Natural Cycles – Water

Shrinking Ice Caps

With the changing of the season so obvious where I live – especially the beauty of the leaves on trees turning yellow, orange, red and brown amongst the greens, the cycles of nature are front and center in my mind. Also, water has been on my mind. There is the melting of polar and glacial ice, the appearance that storms are increasing in their intensity, drought in some areas leading to large and intense wildfires and just having enough clean and safe drinking water for the burden of humanity.

For too long, humankind has treated the Earth as though it was a supermarket of resources to be tapped, extracted and exploited for profitable gain and usage. When I was growing up in the El Paso TX desert area, the Rio Grande always had water flowing. One year not too long ago, there was only dry river bed. Because Nature is not static, water levels are always changing. The amount of snow in the Colorado Mountains in winter or the release of excess water by the Mexican government preparing for “flood season” can greatly change the flow of the Rio Grande from one year to the next or from one week to the next. In my early adulthood, I once saw a girl drown in that unpredictable river.

On our own farm, the farm pond and beaver ponds can be full and overflowing in Springtime and dry and minimal this time of year. These are all reflections of the natural cycles of nature and water and we would do well to learn to understand them and cooperate with them, rather than fighting against nature or polluting the little fresh water the planet actually has available. We are a “water” planet which is crucial to all of life.

Water makes up about 71% of the Earth’s surface, while the other 29% consists of continents and islands. However, 96.5% of all the Earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water, while the remaining 3.5% is freshwater lakes and frozen water locked up in glaciers and the polar ice caps. Of that fresh water, almost all of it takes the form of ice: 69% of it, to be exact. If you could melt all that ice, and the Earth’s surface was perfectly smooth, the sea levels would rise to an altitude of 2.7 km. For those like me who don’t do metric easily that is a rise of almost 9,000 feet or over 1-1/2 miles. Wow !!

The amount of water that exists as groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams is only a little over 0.7% of the planet’s total water resources. It is a much rarer and more precious commodity than most people are aware it is as they flush their toilet, water their yards and fill up their drinking container.

The Water Cycle

Water has many forms which most of us are intimately familiar with — rain, hail, snow, ice, steam, fog and dew. Even though the minerals in salt water are harmful to most land plants and animals, it is from these vast salty reservoirs (the seas and oceans) that most of our precipitation (rain, snow, etc) rises up to form clouds and comes down upon the land and flows back into the ocean again. The water, or hydrologic, cycle never ends. That is a good thing.

Each person needs about a gallon a day for drinking, cooking, and washing. The average water usage in medieval times was no more than 3 to 5 gallons a day per person. Presently in the United States, people are using about 1,500 gallons a day for their needs and comforts which does include recreation, cooling, food production, and industrial use related to their existence. Another Wow !!

I have been aware for a long time that there are concerns about enough fresh water for the planet’s growing and evolving population. Long ago, Leonardo da Vinci acknowledged that water is the driving force of all nature. In many places on this planet reservoirs and aquifers are drying up. Currently, one in seven people on the planet lacks access to safe drinking water. In some places in the Middle East water has become more important than oil and governments invest in desalination plants. Up to 75% of the farmers in the hot dry plains of northern India, eastern Pakistan and Bangladesh intensely irrigate their crops with pumped groundwater and their use of that water is intensifying.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change predictss that the fraction of global population experiencing water scarcity is destined to increase throughout the 21st century. More and more, people and nations will have to compete for those water resources. Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council, admits that “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”

So what can be done ? As far back as 2010, 1200 leading international experts from 80 different countries came together and created a list of 19 partial solutions to the Freshwater challenges facing humanity. Of course raising consumer awareness and teaching how to make better use of limited water resources tops the list and is why I am writing a blog about this today. I always seek to be part of “the solution” to whatever concerns me rather than part of the “problem” which only leaves one mired in disfunction.

Wastewater treatment is an obvious place to conserve and revitalize the water that exists. Advanced technologies for cleansing wastewater continue to progress and develop refinements. Clearly agricultural and irrigation practices need rethinking. 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is currently used for agriculture. Water needs to be revalued at higher prices which would reduce waste and pollution. One way to conserve fresh water is to improve the catchment of water running off paved surfaces in urban areas.

Good water management takes into consideration the whole ecosystem – sewage treatment plants could be operated in partnership with clean energy producers who use the wastewater to fertilize algae and other biofuel crops. Those crops, in turn, have an ability not only to soak up nutrients but purify the wastewater which can reduce pumping and treatment costs.

Yemm & Hart’s Origins Material uses recycling water that is heated and sent through piping to melt the recycled post-consumer plastic flakes and pellets loaded into the trays of our press. Then, recycling cool water is sent through pipes to set the material into the patterns that make Origins unique. It is the melting flow of plastic which then is “frozen” into place that gives us a random and natural patterning effect.

