Favorite Invention Thursdays

I was recently discussing the water crisis in Cape Town with my colleagues, and how they are currently heavily restricted in the amount of water they can use per day for fear that the entire city will run dry very soon. We often hear about how certain cities and countries are the driest they have ever been, and how this will only get worse as climate change progresses.

The thing is, I remember the water cycle from primary school. If certain parts of the world get drier, it means that other parts of the world get wetter. The planet as a whole cannot lose water. So, if it doesn’t rain anymore in South Africa, or California, it means that in other parts of the world it is going to start raining far more than usual.

The problem isn’t that the planet “runs out” of water, the problem is getting the water to the appropriate places. Given the way that the Earth is made, alot of that excess water is probably getting dumped into the oceans.

So, how to we transport that water to the places that need it most?

I proposed some kind of barge that could collect rainwater in the ocean and ferry it back to land. My colleague instead proposed a proper desalination method which is run on renewable energy, which can reextract water from the ocean.

I started poking about online and would you know, that second proposal actually exists, and they have been around for quite some time.

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Favorite Invention Thursdays

Some of the best inventions are simple and elegant, and when I first heard about this I thought, why has this not been done before?

 

Of course it makes perfect sense. Black things, like black asphalt, absorb heat. Any of you who have been to a hot city will know the feeling of the heat baking off the street in a disgusting humid wave. So, why not combat this by painting the roads white?

They mention in the video that they are testing this in LA, and that they are using an extra special kind of paint which is quite expensive but particularly suitable to reduce the temperature in the city. Despite its cost I do think that, if it works, this cost is mitigated by the reduction of costs associated with care for people suffering heat stroke, the reduction of cost of air conditioning, and of course the reduction of CO2 emissions associated with the extra power normally used for those air conditioners.

I am very curious to see the results of this experiment. In the meantime, good on LA for trying it out.

They Found Their Silver Lining, I Guess

Sure, climate change is happening at an allarming rate. Sure, for the first time ever, a gas tanker was able to cross the Arctic in witer without an icebreaker escort for the first time ever, but some scientists were able to find the tiniest of silver linings in such globally catastrophic events.

In July of last year, a gigantic piece of ice broke off of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. When I had heard of it, I felt enormously depressed. While scientists initially hesitated to link it directly and conclusively to climate change, I saw it is yet more proof that we are watching the devastating effects of climate change happen right before our eyes. If it collapses completely, it will simply be added to the list of irreversible consequences which will worsen our situation. I guess I’m just not enterprising enough though, because other scientists saw it also as an opportunity.

This Delaware-sized chunk of ice, by breaking off, also happened to render an ecosystem which had been hidden for over 120,000 years accessible to researchers.

 

“The calving of [iceberg] A-68 [from the Larsen C Ice Shelf] provides us with a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change. It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonize,” Katrin Linse, of the British Antarctic Survey, said in a statement.

 

As a Zoology major, I am ashamed that I had not thought of that possibility. While I of course would have chosen for the ice shelf to remain intact, if I had such power, once it breaks off, let’s at least take the opportunity to add to our knowledge of our planet.

So, what could they find?

 

Scientists know little about the possibly alien-like life that has taken up residence beneath Antarctica’s ice shelf. […] n other icy realms around Antarctica, some bizarre creatures have turned up. For instance, a bristled marine worm that lives in the Southern Ocean, and Live Science previously reported as looking like a “Christmas ornament from hell,” has an extendable throat tipped with pointy teeth. And some creatures have made a living under extreme conditions, including a crustacean called Lyssianasid amphipod, which was found thriving beneath the Ross Ice Shelf in western Antarctica. One of the more famous Antarctic animals, the icefish has natural antifreeze in its blood and body fluids, allowing it to survive the frigid temperatures of Earth’s chilly bottom.

 

I’m officially jealous of the scientists on that expedition. As a child, my first dream was to become a marine biologist, and I would give anything to get to be a part of that exploration.

Instead, I’ll just have to wait and hear what lurks beneath the ice through the interwebs.

 

 

 

Favorite Invention Thursdays

Credible sources believe that, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Whether that terrifying prediction comes true or not, we have a massive plastic problem on our hands already.

Of course, one of the biggest contributors to that problem is the fact that many countries have a culture based on consumerism, where we constantly buy and throw things away. Some are trying to combat that culture but, in the meantime, any small invention which fits with what people want to do (such as buy 10 different phone cases for their smartphone) while at the same time protecting the environment from excess plastic, is something I’m all for.

Sorry Environment, But This One’s a NOPE

It almost seems fitting that, after talking about cool environmentally-friendly inventions I love, I’m going to talk about one that I have absolutely no interest in. While I do try to be conscientious of the environment when I make life choices, there are some things that I am not willing to sacrifice.

I became aware of these inventions because having a vagina while in possession of a social media account means that certain things are assumed about you and the products you might be interest in buying, despite your browser history not reflecting any such inclination. In the past few months, my Facebook feed has been pushing Thinx panties and moon cups on me relentlessly, with multiple videos about them in one feed.

Since ignoring them was obviously not making them slowly disappear, I finally accepted my fate and decided to read the comments under one of the videos. They were both predictable, and brought a pet peeve of mine to a boil that I finally wanted to share here.

Boys (and particularly squeamish girls) beware. What follows is going to be an unabashed, balls to the wall gorey discussion about periods. If you don’t think you can handle it, read no further.

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Thursday is Favorite Invention Day

There is a special place in my metaphorical heart for innovation. I love it when I come across videos which summarize the latest invention or life hack of the day, and I’ve even posted many of them here. So, I reasoned, why not make it a regular thing? So, from now on, I on Thursdays I will post a video or a link which details a new invention that I love, whether it is to do with the environment, biomedical technology, a repurposing of an existing item, or simply a household invention that I find amusing.

