Water scarcity is one of the world’s leading problems affecting almost 1.1 billion people globally, according to the International Decade for Action “Water for Life.” Climate change also contributes to the diminishing water supply in most countries, causing streams and other bodies of water to run dry. The record shows that the number of lives threatened by this occurrence is increasing and the alternatives available are only limited.
In line with its cause to enhance the lives of underprivileged ones, the World Health Organization listed underdeveloped nations experiencing severe water shortages, but sadly does not have the capabilities to develop technologies that will solve scarcity and maintain the flow of water supply for future use. Countries under the coast of Africa dominate the list, and nowadays, are suffering from dwindling of water resources.
According to the World Health Organization, water shortage does not only refer to the physical lack of water, because if you add that to the equation, developed countries like the US would also be in the same position with Africa. It is often more about the economic resources perspective, and how the region can acquire or maintain an abundant supply of water.
Eastern Africa has long been the target of humanitarian aid from UNICEF and UNHCR. The countries under this land have an arid climate that is prone to drought. Further, due to its weak economy, everyone’s back is against the wall. This situation leaves millions of people in a global crisis where there is no reliable access to fresh and even clean water.
Engineers from the University of Texas at Austin offer a new solution that would help Africa fix its water scarcity through solar-powered technology that can provide clean and usable water. The breakthrough could be used in disaster situations, water crisis, or poverty-stricken areas in both developing and underdeveloped countries.
A research team led by Guihua Yu created a technology which relies mainly on hydrogels or gel-polymer hybrid materials, intended to be ‘super sponges’ that can store large amounts of water.
In 2018, Yu and Zhao started to develop a solar-powered water purification innovation using hydrogels that cleans or purifies water through solar energy. The team’s new project takes that work a step further by creating combined materials that possess both hygroscopic (water-absorbing) qualities and thermal responsive hydrophilicity (the ability to release water upon heating). This discovery opens the creation of a potentially life-saving trick which is pulling water out of thin air.
The innovation is designed to harvest moisture from the air and produce clean water during sunlight. It requires only the sun’s power to provide enough water that can meet the daily water consumption of an average household.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the World Health Organization, is planning to sponsor the said project to be used in East African countries which are suffering from a terrible water crisis. Most places in these African plains have little to zero access to natural freshwater for drinking and other purposes.
According to the assessment done by hydrologists, a population needs 1,700 cubic meters per person (the national threshold for water requirements), and below 1,000 cubic meters is considered as a state of water scarcity.
Today, East Africa has the highest number of water-stressed countries among others. Out of 800 million people who live in that area, almost 300 million is in a water-stressed environment. And, as per WHO, it is most likely that by 2030, 75 to 250 million people in East Africa will be living in waterless extents.
The United Nations, UNICEF, and WHO, in compliance with the Millenium Development Goals, should be the first agents to introduce the project to these countries. Given the increased threat of drought, the 50,000 cubic kilometers contained in the atmosphere, can make 50 liters per kilogram of water production daily, which is enough already to aid the needs of most communities.
This project is intended to help underdeveloped and developing countries which are suffering from water crisis, according to Yu. Since this is economically-friendly, the budget for building such material on East Africa is not actually expensive. The Saharan and East African government already agreed to these organizations that they would provide help in any ways as long as the problem with water shortages will be given solution.
People in these specific countries will only have to leave the hydrogel outside, and it will thoroughly collect water. According to the team, the machine will work just fine with no complicated procedures or technicalities to operate the device. The collected water will remain in the hydrogel until you expose it to sunlight, then after five minutes, the water will be released.
However, it will need a thorough educational discussion with the communities in East Africa, including its proper uses and advantages. And, although it may seem to be a long process, the fact that this innovation aims to solve Africa’s water crisis, is already an excellent milestone for UNICEF and its partners.
Technology is beneficial especially if it is being used in a manner that can aid thousands of people and offers a solution to a specific problem. The research team has already moved to patent the device. With future advances, the machine could also replace solar-powered water purification systems for developed nations and a significant step to start transforming not just Africa but some impoverished countries around the world.
Pope Tells Oil Execs: The World Needs A “Radical Energy Transition”
Pope Francis has declared a global “climate emergency” and preach to oil companies executives, pointing out that specific measures are needed to alleviate the problem with rising global temperatures. “The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now and the Church is fully committed to playing her part.”
“Time is running out!” Francis said. “Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done, and concentrate on what needs to be done. We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits.”
This is the second year that oil executives have gathered in Rome at the invitation of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development and Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business. The theme of this year’s meeting is “The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home.”
Attendees of the said event were the CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell, Eni, BP, Repsol, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and executives of investment funds.
The Pope took the opportunity to urge oil executives to find solutions to address the rapidly rising global temperatures. “Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid [perpetuating] a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations,” he said. “We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term,” the Pope added.
