Serenading Sustainability

Sustainability is not just something I’m interested in as a geographer, but is something that I believe should interest everyone, from all backgrounds and standings in life. It encapsulates and controls our lives, being precedent in energy, water, food and any development, all which are necessities in our ever demanding lifestyles. Sustainability is a key global issue, affecting the richest areas such as California, which is currently suffering from a severe drought, to food deprivation and malnutrition in Africa, and to the far East with Asian development, energy and pollution problems being ever present.

I’m interested in not only the problem that these main factors create, but also how to solve them sustainably for the future and with innovative solutions. A few of these which I plan to explore and research in the future, with my own ideas at forefront, include:

  • Creating power from wave and tidal power, which holds so much energy which we don’t utilise
  • Software to calibrate the potential of water sustainability in an urban area (ground infiltration, surface run-off, etc.) such as those used in Singapore, but on a global scale
  • Development and the planning of cities focused solely around sustainability, considering all the factors.
Serenading Sustainability

The plant above represents exactly what I’m trying to bring across. This small plant requires energy from the sun, water from precipitation, food/nutrients from the soil, and space to develop both under the ground through its roots and above with its visual growth. However, it must also conduct this sustainability. If it uses up all the nutrients from the soil or fills up the surrounding space and can no longer grow, it will simply eventually die out. Using this as an example for us as a race it just shows how fragile we are, and how much what we do through consumption and recklessness directly affects us dramatically.

Sustainability is a complex thing, both to understand and to succeed in, and will plague us for many centuries till there is a clear global system and strategy to tackle these problems which will forever arise such as excess population, food shortages, droughts, urbanisation, etc. Therefore in this blog I plan to focus primarily on sustainability and its various factors, while also looking at some of the more obvious and publicised geography-related discussions such as climate change, with the never-ending pictures of sad polar bears floating on small ice-caps dominating national newspapers.

Is it always the same polar bear which is stranded?

Altering Albedo

Albedo is the amount of sunlight which is reflected/absorbed by anything whether on the surface or at different levels of the atmosphere. Ideally we want the highest albedo possibly, and current we are relatively low at 0.15, with the aim to increase it to 0.17, where temperatures would no longer increase but would remain stable.

This can be done through various means and is known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM), and is monitored at three levels (surface, troposphere, and stratosphere). At the surface level it is monitored through remote sensing satellites such as the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), which monitors the land at a 1km scale resolution, pinpointing colours, and how much light they absorb / reflect.

The main problem is that the ocean has a very low albedo, absorbing the majority of light due to its dark coloured nature, and its wide-spread coverage of the Earth therefore does not aid our albedo efforts. Another negative effect is that as global warming continues (which it will), we lose even more ice, which has a very high albedo, as you know if you’ve ever been skiing by the amount of light it reflects, and hence acts as a domino effect, reducing our albedo further. The last and final problem is the cost of implementing it, with urban areas covering less than 2% of land cover, we cannot purely focus on retrofitting green cities, but instead must focus on larger land cover such as grassland which covers around 40%. The main question, is how to do this?

There are various methods being used, for example whitening clouds to reflect more sunlight before it reaches the surface. However other than that there is no widespread idea of how to manage and increase our albedo. Therefore I have came up with my own idea, which apart from using white roofs on industrial buildings, but move it over to agricultural land. The use of white polytunnels is quite common in some areas, however is often used minimally. If they could be used on a more widespread scale, with the possible implementation of subsidies to ensure farmers could afford it, then it could have a huge effect on our global albedo, hopefully increasing it slightly, even an increase of 0.001 could have a huge influence.

Nepalese Networking

The 6.7 magnitude Earthquake which struck Nepal only 3 days ago, and although relatively small on the Richter Scale, it’s impact is great. With an estimated possible 10,000 people being killed from direct impacts such as houses falling, and many more expected to die from indirect effects such as waterborne diseases and lack of shelter and basic hygiene/sanitation. Although the impacts of it are serious, I want to focus upon the technological side of it, and what Google and Facebook has done.

After the earthquake, Facebook’s safety check tool appeared on everyone’s NewsFeed. It not only allows you to tick whether you are safe, but identified how many people are in the affected area from your friends list and which of these are marked as ‘safe’. It’s the first real widespread use of social media in a different way than just uploading pictures of meals and nights out.

Could this be the start of something new?
Could this be the start of something new?

Google took a much different approach, joining in with the Red Cross. They involved collating those who had been officially found and could therefore be registered as missing or alive, however had significantly less data than that of Facebook, which had the ability to reach out to a much wider audience than that of Google, which tracked around 7,000 people.

This technology could change the future for reactions to disasters. If there had been a disaster whether a large-scale one such as an Earthquake or a small-scale such as German-Wings plane crash this year (way too many fatalities this year already), the public awareness and reassurance that family members or friends are safe is very important. Obviously I am not arguing that authorities and governors should focus on people updating their Facebook status rather than sending and improving immediate and continuous medical aid, however I feel it is part of our development in natural disaster reactions.

Could this be the start of even more networking developments to aid disaster zones?

Wavering Water

Water is one of the largest issues regarding sustainably. It not only affects poorer nations such as Africa in the Sahara, but even the richest most powerful countries suffer, illustrated in California, USA, and Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Climate change and population increases is the significant drivers of this, and this is slowly being recognised through large individual powers such as Barack Obama, although is still not identified by others such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage…

“But wait a minute, we have water, therefore climate change doesn’t exist”

            California is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 1,200 years, with over 40 million people being affected, as this drought has continued for 4 years. In one of the most powerful and richest countries, you would expect that it would be easily manageable, however the force of nature is proving its worth. Scientists estimate that many reservoirs only have enough water remaining to last for only 1 year.

Australia is again a hugely rich and resourceful country, however it is also suffering with water sustainability, with the Murray-Darling Basin supplying 2 million people. With the basin generating more than 40% of GDP for Australian agricultural production, having enough resources is principal to the future of Australia’s economic system.

 

So what are they doing?

California’s governor Jerry Brown has introduced a water rationing scale, with the aim to reduce usage by 25%, with communication being structured predominantly to focus on homeowners, and for them to reduce their usage of sprinklers. However, the only effective, reliable and sustainable way to reduce water is to change people’s attitudes on water consumption.

Australian government is taking a slightly more serious approach, with the aim to reduce water consumption between 30 – 40%. The Murray-Darling Basin is primarily full of farming land, and the Government has been able to reduce some dairy farmers consumption from 100% down to 30%, with them still producing as much milk as they were before. Other farmers have also adjusted to deal with the water restrictions, with orchards imposing a scheme which automatically makes the trees adjust to ‘drought-years’ so they use half as much water, alongside the development of drought-resistant trees.

 

Sustainable Future?

All areas will soon be suffering from water shortages as temperature increases; precipitation becomes more unpredictable and extreme (in both directions). The only real way to influence our water consumption is through changing of views and opinions through media releases and informed discussions between high government ministers leading to a inter-country or even global plan to support our current water levels.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-32196177

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15149925

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-32150064

Technology?

I also want to assess the possibility of a sustainable technological method to solve this issue (in my dreams). Is it possible to simply map the world with current storage of fresh water in glaciers, aquifers and lakes, and then work out a software which can calculate infiltration, surface run-off and interception of areas to not only map the amount of water that is available, but also reduce the hazard of floods?