally healthier method than putting the waste in a plastic bag, sending it to the dump where it will stays for years. This is a year around endeavor, where the compost eventually makes its way to the flower and garden beds. It is worked into the soil in the springtime. When plants die in the fall, throw them back onto your compost pile—a completed sustainable cycle!

Build Trellises

Another tip, build trellises with fallen branches. Below are a few ideas.

Organic garden

Garden Sustainably

Sustainable gardening

Trellis made from tree branches

Living Sustainably

Be creative

Mulching the Garden

Mulch! It saves on water, and when you mulch sustainably using leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust or compost, you also enrich the soil. Make sure you weed before you lay down the mulch, and also provide a thick layer of mulch, usually 2-6 inches, depending on whether your garden is in partial shade or full sun. Also, if using sawdust, you may want to fertilize first with blood meal, a high nitrogen product.

rainbarrel

Rain barrel to harvest roof water

Rain Barrel

Next, get a rain barrel. You can save on your water bill by recycling rain from your roof onto your garden. In Colorado rain barrels were illegal until several years ago because of water rights. ( See https://planetearth5.com/2017/06/23/solar-uses-in-the-west-monitoring-the-irrigation-ditch/ for further explanation of water rights). Several states, such as Nevada, still have laws against it, so check your state policies before investing in a rain barrel.

Heirloom Seeds

Last, plant heirloom seeds. They are likely to produce more nutritious and flavorful veges and they are open pollinated so you can save them to plant next year. Seeds from plants that are cross pollinated hybrids don’t do well when the seeds are saved from year to year. When you save heirloom seeds you’re saving from plants that have thrived in your garden the year before, so most likely will do well the next year.

sustainable garden

Create natural arches to your garden

As Jayne Poynter stated after spending two years in Biosphere 2, “On a day to day basis I was very aware that Biosphere 2, with the plants, the algae, were providing me with my oxygen and I was providing them with their carbon dioxide. It was incredibly interdependent. It’s like that on Planet Earth, but it’s so big you don’t realize it, or think about it.” https://planetearth5.com/?s=biosphere+2

Keep the cycle going!


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Climate Change and Human Population Growth Precipitated the Pleistocene Mass Extinction

climate change and species extinction

Climate change and extinction of species

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception!”

By John J. Hidore

May 19, 2018—-Changes in climate can and do result in the elimination of species of plants and animals. Evolutionary adaptation and ecological equilibrium may not take place as rapidly as the climate changes. Adaptation by plant and animal species to environmental change may take years, centuries or thousands of years.

Different species respond at different rates and in different forms to climate change. Plants are always producing hybrids and individuals with mutations. In any plant species, there are those individuals better suited to the extremes of the range of the plant. These individuals may thrive under changing conditions while the majority perish. In this manner, the optimum conditions for the species changes to those of the new environment. Animals may also come under more and more stress with changing environmental condition and some species become extinct.

Mass extinction and climate change

Mass extinction throughout time

The Paleozoic/Mesozoic Mass Extinction

At intervals through geologic time, events have taken place that resulted in the demise of many if not most living species. Extreme cases are called extinctions or mass extinctions. A current definition of a mass extinction is a widespread and unusually rapid decrease in the number of species of plants or animals. There have been at least 13 mass extinctions since life became abundant on the planet. As a result of these mass extinctions 99 percent of all species that have existed on the planet no longer exist.

The most extensive mass extinction of all time happened at the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. Ninety percent of all living species died out and very drastic changes took place in the fauna of the planet with a major collapse of marine fauna, especially those living in shallow water on the continental shelves.

Among the organisms that perished were the trilobites. Trilobites were one of the dominant organisms of the seas. They survived the previous two extinctions but couldn’t withstand the changes that mark this period in earth’s history. While many land species disappeared, there was no parallel to the mass extinction of marine animals. The changes were so drastic that the life of the following Mesozoic Era was quite different from that of the Paleozoic Era.

climate change and mass extinction

Survival or mass extinction

The Pleistocene Mass Extinction was a Global Event

In the recent history of the earth there have been two periods of accelerated extinction of biota during which the extinction rates were greater than evolutionary causes would predict. These two periods are the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the modern period.