Particularly, Pope Francis called for “open, transparent, science-based and standardized” reporting of climate risk and a “radical energy transition.” Furthermore, Francis encouraged the idea of carbon pricing.
“Such a transition involves managing the social and employment impact of the move to a low-carbon society,” Francis said. “If managed well, this transition can generate new jobs, reduce inequality and improve the quality of life for those affected by climate change.”
Carbon pricing is a way for governments to encourage innovations in low-carbon technology by implementing higher taxes or emissions trading schemes. It directly applies the costs of using fossil fuels that cause global warming to consumers. The signatories called for a “combination of policies and carbon pricing mechanisms … designed in a way that simultaneously delivers innovation and investment in low-carbon solutions while assisting those least able to pay”.
The Pope also emphasized the 1.5C limit on temperature from a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report—noting that the world has a decade or so to bring greenhouse gases under control or otherwise let the world face devastating effects such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and damage to agriculture.
However, with the Vatican’s active campaign for climate change action, it has faced criticism and clashing with leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump who doubts the validity of global warming and rejects the idea that the problem is solely due to human activity.
Last year, Trump rejected projections that were outlined in a report by his own government and that projected climate change will cause severe economic harm to the US economy.
Trump also announced his intent for the US to withdraw from the Paris deal, making it the first country to do so among 200 signatories.
By the end of the 2-day event, oil companies made pledges to take action to resolve the global crisis. However, there were no specific conversations on set dates nor concrete plans to achieve a solution.
The Guardian reports that the oil companies’ pledges did not go far enough, as Mel Evans, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK said, “The oil majors knew all about the risk from climate change many years before most of us first heard about it. They knew where we were heading, they knew their products were the cause, and yet they kept it quiet and lobbied for business as usual. Moreover, “they’re still lobbying for business as usual. When it comes to saving the planet they will do what they are forced to do, and no more, which is why we’re having to block them from drilling new oil wells as we speak. Expecting leadership from them is a path to certain disaster.”
The Pope concluded by saying, as “human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
Bitcoin Carbon Footprint Is As Massive As The Impact Caused By Las Vegas and Sri Lanka
When companies operate their business solely online, one would think that they have a substantially lower environmental impact than those who conduct business traditionally; however, a study suggests that this is not the case.
A case study on bitcoin operations reveals that bitcoin’s carbon footprint — the world’s most robust cryptocurrency — is so massive to the extent that it can rival the environmental impact caused by Las Vegas or a small country like Sri Lanka. According to the study conducted by Christian Stoll, Lena Klaaßen, Ulrich Gallersdörfer from Technical University of Munich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bitcoin generates about 22 megatons in CO2 emissions each year.
While it is true that cryptocurrencies supposedly depend on online blockchain technology to process transactions like transferring of funds, and doesn’t have a physical infrastructure that is huge enough to cause such amount of carbon emissions, the researchers said that this validation process uses “vast amounts of electricity,” which causes some severe carbon emissions.
During 2018, according to the study, the computing power required to solve a Bitcoin puzzle increased more than 4-fold until October and heightened electricity consumption accordingly. Speculations about the Bitcoin network’s source of fuel have suggested, among other things, Chinese coal, Icelandic geothermal power, and Venezuelan subsidies. To keep global warming below 2°C—as internationally agreed in Paris COP21—net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of the century are crucial.
Bitcoin mining operations use too much electricity
One area of interest for researchers is the effect of bitcoin mining, the process by which people can earn bitcoins without spending money through painstakingly scavenging for small amounts across the internet. To estimate the electricity consumption, the study authors used IP addresses and hardware data from recent IPO filings. It was determined the annual electricity consumption of Bitcoin, as of November 2018, to be 45.8 TWh and estimate that yearly carbon emissions range from 22.0 to 22.9 MtCO2.
The study revealed that “There is no typical size of cryptocurrency mining operations.” The operations range from college students aiming to earn enough funds to pay for their electric bills, to gamers who leverage their graphics cards whenever they are not playing (as reflected in Nvidia’s volatile sales allocated to crypto), all the way up to large-scale crypto-mining farms. These mining operations have consumed enough electricity around the world to compare with electricity consumption like that of Jordan, a small middle-eastern country.
Regulation on mining operations necessary
According to the discussion presented by the researchers, their study sets up baseline information that would lead to a better understanding of the environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies and serves as a guide for a policymaker to develop climate-positive policies. They said that the results of the study could not be overlooked and should be a basis for policymakers to build balancing regulations.
Furthermore, the results were said to highlight the necessity of cost/benefit trade-offs for blockchain applications in general. While the researchers do not invalidate the benefits of cryptocurrencies, the “current debate is focused on anticipated benefits, and more attention needs to be given to costs.” And as the researchers have been pushing, policymakers should not ignore these results.
