Archive: Environment & Energy

February 19th, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy, Science & Tech | Comments Off

What does the North Pole have to do with Texas?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a few ideas about the future of transportation, and the future in which transportation will take place, to the 2013 Texas Transportation Forum. I will share the whole presentation in a bit, but one of the slides I used had the classic Arctic ice map from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It was the map from September 16, 2012 when the ice reached its lowest level recorded since measurements have been made, after the summer melt.

The point I was making was that the loss of Arctic ice is hypothesized to be related to unusual behavior in the jet stream, namely leading it to dip further south, and to get stuck in fixed positions for longer periods of time. This then contributes to longer heat and cold waves, longer droughts and rain storms, and so on. Thus, I suggested not terribly originally that future transportation systems must be planned to be more resilient, and of course I implied that they ought to be less carbon intensive.

What I did not note is a fact that I’ve been aware of but came across again today, that it is not just the area of ice that is declining through the years of observation, but even more dramatically, the volume of ice. That is, each summer the ice melts and in most summers more of the ice melts than previously. Each winter the ice re-freezes. But at the end of the freezing season, the ice is not as thick as previously, and thus is easier to melt in the next melt season. It is only recently that we’ve been able to monitor ice thickness and volume using the ESA CryoSat 2 space craft which uses “a high-resolution synthetic aperture radar altimeter, which fires pulses of microwave energy down towards the ice” and thus enable measurements of ice thickness.

The findings are pretty startling. A recent report summarized at the University of Washington concludes that “the summer minimum in Arctic sea ice is one-fifth of what it was in 1980…” The area of ice has fallen by half, but the total volume even more.

The Arctic is a canary in the coal mine. There is great uncertainty about what an ice free late summer in the Arctic will mean. Release of methane? Harsher storms? We apparently are going to find out in the coming decades. One thing it does not mean, by the way, is easier access to oil. It turns out that an Arctic with less ice is more dangerous to drilling rigs and oil platforms. Why? Because while pack ice is dangerous enough, less ice means very large pieces of ice floating and moving more quickly than in the past. It also means more stormy seas. So the Artic may turn out to be more difficult to fully exploit for fossil fuels than currently assumed (and yes, I am sure we all get the multiple levels of irony.)

To help us visualize the loss of ice volume Andy Lee Robinson has produced a nice little video showing the progression.

ht for compiling sources.

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January 6th, 2013 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Technology is Improving Education

Education technology is quickly revitalizing the way in which students are learning. “What began as a ‘bring-your-own-device’ (BYOD) movement may very well turn into a ‘create-your-own-school’ movement as new intermediaries, learning agents, parents, and learners collaborate to weave vibrant value webs,” which is good news since our current education standards and practices in America are not working out for us. Our teachers don’t get paid enough, our high schoolers are not graduating, and our low income students aren’t able to attend college.

Technology is shifting the focus of educational practices to be more about tailoring learning to the student’s specific needs. Learning tools and curricula are increasingly customizable , making it easier for every student to find a learning method that works for them. Educational services are becoming more accessible with free programs like Udemy, Coursera, Khan Academy and Crash Course on YouTube. As the cost of digital devices and software continues to decrease, the increased volume, velocity, and variety of data will be so expansive that we will need to move beyond basic information-filtering tools to avoid overload and help us discern meaning.

Analytics, dashboards, and visualizations will be critical to discern meaning, draw conclusions and gain insight from ever flowing data streams. And if students will be learning more and more online, these systems will need to become all-encompassing to provide the learner with whole-person support based on environmental factors and social contexts, as well as academic performance. Additionally, teachers will have the opportunity to record lessons at different speeds to accommodate all levels of learning. And education will be even more engaging and appealing now that gaming is being taken seriously. Gaming is being touted by many as an extremely effective method for students to absorb curriculum on a deeper level.

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December 13th, 2012 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy, Environment & Energy, Innovation | Comments Off

Women: Spend consciously this holiday season, you’re in control of what gets sold in the first place

Women have enormous purchasing power, which is expected to reach $28 trillion by 2020, according to BCG. Why, then, do we continue to purchase products that are harmful to us and the environment? Why do we buy from companies that are only interested in money, and not the  well-being  of the people they are serving?

