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Climate Change

Green Technology

Humanitarian Engineering Bringing Renewable Energy to Disaster-Hit Communities

July 18, 2019

Public attention may fade, but the effects of a natural disaster can linger long after camera crews have left. The lasting consequences of Hurricane Maria on the island of Puerto Rico serve as a fitting example of this phenomenon. After the hurricane severely compromised their power grid, the island’s infrastructure fell apart, and entire towns went without electricity for almost a year.

In the wake of the destruction, families had to depend on backup generators, navigating a dangerous landscape of leaning power poles, fallen trees and other debris. Fortunately, humanitarian engineering has helped manage the energy needs of affected areas in the aftermath of many natural disasters.

The executive director and co-founder of Empowered by Light, Moira Hanes, sees renewable energy as the solution. Her nonprofit partnered with the Las Vegas Fire Department to install solar hubs at firehouses across Puerto Rico. The solar and construction companies Sunrun and Aireko also participated.

Concerning their efforts in the region, Hanes said, “These communities need to rebuild using smarter, more resilient, diversified power sources… Solar and storage is the foundation for the future of any energy infrastructure for places like this that are really prone to extreme weather events.”

With this in mind, how have renewable energy systems improved the quality of life in disaster-hit communities? Where have we seen these technologies at work, and where might we see them in the future? These questions have fascinating answers, and we’ll explore them below.

A Closer Look at Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has provided a clear picture of the value of renewable energy systems. The island’s dependence on the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, provides a strong argument for a change in infrastructure. The vulnerabilities in their power plants placed them at increased risk in the event of a natural disaster.

As context, PREPA facilities run almost exclusively on fossil fuels, with as much as 98% of the island’s energy supply the product of coal, oil and natural gas. When the first wave of Hurricane Maria swept through the area, flooding and overgrown trees overwhelmed the outdated buildings and toppled power lines.

In addition to the commonwealth’s grid, 65% of its transmission and distribution system took damage as well. Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure would require an enormous amount of work. The process wasn’t entirely negative, however, as rebuilding gave rise to a sort of renaissance for renewables.

Solar-powered washing machines are only one example of many technologies that have helped mitigate the effects of Hurricane Maria. They’ve eliminated the risks involved in handwashing clothes with untreated wastewater, reducing instances of disease. Companies have also made donations to affected communities.

Sonnen, a leader in solar batteries, donated microgrids at food shelters, schools and various locations around the island. The adoption of these microgrids and similar solar technologies may lead to an expansion of renewable energy systems across Puerto Rico. In time, they can enjoy a higher degree of security.

Solutions for Disaster Relief

The solutions in the previous section offer only a partial view of a much bigger picture. Microgrids and solar-powered washing machines have value, of course, but they’re far from the only equipment available. Communities have a significant number of systems they can trust to endure a natural disaster.

For example, portable electric generator sets can use solar energy without taking up a lot of room. They’re durable, safe to operate and environmentally friendly, an ideal solution for someone who has to travel across a devastated region. You can rely on them to supply power for your devices, lighting and similar needs.

Researchers and environmentalists have also considered the practice of geoengineering as a potential solution to climate change. It’s the subject of heated debate, with some arguing for these extreme measures and others warning vehemently against them. When you look at the concept, it’s easy to understand why.

Geoengineering refers to the act of deliberately intervening in the Earth’s natural systems on a massive scale. It usually falls into one of two categories: capturing and sequestering carbon or blocking sunlight to cool the planet. Either way, it might help reverse climate change and reduce the associated issues.

The practice has many social benefits as well, providing more opportunities for women in engineering. Even with these benefits, however, the subject is incredibly complicated. Some scientists have claimed specific methods of geoengineering are impossible to stop safely, with potentially dangerous side effects.

Embracing Renewable Energy

Disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico have shown the necessity of renewable energy systems. Through solar technologies and similar equipment, countries around the world can protect themselves and rebuild in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They can also preserve the safety and security of their citizens.