“Naturally, there are bigger factors contributing to climate change. However, the carbon footprint is big enough to make it worth discussing the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where power generation is especially carbon-intensive,” one of the authors, Christian Stoll, said in a statement.
“To improve the ecological balance, one possibility might be to link more mining farms to additional renewable generating capacity.”
Tip of the iceberg
Meanwhile, the researchers said that their analysis of carbon footprint of bitcoin is just the “tip of the iceberg” as other cryptocurrencies also carry significant carbon footprints upon their shoulders as well. This highlights the need to regulate cryptocurrency mining operations as it has external impacts – specifically to the environment.
“Bitcoin’s power consumption may only be the tip of the iceberg. Including estimates for three other cryptocurrencies adds 30 TWh to our annual estimate for Bitcoin. If we assume correlation to market capitalization and consider only mineable currencies (unlike second layer tokens or coins with other consensus mechanisms), the remaining 618 currencies could potentially add a power demand over 40 TWh. This more than doubles the power consumption we estimate for Bitcoin,” the study concludes.
Microplastic Found In Philippine Mussels—Risks Ocean Biodiversity
Green mussels or locally known as “tahong” or green mussels shells in the Philippines were tested 100% positive for microplastics. The recent findings follow with information gathered across different countries relating to global marine pollution.
The Philippine study was conducted on three samples across three different locations—two of which were tested positive for microplastics while the third set tested positive for “suspected microplastics.”
The study was conducted by Dr. Jose Isagani Janairo from the De La Salle University in coordination with the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Furthermore, the researchers conducted the experiment using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).
“This is the first time we encounter analyzing samples with possible contamination of microplastic in the tahong or green mussels shells using FTIR,” said Dr. Araceli Monsada, director of the DOST-Advanced Materials Testing Laboratory.
Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy or FTIR is a widely used technology in detecting microplastics since fragments are too small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Other countries, such as the UK and China, also conducted studies regarding the matter.
The microplastic identified in the study were Polyethylene or PET. Janairo describes this type of plastic as a resource commonly used in making plastic bottles, textiles, and fabrics.
The discovery raises attention towards possible health risks from consuming mussels with microplastics in its system. Janairo says that it is likely that humans will digest microplastics while eating mussels.
From a different perspective, a study conducted last October 2018 where researchers gathered data on microplastics in mussels from coastal waters and supermarkets in the United Kingdom, discovered that coastal mussels sampled all contain microplastics.
Moreover, supermarket bought mussels for human consumption also all contain microplastics where 43% or 57% of debris items from coastal/supermarket mussels were microplastics. The researchers predicted consumers ingested 70 microplastic items in 100 g processed mussels.
Fortunately, the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources claim that the findings do not pose a threat to human health and remain to be safe for public consumption.
Roy Ortega chief of the BFAR Aquaculture Division urges that the recent findings on green mussels harvested in the Philippines are not something to be worried about unless there is a red tide alert.
However, microplastic levels found in mussels may not affect human health — it affects the health and survivability of the aquatic animal.
Microplastic is an emerging pollutant in marine environments. The continued human pollution in the ocean has led the filter-feeding organisms to consume plastic through tiny amounts. The problem could result in devastating impacts on ocean ecosystems, as well as a worldwide industry worth between 3 to 4 billion US dollars per year.
An article published in Science Daily tells that continued microplastic consumption by mussels affect their ability to attach themselves to their surroundings such as rocks.
The recent research, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, was led by Dr. Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University and was carried out at the Portaferry Marine Laboratory in Northern Ireland.
The study found that increased microplastic consumption by mussels led to the aquatic animal to produce lesser byssal threads, which are thin fibers that help mussels attach themselves to rocks and ropes. This enables the mussels to defend itself against strong waves and tides.
Moreover, the study also noted that byssal threads functioned more than just enabling mussels to have a firm grip unto rocks. The byssal threads also help in creating extensive reefs that provide habitats for other marine animals.
Dr. Green, a senior lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Tenacity is vital for mussels to form and maintain reefs without being dislodged by hydrodynamic forces. Our study showed that the presence of non-biodegradable microplastics reduced the number of byssal threads produced by the mussels, which likely accounts for the 50% reduction in their attachment strength.
“Byssal threads help mussels to form aggregations, increasing fertilisation success and making mussels more resistant to predation. A reduction in these byssal threads in the wild could lead to cascading impacts on biodiversity as well as reducing yields from aquaculture, as mussels are more likely to be washed away by waves or strong tides.”
“Our research also shows that even biodegradable microplastics can affect the health of mussels. Both biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastic are used in making single-use packaging, which if it becomes litter can break down into microplastics. Better recycling and an overall reduction of these materials can play an important role in helping to safeguard our marine environment.”
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