What’s new with the most “ECO” of all materials ? (Yeah, I’m talking WATER) I believe that what’s new is a developing but radical change in humanity understanding not only the precious nature of this natural resource but regarding each person’s role in conserving and protecting it’s life sustaining qualities.

Think about it the next time you take a thirst-quenching drink of pure, clean water.

Clean Water

~ Information Resources

Conservation and the Water Cycle posted at NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the USDA – United States Dept of Agriculture) – http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/factpub/aib326.html

As Rio Grande water levels rise, Border Patrol warns of dangers by Analise Ortiz posted May 26, 2015 at ValleyCentral.com – http://valleycentral.com/news/local/as-rio-grande-water-levels-rise-border-patrol-warns-of-dangers?id=1209856

What Percent of Earth is Water? by Matt Williams posted Dec 1, 2014 at Universe Today – http://www.universetoday.com/65588/what-percent-of-earth-is-water/

Length Units Converter from The Engineering ToolBox – http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/unit-length-converter-d_851.html

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis by Robin McKie posted March 7, 2015 in The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/08/how-water-shortages-lead-food-crises-conflicts

Experts Name the Top 19 Solutions to the Global Freshwater Crisis posted May 24, 2010 at Circle of Blue – http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/experts-name-the-top-19-solutions-to-the-global-freshwater-crisis/

Yemm & Hart Origins – http://www.yemmhart.com/materials/origins/colorchartpatterns.html

Origins 514 Aquamarine

Origins 514 Aquamarine

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Facing Up to Climate Change

Bear Glacier Alaska

It is unfortunate that the first alarms about changes in the planetary climate were labeled Global Warming because it gave too much to climate change deniers to loudly proclaim the science faulty. However, climate change affects us all and we might as well face up to what it will mean to who, how and where. I’m not Catholic but I really like the current Pope Francis. He is a gutsy guy and humble too. I believe he truly is living his life in service to the common man and that is rare in anyone with power in our world today.

In December 2015, Paris will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference. According to the organizing committee, the objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. (I won’t hold my breath on that achievement but it is a worthy goal.)

Pope Francis  ~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

Pope Francis
~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

In advance of that conference, Pope Francis has issued an official encyclical titled “On Care for Our Common Home” which makes explicit the connection between climate change and the oppression of the poorest and most vulnerable in our human family. Wired.com describes it as “… well-argued, clear, at times quite moving…and 42,000 words long”. I am indebted to their science writers for highlighting the “good stuff”. I have long argued that “the Earth” doesn’t need saving but that humankind does. That is really the issue here.

I agree that too many modern people have totally lost any connection with the natural world. I have to remind myself at times that the majority of urban dwellers do not experience the wildness of nature on a daily basis as I and my husband and children are fortunate enough to have right outside the door of our home. That loss of connection deceives people into thinking of their lives as something separate from and superior to the natural world and from that point onward, arrogance begins to inform choices that actually matter.

Blog author, Deborah Yemm, with sons Simeon and Treston out in the wild

Blog author, Deborah Yemm, with sons Simeon and Treston out in the wild

My husband and I recently watched a documentary about The Corporation. I am well aware that these large organizations also employ a lot of people at a time when employment is an issue due to advances in technology that have made obsolete many of the ways that people have previously provided for their families. I commend enlightened leaders of such corporations, like Ray Anderson the CEO of Interface a flooring manufacturer who came to realize the way that companies such as his have been “exploiters”. Awareness is an important first step towards making meaningful changes.

So it is that Pope Francis has recognized that without awe and wonder for nature and the environment human beings become voracious consumers and ruthless exploiters who are unable to delay the gratification of their every desire or even set any kind of limits on their immediate needs in awareness of the limits that exist regarding natural resources. It is not possible to draw boundaries on the global environment – the air and water circulate freely among all people and cannot be truly “owned” (though some have tried to do this) by any individual, country or organization.

Scientists were not entirely wrong that there has been some global warming. One need only compare old photographs of glaciers with the same geographical regions to see the truth. The melting of ice on our planet is causing the sea level to rise. This is simply the natural behavior of water anywhere as it changes state. It is clear that water is going to be a huge issue for humanity going forward. The Pope declares in his memo that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights”.

Every person on this planet is affected by climate change in one way or another. The biggest problem for humanity will be the intensity of events whether they are droughts or floods. And adding to the realities of climate change are the burdens of increasing population so that intensive agriculture in places like California and other dry or desert type environments in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are depleting aquifers at an unsustainable rate for there is no “recharge” to keep them filled. One cannot simply use resources in an unsustainable manner and not eventually hit the brick wall where it all stops.