The Pleistocene extinction, took place over a period of a few thousand years, at the end of the last glacial advance (l8,000 to 8000 BCE). In a relatively short period of time, whether measured in either geologic time, evolutionary time or in terms of human history on earth, a large number of species of mammals and birds disappeared without being replaced. The period of greatest species loss was from 13,000 to 8000 BCE. During this time there was a rapid warming of the planet. Especially impacted species were the larger animals weighing more than 40 kg (88 lbs)The spacing of the extinctions over several thousand years makes it difficult to ascribe to climate events alone. Furthermore, most of the extinct animals were large enough to be conspicuous and edible.

The rate of extinction varied from place to place and through time. The rate of extinction was lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where modern humans coexisted with the large animals the longest. The rate of extinction increased as distance from the African region increased. The highest rate of extinction occurred in South America.

mass extinction of species

Climate change and mass extinction

To some extent the rate of extinction paralleled the spread of modern humans. It was long believed that large mammals were too powerful for humans to hunt. Perhaps this was true for the individual hunter with spear or bow and arrow, but when hunters went out in groups, it is quite possible they could have been very successful hunters of large animals, even using only simple tools.

In Africa, pygmies hunted elephants with primitive tools. The Plains Indians of North America demonstrated they could successfully hunt large animals with primitive weapons. Herds of animals were driven off cliffs or into water by the use of fire and were either subsequently destroyed in the fall or drowned, or at least made far more vulnerable to attack. Modern humans became more sophisticated hunters as they spread from their place of origin in Africa. Places that were isolated from human migration for a longer period of time, such as some islands, suffered less species loss.

The Mass Extinction in North America

The largest North American mammals were hardest hit. Seventy percent of existing species became extinct. Horses and camels, which had evolved in the New World, became extinct on this continent, as did mammoths and mastodons, which had migrated into the New World over the once dry land of the Bering Strait. The ground sloth, saber toothed tiger, dire wolf, giant buffalo, antelope, and the giant beaver also disappeared, and yet there was no concomitant loss of small mammals, plants or aquatic organisms.

The spread of the human species and the state of the cultural development at the end of the Pleistocene suggests that humans were a major factor in this accelerated extinction. A surprising number of the fossilized bones of extinct animals and birds were discovered associated with charcoal and stone tools, such as arrowheads or spear points. Some of the sharpened tools were still embedded in the bones. Humans appeared in North America rather suddenly from Asia, occupied the continent, and began hunting animals that had never had a chance to adapt to this special type of predator.

The most recent extinction is that taking place today. How severe it will be is yet to be determined.

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Climate change and mass extinction


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Belize: Creating Healthy Coral Reefs

coral reef

Flying into Belize

“Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef.”

By Linn Smith
May 13, 2018—–My daughter recently returned from Belize where she snorkeled among the fish of the Belize Barrier Reef, which runs along the coast for 190 miles. It’s part of the Mesoamerican Barrier reef, which is continuous from Cancun to Honduras… 560 miles. Belize has passed an ordinance prohibiting snorkelers from wearing sunscreen, but this tiny country is doing so much more to ensure the health of their reef and reefs around the world.

Bleaching of a Coral Reef

Coral reefs help protect our shorelines. They also provide food for many species of fish, which, in turn, provides food for the human population. Fishing is a major part of the economy in Belize, providing jobs, recreation and tourism. 

Coral reefs cover less than 1% of our ocean floor but support more than 25% of marine life. Due to global warming, hurricanes, diseases, overfishing, and the warming and acidification of the seas, coral bleaching is happening 4 times the rate of bleaching 40 years ago. Bleaching of a reef looks just like what the word bleaching implies…the reef turns white!

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

According to Wikipedia corals are, “A colony of genetically identical polyps, each polyp being a sac-like animal only a few millimeters in diameter, with a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.”

Corals get their color from the tiny algae that live on them, providing food for marine life. When it gets too hot or the corals get diseased or stressed, they dispel the algae, which is known as bleaching. Bleached corals are more vulnerable to diseases, which spread to surrounding healthy corals and makes it difficult for the reef to recover.