With a progressive mindset and the innovations of humanitarian engineering, we’ll continue to make forward progress. It may take time and considerable investment, but the dangers of climate change demand a comparable solution. Fortunately, we have the means to make a difference.


World Population Day: Can Our Planet Sustain a Growing Number of People?

July 11, 2019
world population day

In 1989, the United Nations dubbed July 11 World Population Day to focus on the urgency of Earth’s growing population. The day’s purpose is to encourage discussion about health care, contraceptives, family planning and much more. With a current population of more than 7 billion people, the Earth is seemingly already at capacity.

Experts are searching for ways to extend our planet’s natural resources. But in the meantime, overpopulation acts as a threat to our species’ existence, with 83 million people added to the population each day. As the years pass and more people are born, it will compound the problem.

The Effects of Overpopulation

Earth’s population is snowballing. As we reach a tipping point and the planet becomes overpopulated, we’ll begin to see several adverse effects.

Water Will Become Scarce

More than 2 billion people already lack access to safe drinking water, and twice as many don’t have access to clean water for sanitation. As the population grows, the lack of potable water will become a major threat. While options for producing clean water exist — such as desalination, which removes the harmful minerals from saltwater — they are often costly and a drain on energy resources. Advancements in technology will determine if a water treatment process ultimately becomes viable in the future.

Animals Will Go Extinct

So many people exist on Earth that it’s driving down the population of other species. Scientists believe we’re entering the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, an event that could wipe out three-quarters of the planet’s animals. As the human population grows, so does the threat to animals’ natural habitats. Humans poach threatened and endangered species, reducing their numbers and preventing the chance of repopulation. We depend on many of these animals to survive and will need to adopt alternative food sources as the population grows.

The Earth Will Warm

The more people on Earth, the higher the demand for fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, which, when burned, release carbon dioxide into the air. CO2 is what traps heat inside the atmosphere, making the Earth’s temperature warm up. The rates of deforestation also rise with the population. Trees can capture CO2, able to mitigate the effects of global warming. 

However, we lose 8.7 million acres of forest on Earth each year, working against our chances to reverse climate change. Even remote areas, especially those with oil or gold, are susceptible to deforestation.

Diseases Will Spread

Infectious diseases are something we as a species already fight against, developing vaccines to eradicate viruses like smallpox. But people can’t keep all infections at bay, especially when they lack access to clean water. When the planet is overpopulated, the chances of an infectious breakout increase rapidly. Some of the most troubling diseases we face as the population grows are cholera, influenza, Ebola and typhoid fever. Many of these diseases, including cholera and typhoid fever, are infectious and spread through the water supply.

How Many People Can the Planet Support?

By 1800, the Earth’s population had reached 1 billion people. In 1927, the population was 2 billion. By 1974, it was at 4 billion. The more people there are, the less time it takes for populations to double in growth. And this growth is not slowing anytime soon, with the world population expected to reach 8 billion around 2023.

There’s no denying the population is rising fast. But the problem might not be as dire as it sounds. While sustainable resources are still a necessity, research shows Earth’s population will peak by 2070, mainly due to the slowdown of population growth in Asia, the world’s fastest-growing region. The steps we take now to mitigate the effects of overpopulation could lead to future sustainable improvements adopted across the globe.

The Future of the Human Race

The future of the human species is hard to predict. The desire to have children can be powerful for many families. How will the growing population shape our planet’s future?

It’s natural for the population to increase. A population decline typically comes with unwanted events like famine, war or natural disaster. But we shouldn’t wait for these events to happen to take action. The problem of the planet’s growing population should remain a global topic of conversation, especially how to control numbers by implementing new regulations and technology.

Experts are discovering more efficient ways to create clean drinking water. Government-subsidized programs can aid farmers and prevent food shortages. Educational programs focusing on proper hygiene, such as washing hands before eating and taking a daily shower, can easily cut down on disease-causing organisms. And we can mitigate pollution and environmental effects by investing in sustainable resources, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power.