Perhaps it’s because 91% of women surveyed believe that advertisers do not understand them. Maybe we  are not  hearing about any products that we can truly get behind, so we just buy from the limited list of what’s available. Well, that won’t work much longer. If we want to see a better world, full of healthy people and conscious products, we need to buy products that reflect those qualities. We can only make a real change if we determine what’s getting sold, rather than just buying what’s out there because we think it’s the only option. It’s not!

There are many problems in the world that can be solved by showing marketers that you don’t want to be a part of the status quo anymore.   Talk to your friends and neighbors about what they are buying and who they are buying from; start a conversation in your community.

In addition to getting your voice heard, focus on buying from companies that would seriously listen to you as the consumer. Buy from companies whose mission statements include creating a safe, healthy society through eco-friendly practices. Nike, Johnson & Johnson, and Dell have all been praised for their sustainable practices, and Toms Shoes, Seventh Generation, and Project 7 all sell products with a social mission in mind.

Some say that “citizens’ real source of power to make change on the scale we need is through transforming the policies, business practices and structural context in which production and consumption happen.” This means lobbying for taxes on junk food, and tax incentives for green products.

And then there’s focusing on what you’re buying now. This holiday season is a great time to reflect on what you’re buying.  The National Retailers Federation forecast that during this time of the year 586.1 billion dollars will be spent on gifts. This is a perfect opportunity to be conscious of what you buy. For instance, you could buy fewer toys, since they will inevitably just end up in landfills or the ocean, and instead buy gifts that promote activity and encourage social experiences. And remember a gift doesn’t have to be physical- you can simply promise to babysit someone’s kids twice that month, which is a great gift for the parents and a fun, new social experience for the children.

The bottom line is, we are capable of changing what is getting sold to the public, but we must be conscious buyers and get active about supporting companies whose mission aligns with our own.


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December 6th, 2012 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Citizen Science- Everyone Can Contribute

What’s the fastest way to collect scientific data? Get citizens involved! Citizen Science is a brilliant way to get communities involved with scientific experiments that directly affect us all. Anyone can write down observations or collect samples, which is a huge contribution to scientists. After all, there are a finite number of scientists with a limited amount of time and they can’t be everywhere at once. Contributing to Citizen Science is something everyone can participate in. It can be a fun project for you and your family, or for your entire K-12 classroom. Either way, Citizen Science is a great way to contribute to scientific research, engage citizens in learning about nature and science that directly affects them, and it results in smarter, stronger communities.

Citizen Science is alive and well in Seattle, with local programs like the Seattle Aquarium, the Seattle Audubon Society for Birds and Nature, Sound Citizen (which tests for human compounds in water), the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, and the WA Native Plant Society Noxious Weed Project. Most of these programs are free, but some come with a small fee, like the American Gut project and the uBiome — Sequencing Your Microbiome project.

Citizen Science doesn’t have to be organized by a group interested in collecting data for a specific purpose, in fact some programs encourage you to explore and learn more about science that interests you. These programs include DIY bio science labs and hackerspaces, which allow you to discover science in your own way for your own purposes.

There’s no down side to participating in any form of Citizen Science. It’s a fun learning experiment, it’s community-building, and it allows you to directly contribute to scientific discoveries without requiring a college degree.  Plus, the more we know, the more we grow!

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December 2nd, 2012 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Interested in a Ticket to Mars?

Apparently a ticket to Mars will cost $500, 000 per person, which, according to Elon Musk, is “a sum of money that someone who has worked hard and saved carefully might be able to afford.” SpaceX is drawing up plans for a colony on Mars. What are the first things we need to do to prepare for a move to Mars?

1) Understand how the  transition  will affect our bodies.

2) Perfect a way to get there, especially in terms of adequate propulsion technology which Tech News World says  Los Alamos National Laboratory is close to figuring out.

3) Especially now that fleeting human visits have been approved by NASA, the need to manufacture sustainable space suits  will be in order. Perhaps using regenerative skin?

And then there’s the whole shelter thing.

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