Fragments of Hope

A nonprofit organization, Fragments of Hope, is restoring the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef through transplanting coral from coral nurseries. Lisa Carne, a Marine Biologist, visited Belize after a devastating hurricane in 2001. She noticed fragments of living coral from the reef floating in the sea and asked herself if these could somehow be transplanted back onto the reef. After moving to Belize, Lisa received a research grant to study coral transplanting, thus the creation of Fragments of Hope.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

Fragments of Hope has transplanted almost 100,000, more temperature tolerant, coral fragments along the Mesoamerican Reef. With constant documentation and observation, only 7 of the the original 19 Elkhorn fragments transplanted in 2006 were lost. Not only are 12 of the original still surviving, they have also created satellite colonies! Fragments of Hope has created 28 gene bank nurseries of threatened coral species as of 2018.

Fragments of Hope

Restoring our reefs through attaching healthy coral.

Coral Nurseries

Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef. A rope method uses a long strand of rope strung between a steel frame which is buried on the bottom of the sea floor. The rope is twisted slightly apart to insert the corals between the rope strands. When the coral is mature the entire strand of rope is attached to the bleached-out reef.
Several other methods use a cement mixture to attach fragments of coral to the reef or transplant coral plugs into the reef. The average growing time to create a healthy transplant is about a year.

Fragments of Hope has successfully trained 30 women for the diver roles over the past several years, a role that has previously been dominated by males. Women who successfully train can earn 3 times the minimum wage of Belize.

Fragments of Hope

Creating healthy coral reefs

United Nations Lighthouse Awards

Fragments of Hope has also expanded to other countries, including Jamaica, Colombia and St. Barth. Fragments of Hope offers training for others through manuals, videos and a precise curriculum to guide them towards success in saving the world’s coral reefs.

Fragments of Hope is a 2017 winner of the Lighthouse Awards, an award given by the United Nations to people and organizations that, “Shine a light on the activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a resilient, innovative and transformative solutions that address climate change, the economy and social and environmental challenges. The winners also address some of the most practical and replicable examples of what people are doing to tackle climate change.” The United Nations has been recognizing winners since 2011. There were 19 winners in 2017.

Anyone leading a results-driven project that is successfully addressing climate change may apply for the Lighthouse Momentum for Change Award. The next applications will be taken between February-April 2019. More information is at http://www.momentum.unfccc.in 

Also the Coral Reef Replenishment Manual can be downloaded from Google

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The Impact of Fossil Fuels on our Planet

“The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect.”

By Linn Smith
April 21, 2018—Most people by now know the impact of fossil fuels on our environment. Ten years ago this wasn’t true, but today it’s common knowledge. Even with this knowledge and scientific data to confirm it, there are still some naysayers out there. As I have said many times in my articles, some people won’t believe in global warming until it’s in their own backyard, or as Bill Wilson put it….”Even then he may be like the farmer that looked out from his cellar to find his home ruined, saying, ‘Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?’”

Are Fossil Fuels the Cause of Global Warming?

How do we know fossil fuels are causing global warming? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the molecules of carbon dioxide (the main culprit in global warming) contain information about their source of origin. Carbon in atmospheric molecules have a distinctly different “signature,” so scientists can analyze these variations. Also, when using just the data that would show normal changes in our climate (such as from forces of the sun), our changing climate can’t be explained. When the carbon molecules are factored in, global warming can be explained accurately.

Coal and Its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Burning coal causes the chemical bonds that hold its carbon atoms together to break. This releases the energy from coal, which we use to heat our houses. But breaking down these chemical bonds that make up coal also releases pollutants and heavy metals into our atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is the main byproduct of burning coal and coal powered plants are the main culprits of CO2 emissions, contributing 24% of all energy related emissions in 2016.

fossil fuels and the environment

One of Colorado’s many oil wells.

Petroleum and its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Petroleum is usually found as small pockets of liquid trapped in layers of rock below the surface of the earth. Burning petroleum products (fuel oil and gasoline) also releases CO2 into our atmosphere. According to http://www.eia.gov, almost 20 pounds of CO2 is produced from burning a gallon of gas that does not contain ethanol. As with coal, many other hazardous byproducts are also released, but the release of CO2 from burning petroleum products is a main contributor to global warming.

Natural Gas and its Impact on Our Environment

Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons, including methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It is often found beneath the earth’s surface near pockets of coal or petroleum and is often extracted at the same time. Even though it burns cleaner than the other fossil fuels (it produces about ½ the CO2 emissions per unit of coal), it still contributes CO2 to our atmosphere. The demand for natural gas has increased greatly in the past decade, requiring drilling for natural gas separately from petroleum. This is called fracking.