California Drought

My family enjoys eating many of the foods that California provides to the world. The farmers in California use 80% of the state’s water resources. Almonds which my family enjoys raw or as Almond Butter because the nut is one of the more nutritious choices we can make have received a lot of attention for how much water growing them consumes but that is not all that California produces. Believe in eating your vegetables especially in healthy salads ? It is quite likely that your lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Lately my family has been enjoying seasonal fruits like peaches and plums. Yes, California grows those too. Do you enjoy the occasional artichoke or regularly eat asparagus and broccoli ? The drought in California has direct impacts on people’s efforts to be healthy.

The Pope rightly sees “science and technology are wonderful products of God-given human creativity”. Human beings ARE part of nature too. What humans beings do cannot be separated from the Earth and that is the point really. The Pope also sees a need for “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint”. I certainly don’t disagree.

In Wired.com’s summary of the Pope’s Memo they note – “When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of ‘might is right’ has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.”

“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.”

~ Information Resources

2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference

The Pope’s Memo on Climate Change Is a Mind-Blower – http://www.wired.com/2015/06/popes-memo-climate-change-mind-blower/

California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System by Natasha Geiling posted on May 5, 2015 – http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/05/3646965/california-drought-and-agriculture-explainer/

Interface is a worldwide leader in design, production and sales of environmentally-responsible modular carpet for the commercial, institutional, and residential markets – http://www.interfaceglobal.com/

The Corporation, a documentary – http://www.thecorporation.com/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Intelligent Materials

DEUS-EX-MACHINA-2

Deus ex machina is the phrase applied to the climatic moment in a classical Greek tragedy when gods would descend from the skies to resolve all knotty human problems. Right now, there is a lot of buzz about the new movie, Ex Machina. According the the Time magazine review “God, is the word that hovers over Ex Machina.” The movies that are made for our entertainment often reflect where our society is headed. The same could be said I suppose for the video games teens and young adults play. Turns out there is a video game named Deus Ex Machina and the 1984 Spectrum classic, which has often been hailed as the first ‘art house’ game, has been around for 30 years now. Released in Nov 2014, Deus Ex Machina:30th Anniversary Edition seeks to bring a cinematic flair to the original game.

The director of the movie Ex Machina, Alex Garland, in an interview with Wired magazine (April 2015) when asked about the debate around the ethics of AI research said – “It’s a big question. If you’re talking about nonsentient AIs, then there’s a lot to be concerned about. But if you create a new consciousness in the form of a machine, that isn’t significantly different from two adults creating a child.” A Science Blog posted at Huffington had concerns – “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”

Movie - Ex Machina

Movie – Ex Machina

Garland isn’t optimistic about the future of humanity. He said – “Humans are going to die on this planet. We’re not going to go through a wormhole to another galaxy; it’s just not going to happen. What will survive on our behalf is AIs – if we manage to create them. That’s not problematic, it’s desirable.” He ends the interview on this thought, the movie is pro AI because – “It’s humans who f**k everything up; machines have a pretty good track record in comparison to us.”

Yikes !!! I’m not entirely comfortable with the rapid pace with which intelligent systems are being implemented in our world. You can call me a Luddite but I do have some concerns. Over a year ago, during a trip to St Louis (which is a major outing for our family with a 4 hour round trip), it really dawned on me that maybe we are living the climatic moments of our own version of a modern day “Greek tragedy” and I’m not looking for any gods to descend from the skies (though I know some people still await the arrival of ETs, even now). I worry that we may be in a bit of a predicament. This anxiety began just after the movie Transcendence came out.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

My husband had been talking to me a lot about Stephen Hawking’s perspective on AI/robotics at that time. Hawking has some concerns too. He is Director of Research at The Centre for Study of Existential Risk. They describe themselves as “an interdisciplinary research centre focused on the study of human extinction-level risks that may emerge from technological advances. We aim to combine key insights from the best minds across disciplines to tackle the greatest challenge of the coming century: safely harnessing our rapidly-developing technological power.” Even so, I think it may already be too late to change the trajectory – that the genie is already out of the bottle and not willing to leave its freedom of movement into every nook and cranny of our world.

What’s new can be noticed in the research at the leading edge. The work ongoing at the Active and Intelligent Materials Lab at University of Cambridge in England boggles my mind. The active research is studying “adaptive responsive structures, including materials which respond to several stimuli: temperature, pressure, pH, ionic strength, light, and electromagnetic fields. While artificial muscles with higher energy density could be better actuators for robots, smarter actuators could also provide sensing to start the actuation, or even photonic switches for new optoelectronic computing. Recently, inspired by work in shape-memory polymers, we created multi-functional muscles which can be programmed to “remember and recall movement”. For many of these muscles, the goal is to improve function by understanding the detailed mechanism. For one class of muscles, dielectric elastomers, high voltage failure is a major problem. Our recent results suggest that they may be actuated at high voltage without failure, provided short enough pulses are used”.

