Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

A lot of our problems come from people doing everyday things in huge numbers; even the smallest action can have enormous consequences when repeated constantly by millions or billions of people. Which is why I'm attracted to ideas like crowd farming:

How many people does it take to launch the space shuttle? The answer is 84,162,203, all of them taking a single step in a Crowd Farming system developed by MIT students James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk. Together, they have proposed the creation of a people powered power plant (an idea similar to human-powered gyms, and sustainable dance clubs), in which people would be generating energy by simple act of walking and moving around.
I can't help wondering how much energy pressing down on computer keys could produce....

WorldChanging reports from an MIT Summit on appropriate technology:
Typically, women and children in rural settings often can journey up to six miles daily to retrieve water for their families. They frequently return to their homes carrying between 20 to 40 pounds on their backs or heads in unsound, unwieldy and
often unclean vessels such as petroleum cans or ceramic pots. It's a ritualized behavior that sustains the cycle of disease, reduces human productivity and creates tremendous physical strain.

An IDDS team created a striking device, SODIS Safiri, to deal with these challenges. It obviates the need for awkward storage vessels; instead, water is carried in ergonomic, low-cost plastic pouches that can be worn like apparel. Imagine a "backpack" that can be manufactured for five dollars and efficiently bear up to four liters, or a poncho that can carry twice that amount at a cost of only seven dollars.

Along with improving transport efficiency, the SODIS Safiri device capitalizes on the otherwise non-productive return journey: the transparent design facilitates solar disinfection of the water so that the water can be consumed upon arrival at the village. While some contaminants cannot be handled solely by ultraviolet rays, this zero-cost approach could be sufficient in many non-industrial locations where basic microbial contamination creates diseases.

Safiri SODIS illustrates of the power of IDDS. This team did not aspire to eradicate the entire global water crisis in one brilliant stroke. Instead, they created a clever, low-cost, highly replicable product whose adoption could instantly benefit hundreds of millions of people.
In related news, AIDG Blog has a nice story on the installation of a solar hot water system in a Guatemalan village. Which reminds me: ellroon recently alerted me to this feature on making a solar water heater for less than five dollars. Also via ellroon, the paper battery:
Since it is 90 percent cellulose, the paper battery is lightweight and flexible. But it works in extreme heat and cold temperatures.
Sawfish have won global protection:
[A]ll seven of the world's known species of sawfish will gain protection under a United Nations–administered treaty. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, will ban international sales of sawfish, dead or alive, whole or in pieces. The goal is to motivate fishers to release every sawfish that they capture.
DNA evidence is increasingly being used to track down poachers:
Rudolph matched DNA in blood and hair found at the kill site — in an area where only muzzleloader hunting was allowed — with DNA from the deer's antlers, found in Lehnherr's home.
Meanwhile, in India, wild elephants have been given photo IDs.

Piping plovers are making progress towards recovery:
[T]oday, two decades after the plover was declared a threatened species, biologists are crediting the beach closures, twine barriers and other buffers between birds and humans for a 141 percent increase in the Atlantic piping plover population.

As with so many other conservation efforts, banning off-road vehicles was an important part of the solution. Apropos of which, the activist group Great Old Broads for Wilderness is trying to keep archaeological sites in the Four Corners area from being destroyed by this public nuisance.
The same off-road vehicle users who are drawn to the Four Corners to see the sites also end up destroying them when they illegally drive cross-country, she said. The uneducated easily can drive over ruins, obliterating history in seconds.
Jess Carmon of the Four Corners ATV Club says the best way to deal with the problem is to "photograph the damage they do and record the license plates, reporting them to law enforcement." That's nonsense, of course. If you don't want archaeological sites to be destroyed by ATVs, the solution is to make them off-limits, and to revoke the licenses and impound the vehicles of people who defy the ban and damage significant sites.

A new Wikipedia tool reveals the whitewashing of entries by corporations:
A new data-mining service launched Monday traces millions of Wikipedia entries to their corporate sources, and for the first time puts comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations.
For more details, see Wikidgame.

Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson is cracking down on idling vehicles:
Fifty percent of air pollution in Utah comes from cars and trucks, and Rocky wants the city to do their part in cutting down on the smog-creating emissions. His environmental adviser, Jordan Gates, says this latest executive order is part of the mayor's comprehensive plan to improve air quality, encourage alternative fuels, reduce driving, bolster alternative transportation, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the city.
In Massachusetts, a dozen lawmakers are trying to end the use of herbicides along state highways:
The group argues that the toxic herbicides, which the state began using in 2003, run off into surface and ground water, polluting drinking water and posing a health risk to humans and the environment. The group is asking the state to use organic herbicides or manual means, such as weedwackers or lawnmowers.
Hospitals are phasing out plastic tubing that contains DEHP:
he plastic used in intravenous tubing, blood bags and other products — DEHP, or di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate — can leach a hormone-like chemical linked to reproductive problems, says Richard Grady, interim chief of pediatric urology at Seattle's Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center. While doctors agree that the benefits of specialized care for newborns outweigh the potential risks from plastic devices, leading medical organizations now say that hospitals should find safer substitutes whenever possible. Grady notes that even minute amounts of hormones could cause problems for infants whose organs are still developing, especially newborn boys who spends weeks in neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.
A Brazilian health foundation is collaborating with a US biotech firm to find treatments for diseases that mainly affect the global poor (and therefore tend to be neglected by researchers in the developed world):
"Neglected diseases pose significant problems in developing countries all over the world," said Paulo Buss, M.D., president of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. "In Brazil, with the support of the health ministry, we are accelerating our efforts to address these problems and to increase scientific activity in this area. We are very excited to partner with Genzyme, one of the world leaders in biotechnology, and we are optimistic that this collaboration will create promising opportunities that may help us deal with the burden of infectious disease."
It's worth nothing that this collaboration will allow the foundation to use treatments without paying royalties.

I've been very busy and scatterbrained this week, so that'll have to wrap things up for this edition. The painting at the top is from a beautiful exhibition of Antarctic pastels made in the 1930s by David Allen Paige (via Coudal), which I can't recommend highly enough.

I also recommend BibliOdyssey's astonishing collection of Civil War envelopes:

Also: A Flickr set of conformal mappings by Breic. And Dark Roasted Blend's survey of Abandoned Tunnels & Vast Underground Spaces.

I'll leave you with a bit of music:

1 comment:

Karin said...

Not environmentally related, but I think this qualifies as good news:
On this island with a long tradition of military service, pro-independence advocates are tapping the territory's growing anti-Iraq war sentiment to revitalize their cause. As a result, 57 percent of Puerto Rico's 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, or their parents, have signed forms over the past year withholding contact information from the Pentagon -- effectively barring U.S. recruiters from reaching out to an estimated 65,000 high school students.
Antiwar advocates have even gained direct access to Puerto Rican classrooms under a controversial directive issued last September by Rafael Aragunde, the island's education secretary, granting "equal access" by pacifist groups and military recruiters. Although he will not bar recruiters from schools, Aragunde said, he has a "lot of sympathy" for what pacifist groups are trying to accomplish. "I've always felt that one of the byproducts of a good educational system is that you have citizens who will defend pacifism," he said. "I think that just like we have to insist on ecological values, we have to insist on pacifist values." Aragunde described his relations with military recruiters as "cordial."

From the WaPo,