Fracking contributes to other environmental hazards besides global warming. Earthquakes, created by disturbing ancient fault lines deep under our earth’s crust, can be a result of drilling for natural gas. As with coal byproducts, the gases from fracking can seep into our water ways, contaminating our drinking water and surrounding soil.

fossil fuels vs renewable energy

House explosion caused by fracking

Hazards of Fracking

In 2017, in Firestone, Colorado, fracking caused a house explosion which killed 2 and seriously injured another. The wells were drilled in the area years before the housing development appeared. The house that exploded was built in 2014. The COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) does not regulate the distance of houses from wells, allowing fracking companies in Colorado to have 129,000 underground oil and gas pipelines within 1000 feet of occupied buildings.

fossil fuels vs clean energy

Gas well showing lines extending out.

Anadarko Petroleum, owners of the nearby well which caused the explosion, allowed toxic gases from an uncapped line to seep into the soil around the house, and to eventually seep into the house. A gas well was 170 feet from the home that exploded, with a gas line 7 feet underground. The gas line, which ran within 10 feet of the house, appeared to be severed at some point, possibly from housing construction. In the past the gas line had run from the well to nearby storage tanks. The tanks had long been removed, but the line that caused the house explosion was still connected to a valve at the well that was left in the “on” position. This allowed a mixture of propane, methane and other gases to seep into the surrounding soil and into the home through drains and a sump pit in the basement. The explosion occurred when the family was trying to light a new hot water heater in the basement. 

Who takes responsibility to prevent these events from happening? In Colorado it’s a constant fight between communities and the owners of wells, such as Anadarko Petroleum.

Eliminating Fossil Fuels

The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect—the heating of our earth which causes stronger, more frequent extreme weather patterns, rising and warming seas, and extinction of wildlife and their habitats.

Renewables produce little to no effect on weather patterns. Renewables lead to a healthier planet, healthier waterways, less erosion……the list goes on and on! If we support clean energy, we support a healthy planet!

Support Clean Energy

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Trump Rolls Back Clean Air Act

Following are recent changes announced by the Trump administration for rolling back the Clean Air Act. This article was copied from the EPA’s website:

EPA Administrator Pruitt: GHG Emissions Standards for Cars and Light Trucks Should Be Revised
04/02/2018

WASHINGTON (April 2, 2018) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is announcing the completion of the Midterm Evaluation (MTE) process for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025, and his final determination that, in light of recent data, the current standards are not appropriate and should be revised. Administrator Pruitt is also announcing the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a notice and comment rulemaking to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.
“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver granted by EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements. The California waiver is still being reexamined by EPA under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership.
“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard,” said Administrator Pruitt.
Additional Background
As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a MTE of the standards for MY 2022-2025 no later than April 1, 2018. This evaluation would determine whether the standards remain appropriate or should be made more, or less stringent.
In November 2016, the Obama Administration short-circuited the MTE process and rushed out their final determination on January 12, 2017, just days before leaving office. Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original MTE timeline, so that the Agency could review the latest information.
EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a reestablishment of the MTE process in March 2017. And, in August 2017, EPA reopened the regulatory docket and asked for additional information and data relevant to assessing whether the GHG emissions standards remain appropriate, including information on: consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessing advanced fuels technologies. EPA also held a public hearing on this topic.

For more information: https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/midterm-evaluation-light-duty-vehicle-greenhouse-gas

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-04/documents/mte-final-determination-notice-2018-04-02.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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 Biophilic Design: Creating a Healthy Environment

biophilic design

Biophilic design accelerates the healing process of patients.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks!”

By Linn Smith

February 18, 2018——-Growing up in rural America I was always connected to nature. I knew from an early age that I could find peace somewhere out of doors, sometimes laying back on my saddleless horse pondering the clouds or walking the farm fields with my dog. Peace in nature was always close at hand. John Muir said it best, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks!” Biophilic design recognizes this.

What is Biophilic Design

Biophilic is derived from the term, “biophilia,” meaning “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” 

Biophilic design in architecture creates environmentally friendly, energy-efficient buildings and developments by effectively managing natural resources. It recognizes the human need to be close to nature by replicating it in architectural design. It seeks a healthier, happier way of life through creating sustainable buildings and cities.