To kick things off, I would like to bring attention to an invention that four Italians came up with that recently won a Startup Europe Award in the Italy – Energy category.

As that implies, this is one of those environment-related inventions. I’ll let the video explain.

For those of you who can’t/don’t have time to watch the video, here is the gist.

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Why The Fuss About Wolves?

There is an ongoing discussion among conservationists when it comes to which species to protect, and which ones to allow to die out. As conservation efforts have limited resources, and as larger and larger portions of the planet are being developed to meet the needs of human population growth, the idea that we can try to save all species that face extinction is, unfortunately, quite naive. One such animal that finds itself in the center of this debate is the panda, which costs a fortune to keep alive and breeding with little to no chance of their numbers becoming stable in the wild again. Some argue that we shouldn’t spend such enormous amounts of money on keeping the panda alive when those resources could be better spent elsewhere, just because it is cute and cuddly. Others argue that it’s cuteness is precisely why so many people donate to keep it alive in the first place, and thus it should be protected in order to encourage enthusiasm towards conservation efforts.

I have heard similar arguments made not by conservationsists, but by laypeople in regards to wolves. Many, even those who are not enthusiastic about conservation, have heard and one point or another people discussing wolf populations, either efforts to reintroduce them into places where they have been extinct for decades, or decrying countries like Norway for allowing hunters to kill off huge percentages of their wild wolf population legally.

What, I am often asked, is the reason behind all of this fuss over wolves? I mean, they are predators! They kill other animals, they are just one more danger to humans, and farmers hate them because they kill off the odd sheep as well. Why spend all of this money and make such an effort to reintroduce a couple dozen wolves into places where no one wants them, when other species could be protected instead?

Recently, I came across a video that summarizes the case study of Yellowstone National Park very nicely. In just a few minutes, you can see what a huge impact wolves can have on their ecosystem.

Despite their villanous representation in cartoons or certain nature documentaries, top predators are essential to the balance of life as we have enjoyed it for centuries. Wolves are incredibly important, and can do wonders for their ecosystems.

And, let’s not forget that without wolves, we would have never had dogs. And without dogs, videos like this would never have existed, and what a tragedy that would have been for all of us.

 

Environmental Tips: Do You Know About Microfibers?

I often post short videos which showcase interesting inventions designed to tackle an environmental problem. This time, I want to post a video about a few tips that you can do in order to cut down on a form of pollution that is not spoken about very much, and that is microfibers.

You may recall the issue with microbeads found in certain soaps, which pass through water filters and end up in the stomachs of fish and other sea life, which was found to be so damaging that some countries have now banned them. However, another form of pollution which works in a very similar way, and on a much larger scale, are microfibers.

It turns out that, every time you wash an item of clothing, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of microfibers are shed from that clothing and enter into the water supply. Much like microbeads they are small, so up to 40% of them make it into the water supply. Also like microbeads their small size means that they are consumed by wildlife and, while the amount you produce on your own may not seem like much, the accumulated effect of a world full of washing machines is devastating. One research group estimated that “microfibers make up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world”.

Just think about that for a second. With all of those horrid pictures we’ve seen of shorelines littered with plastic bags and garbage, they pale in comparison to the amount of microplastic crap we’ve dumped in our oceans.

The real difference is we don’t see microplastic pollution with the naked eye. It doesn’t make for horrifying pictures, and as such, very few have even heard about it.

So, what are we supposed to do about it? Stop washing our clothes? Hardly. That intro was the downer part, but there are little things that you can do in order to mitigate your contribution to microfiber pollution.

I’m going to look into those filters for my washing machine. I think that is probably one of the most effective ways of cutting down on this kind of pollution.

And who knows! Maybe, if more and more people make a stink about this, we might actually be able to get regulations on how washing machines are produced, or how synthetic clothes are made. If we don’t spread the news, however, that will never happen.

I Can Relate

I now live in a country with much shorter summers and generally colder weather than where I grew up. Because of this, when we do have the occasional unseasonably warm day, I am happy in a tentative way. Actually, this comic perfectly summarizes my reaction on these days.

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Forgiveness and Respect

I have mentioned before that I am a TYT member, and as such I had heard that Wes Clark Jr. was bringing a group of veterans to stand with Standing Rock. Cenk referred to it as “the cavalry has arrived”, indicating the power of the support and the hope that the police, who have been routinely brutalizing the peaceful protesters of Standing Rock, might think twice before doing so to veterans, as they might even lose the support of Fox News if they did so.

I was excited about the strong message and curious about the outcome, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I had not considered what kind of message that would send to the Native Americans themselves.

Just like many people forget that not everyone sees Thanksgiving as a fun family holiday, I completely overlooked the horrible history that Native Americans have towards the US military, and how badly they have been brutalized by them in the past. While the presence of veterans at Standing Rock might help to keep the police brutality in check, the irony of veterans coming to help a Native American cause was surely not lost on many there.

I am so glad to say, though, that Wes Clark Jr. and the veterans did not overlook this history in the slightest, and made a gesture that both surprised and moved me.

Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The veterans gathered to join the Dakota Pipeline protest stunned the gathered tribal members when they took a knee and asked for forgiveness

They report that there was not a dry eye in the house, and I believe them. While asking for forgiveness does not right the past wrongs, this humble gesture and mutual respect was moving to say the least.

While President Obama has finally blocked the DAPL for now, the fight is far from over given the upcoming Trump Administration. Now, more than ever, it is critical to not let the media forget about this issue, and to stand with Standing Rock.