Do Scientists Know What Causes Solar Storms?

April 11, 2019
solar storms

Most of us only think of the sun in passing. On hot afternoons when we hide beneath the shade, or rainy mornings when we wish for a little light, the sun is a subject of discussion. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to forget that our planet survives on the heat from a fiery ball of hot plasma 1.3 million times its size.

With this enormous number in mind, the concept of a “solar storm” is somewhat frightening. After all, the scale of our sun is immense and its power is incredible. It seems probable we’d eventually have to reconcile the fact that we live a very short distance from it, by astronomical standards.

In truth, solar storms aren’t as dangerous as they sound. They’re part of a cycle of high and low activity that repeats every 11 years. This cycle’s “solar maximum,” or peak, occurred between 2013 and 2014. As NASA predicted, we didn’t see any catastrophic solar events like some feared.

So what exactly are “solar storms” and how do they affect the Earth? Do scientists know what causes them? If so, what are the reasons behind this fascinating phenomenon? We’ll answer those questions and others like them by taking a comprehensive look at the many intriguing aspects of solar storms.
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Are We Depleting the Amount of Oxygen in the Ocean?

March 25, 2019
oxygen in the ocean

The level of oxygen in the ocean is falling, an issue scientists say calls for urgent attention. Decreasing oxygen levels could cause substantial harm to the health of the ocean and the life that depends on it.

Across the planet, oxygen levels have fallen by 2 percent in the last 50 years, according to research from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Kiel, Germany. If the problem goes unchecked, global ocean oxygen levels could fall by an average of 7 percent by 2100. Another study found that in some tropical regions, oxygen levels declined by as much as 40 percent. For every degree the ocean warms, oxygen concentration decreases by 2 percent.

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Green Technology

What Impact Would a Fourth Industrial Revolution Have on the Planet?

March 18, 2019
fourth industrial revolution

The first industrial revolution started in the 18th century, and most people know it as an era that spurred the development of the steam engine and contributed to more urbanization. Several other industrial revolutions followed, and a common thread among them was that each period had tremendous technological advances. We’re now in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). How might it affect the Earth?

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, argues that it’s fundamentally different from previous revolutions. The earlier ones helped humans break free from their dependence on animals and gave them access to the digital world, plus furthered mass production. However, this era blends the physical, digital and biological worlds through a range of technologies.

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People Are Aware of Ocean Changes. Now, How Do We Stop Those Changes?

March 7, 2019
ocean changes

The effect of climate change on our oceans is inarguable, and more than that, distressing. As acidity levels rise, the delicate balance of marine ecosystems has started to tip, affecting countless species of fish and plant life that depend on environmental stability to survive. We’ve already seen the consequences.

Coral bleaching events have increased in frequency, leaving large areas of the world’s reefs pale and weak. Diseases like white syndrome are gaining traction, compounding the problem, and pollution from packaging, bottles and spills have all contributed to detrimental, large-scale ocean changes across the globe.

While this situation is admittedly upsetting, more and more people are beginning to acknowledge the effect their actions have on the environment. They’ve adopted eco-friendly lifestyles that reduce their emissions and waste, and many have corrected their bad habits, doing away with single-use plastics for green alternatives.

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Deadly Threat to Coral Reef From Disease

February 18, 2019

In 2013, researchers off the coast of Christmas Island discovered something shocking. The coral reef they’d visited only five years earlier was skeletal and dead, its tissue destroyed and bone-like. The cause of the deterioration was a disease called white syndrome, and even now, in 2019, scientists are still baffled.

While white syndrome has many of the qualities of coral bleaching — draining the life and color from a coral reef — the disease is far more deadly. Instead of stressing the coral until it expels its algae, white syndrome kills a reef completely, leaving nothing behind but a bare structure of what it once was.

What is white syndrome, and how can researchers hope to address the problem? Let’s dive into the strange and mysterious depths of this growing phenomenon.

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