“Passive biophilic architecture produces buildings that use less energy to operate because they feature efficient designs, materials and systems. The majority of biophilic architectures have highly competent heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting systems, and appliances. In addition, these biophilic restructures are built of energy-efficient materials. Green building elements contribute to a better microclimate through evaporation, filtering of dust from the air and reducing the temperatures at the rooftop,” as stated in the article “Towards a New Potential of Healthy Architecture”

Examples of Biophilic Design

Biophilic Design

Live oak trees extend through the deck of an internal courtyard. Natural bark lines the back walls

WHR Architects, Inc

Christus St Michael Health Care Center in Texarkana, Texas where nearly every hospital room looks out on trees or other elements of nature.

The impact of these designs? Studies show that Biophilic designs have a positive effect on our health and well being. Also, using sustainable materials in the construction of biophilic designed buildings has a positive effect on our environment. Biiphilic design provides another example of creating a healthier planet for future generations. 

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Jostein Gaarder on Climate Change

“Human activity is draining resources and destroying natural habitats.”

By Linn Smith

February 6, 2018—–Besides being a successful author, Jotstein Gaarder works to support both human rights and a sustainable environment. Gaarder clearly states our current world condition concerning the cause and effect of climate change in the following article, which is the foreword to his 20th addition of Sophie’s World. Sophie’s World is a novel he wrote in 1995 which became a best seller around the world. 

This exerpt is from the article, “Sophie’s World in Danger: Living as though everything centres on our time is just as naïve as thinking the Earth is flat” from http://www.independent.co.uk:

“Two decades ago, a history of philosophy by an unknown Norwegian teacher became a most unlikely phenomenon. But how has time changed the writer? And how might he change his book now, if he could? Jostein Gaarder takes up his own story. However, by far the most important philosophical question of our time must be this: how are we going to save our civilization and the basis of our existence?

From time to time I am asked a question. If I had written Sophie’s World today, is there something important I would have added? Is there something I would have placed more emphasis on? The answer is a resounding yes! If I were to write a philosophical novel today, I would have focused a lot more on how we treat our planet.

It is strange to look back after only 20 years and realize that Sophie’s World doesn’t really address this question. The reason may be that over the course of these 20 years we have gained an entirely new awareness of climate change and the importance of biological diversity. An all-important principle in the study of ethics has been the golden rule, otherwise known as the reciprocity principle: do to others what you would like them to do to you. Over time, we have learnt to apply this rule more widely. In the Sixties and Seventies, people came to realize that the reciprocity principle must apply across national borders, both to the north and to the south.

But the golden rule can no longer just apply across space. We have begun to realize that the reciprocity principle applies across time, too: do to the next generation what you would like them to have done to you, had they lived on the planet before us.

It’s that simple. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Obviously, this rule must apply to the next generation and to everyone who lives on the planet after us. They are human beings, too. Therefore, we should not leave behind a planet which is less valuable than the one we have enjoyed. A planet with fewer fish in the sea. Less drinking water. Less food. Fewer rainforests. Fewer coral reefs. Fewer species of animals and plants… Less beauty. Less wonder. Less splendor and happiness.

Jostein Gaarder

Climate change and responsibility

The 20th century has taught us that people need conventions and obligations which go beyond national boundaries. 

The question we are left with at the beginning of the 21st century is: for how long can we claim human rights without accepting they come with fundamental obligations. The time is ripe for a Universal Declaration of Human Obligations. It no longer makes sense to think about an individual’s rights and freedoms without also thinking about the responsibility of individuals and individual states – not least our responsibility to safeguard the rights of future generations.

At this very moment we are experiencing the consequences of man-made climate change. They are dramatic. However, opinion polls indicate that the people of this world are not particularly concerned. One day in the future, global-warming denial may be considered one of the greatest conspiracies of all time.
The era we live in is exceptional in every way. On one hand, we belong to a triumphant generation, which can explore the universe and map the human genome. On the other, we are the first generation seriously to lay waste to the environment. Human activity is draining resources and destroying natural habitats. We are changing our surroundings to such an extent that people think of our time as an entirely new geological era.

Climate change and sustainable living

Jostein Gaarder

Huge volumes of carbon are contained in plants, animals, the sea, oil, coal and gas. The carbon is just itching to be oxidized and released into the air. The atmosphere on dead planets such as Venus and Mars is mostly CO2, and that would also be the case here if the Earth’s processes didn’t hold the carbon at bay. But from the end of the 18th century, fossil fuels have tempted us like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp. “Release us,” they whispered. And we gave into that temptation. Now we are trying to force the genie back inside the lamp.

If all the remaining oil, coal and gas on this planet is extracted and burnt, our civilization will not survive. But many people and many countries see this as their divine right. Why shouldn’t they use the fossil fuels on their land? Why shouldn’t countries with rainforests chop them down? What’s the difference? What difference will it make to CO2 levels or to biodiversity if one country stops while the rest carry on?

Over the past few centuries, most people here in Norway have been lifted out of poverty. The same is true in many regions of the world. We should not forget that. But this prosperity has come at a high price, a debt we are only now beginning to pay off. Before the Industrial Revolution, the atmosphere contained 275 CO2 parts per million. At the moment of writing, that figure is 400 ppm and it is still rising. Devastating climate change is unavoidable at this rate. Sooner or later we must attempt to return to pre-industrial CO2 levels. 

According to Dr James Hansen, considered by many to be one of the world’s leading climate researchers, we must – initially at least – get this level down to 350 ppm. Only then can we feel reasonably secure that we will escape the worst catastrophes for this planet and for our civilization. But the figure is not going down. It is going up.

If we are to save biodiversity, we need to revolutionize our thinking. Living as though everything centers on our time is just as naive as thinking the Earth is flat. Our time is no more significant than future times. It is only natural that our time is the most significant to us. But we cannot live as though our time is also the most important one for those who come after us. We must respect future times as we respect our own time.
In relationships between individuals and between nations, we have emerged from our “natural state”, characterized by the survival of the fittest. But when it comes to the relationship between generations, unbridled lawlessness still reigns.

Everyone has the right to practice their beliefs, and everyone has the right to hope that our planet can be saved. But that does not guarantee that there will be a new heaven and a new earth awaiting us. It is unlikely that supernatural forces will bring about a Judgement Day. But it is inevitable that we will be judged by our descendants.

Climate change comes down to greed. The destruction of biodiversity comes down to greed. But greed does not trouble the greedy. History is our witness. 

The ethical question is not difficult to answer – what is difficult is living by the answer. But if we forget our descendants, they will never be able to forget us. The question of how widely we should apply the reciprocity principle comes down to identity. What is a human being? Who am I? If I were merely myself – that is, the body sitting here writing – I would be a creature without hope. But my identity goes deeper than my own body and my own short time on Earth. I am a part of – and I take part in – something which is bigger and greater than myself. Humans tend to have a local and short-term sense of who they are. We used to have to scan our surroundings, wary of dangers and prey. That gives us a natural tendency to defend ourselves and protect our own. But we do not have the same natural tendency to protect our descendants, not to mention species other than our own.

Favoring our own genes lies deep within our nature. But we don’t have the same instinct to protect our genes four or eight generations down the line. That is something we must learn – just as we had to learn to respect human rights. Ever since our species emerged in Africa, we have fought a determined battle to prevent our branch of the evolutionary tree from being cut off. That battle has been successful, for we are still here. But we have become so prosperous that we are threatening the basis of our own survival. We have become so prosperous that we are threatening the basis of every species’ survival.
As clever, vain and inventive as we are, it is easy to forget that we are simply primates. But are we really so clever if we put our cleverness and inventiveness ahead of our responsibility for the future of the planet?

No longer can we think only about one another. The planet we live on is an essential part of our identity. Even if our species is destined to die out, we still carry an important responsibility for this unique planet and for the nature we leave behind. Modern humans think we are almost entirely shaped by our cultural and social history, by the civilization which produced us. But we are also shaped by our planet’s biological history. There is a genetic heritage as well as a cultural one. We are primates. We are vertebrates.

It took billions of years to create us. Billions of years to create a human being! But are we going to survive the next millennium?

What is time? First we have the horizon of the individual, then of the family, of culture and of literary culture, but there is also geological time – we come from tetrapods that crawled out of the sea 350 million years ago – and finally, there is cosmic time. Our universe is almost 13.7 billion years old.

But in reality, these periods of time are not as distant from one another as they may seem. We have reason to feel at home in the universe. The planet we live on is precisely one third of the age of the universe, and the class of animals to which we belong, the vertebrates, has existed for a mere 10 per cent of the time our solar system and life on Earth have existed. The universe is no more infinite than that. Or conversely: our roots and our kinship are intricately and deeply woven into the universal soil.

Human beings may be the only living creatures in the entire universe who have a universal consciousness. We have a staggering sense of the immense and mysterious cosmos we are part of. Therefore, not only do we have a global responsibility to save our planet. We have a cosmic responsibility.”

This is the foreword to the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Sophie’s World’ (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £8.99) published 8th October 2015. Translation © Paul Russell Garrett 2015 is published 8th October 2015.

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 Agrivoltaics: Growing Food for the Future

Agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics: Food and Solar

“Agrivoltaics combines agriculture with energy efficiency while growing plants beneath solar panels.”

By Linn Smith

January 28, 2018—- Co-location means two or more groups, sharing the same place. Agrivoltaics, also known as Agrophotovoltaics, means using the same piece of land for solar power plus agriculture. Agrivoltaics, or solar farming, is a new way of growing plants, combining agriculture with energy efficiency while growing plants beneath solar panels.

Agrivoltaics: Dual Use of Land

In 1981, Adolf Goetzberger and Armin Zastrow developed the idea to improve overall production of crops. Dr. Goetzberger founded the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany. His work involved making solar an alternative to fossil fuels. In 1981, he published a paper titled, “Potatoes under the Collector,” which proposed a setup for solar energy systems in combination with agricultural land use.

agrivoltaics

Growing food with solar

Dr. Eicke Weber, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute stated, “In view of the dynamic worldwide growth of solar installations of the last decade and the increase in land usage resulting from solar installation systems, innovative concepts, like agrophotovoltaics (agrivoltaics) which facilitates the dual usage of agricultural land, help to further and accelerate the transformation of the global energy system.”

Dr. Goetzberger used the term Agrophotovoltaics or APV, as a method of harvesting the sun for both power and production of crops. APV is currently an ongoing project in Germany which demonstrates that land for both growing crops and solar electricity are compatible. Dual use of the land is resource efficient, reduces competition for land and opens up a new source of income for farmers.

The APV System

The APV system was installed on organic farmland in Germany in 2015. Approximately seven acres were used to produce crops under the ground-mounted solar panels, which were built about 5 yards off the ground. Four different crops were planted. The land in use not only generates electricity from the solar panels but is also growing food. The solar panels provide a uniform light distribution on the crops using reflection. To prove their theory, they also planted a control plot nearby using the same 4 crops, excluding the solar panels. The scientists wanted to determine which crops would grow best. Result: The crops under the APV system produced about 80% of that of the control crop. This experiment is ongoing and data will be analyzed in 2018.

agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics: Growing food to feed the planet.

Agrivoltaics and Biosphere2

A similar experiment was being conducted at Biosphere2 when I visited several weeks ago. This research, headed by Barron-Gafford, Assistant Professor, revealed that the solar system above the crops created a warmer environment than normal when no plants were beneath , similar to the heat-island effect that happens in cities surrounded by cement and asphalt. He stated, “So think about it, if you get rid of all the plants when you put in renewables energy, you’ve gotten rid of that cooling potential… plants under the panels would allow the air to circulate and would take up carbon for photosynthesis by opening up their pores, or stomata, while letting water escape from their leaves and you get a warmer environment. We wanted to see if you put the cooling effect back into the system by growing plants beneath the solar panels, you can actually cool those panels back down and mitigate that heat island effect.”

When solar panels get too warm they start to lose their efficiency. By growing plants beneath the panels they can cool down and retain that efficiency, which makes for more renewable energy per parcel of land. The panels also shade the plants, reduce evaporation and the crops require less water to grow underneath.

agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics

In the future, as world population grows, solar and land for food must not be in competition. The world population today is approximately 7.6 billion. Two hundred years ago it was 1 billion. At the close of the 21st century the population will be more than 11 billion. The question remains…will we be able to feed our planet’s population and meet the demand for clean energy?

Agrivoltaics and Clean Energy

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