“Shape-memory polymers . . . programmed to remember and recall movement” – oh my !! Okay, so I’ve not the background to judge those types active research and I won’t claim to understand all that they are doing there. The understanding that I do have tells me a transformation of how we experience Life here on Earth is already happening and the future that is coming would be astounding to us today. And I am not actually a Luddite. I appreciate all of the wonders that technology is bringing into our lives. If it weren’t for technology, I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts and my concerns with you now. And some of the developments are astounding me today.

Kilobots (quarter-sized) may not be very smart but they communicate with one another. 1,000 Kilobots can be programmed to follow a few simple rules that then cause them to assemble into shapes without human intervention. Insect swarms in nature inspired the computer scientists to mimick that behavior with the inexpensive $20 a piece bots. What’s next ? Intelligent swarms of sand-grain-sized robots that form useful 3-D structures.

Robot Insect

How about an Octobot ? It’s design is also inspired by nature and more specially the well-known sea creature with arms connected by fleshy, skirtlike mantle. It’s arms and web are made of soft silicone and it is approximately the size of a shoebox. In tests within the Mediterranean Sea, it has been found that organic sea animals seem unfrightened by the artificial intelligence. The computer scientist who designed this hopes to use it to observe marine ecosystems by putting a camera on it.

Or how about search-and-rescue snaky robots that can burrow through rubble or use helicopter like propellers to airlift wheeled snakebots out of tight spots. And here’s the future for XBox gamers . . . the robot trio is controlled using an Xbox controller. Also in the same disaster area recovery realm are robots that use tiny explosions to jump, shoving the untethered soft robot off the ground so that it can navigate rubble that makes walking through an area difficult.

So many evolving uses for smart and intelligent materials and constructions from them that have the potential to be life-affirming and useful to humanity !! But I do worry – what will all the people do ? Already, a lot of people are unemployed or underemployed and technology is certainly one of the reasons, so more competition from artificial intelligence, ie robots, is just going to make matters worse. And I worry about remotely controlled warfare, like drones and satellites that keep warriors safe but not civilians.

iRobot

iRobot

As I see robotics evolving, what happened to me a year ago to cause a bit of anxiety was this – Suddenly, everyone I saw in “service roles” in St Louis (including road & bridge construction workers and Whole Foods associates) I saw sadly as “on the way out”. I remain aware of “possibilities”, whether they are accurate realities at this time, or not. My heart hopes for only good outcomes to our evolving technologies. My concerns were set off by reading a piece by Mike Adams about robots. Anyone who has seen the movie iRobot can easily visualize the future portrayed in this snippet –

“In my estimation, over the next three generations (about 75 years), we will see humanoid robots take over nearly all traditional labor roles in society, including manufacturing, agriculture, construction, firefighting, food service and even community policing. Most of the physical work done today by humans will be turned over to humanoid-shaped robots built much the same way we are: two arms, two legs, two eyes and roughly the size and shape of a 5′ 9″ man.”

“This, in turn, will make virtually all human laborers obsolete. There will be no more need for people to pick crops, paint houses, clean windows, drive ambulances or even fight wars. Humanoid robots will take over every repetitious, dangerous, disgusting or boring task that humans currently tackle, from cleaning toilets and sweeping floors to driving taxis.”

At Yemm & Hart there are no robots doing the work today. Our processes to create new materials from recycled resources are rather old-fashioned in their methods. We are gratified to make our living by recycling those items turned in by consumers to recycling centers in order to continue their usefulness. We do stay abreast of continuing developments not only in our own industry but as this blog has illustrated. We find interesting all kinds of topics about anything and everything evolving in Life whether it catches our fancy or worries our dreams.

~ Information Resources

“Date With an Android” review in Time magazine April 20, 2015 – http://time.com/3814972/in-ex-machina-a-date-with-an-android/

Deus Ex Machina: 30th Anniversary Edition Announced
http://kaijupop.com/2014/09/deus-machina-2-original-30th-anniversary-editions-coming-november/

Ex Machina – The Mind Behind The New AI Flick Q+A in Wired magazine April 2015 – http://www.wired.com/2015/04/alex-garland-ex-machina/

Centre For The Study of Existential Risk
http://cser.org/about/who-we-are/

“Transcending Complacency on Superintelligent Machines” posted 4/19/14 at the HuffPost Science Blog
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-hawking/artificial-intelligence_b_5174265.html

Active and Intelligent Materials Lab at University of Cambridge
http://www.aim.msm.cam.ac.uk/research

“Better than ‘Transformers’: Real-Life Robots: Photos at Discovery.com – http://news.discovery.com/tech/robotics/transformers-real-life-robots-110629.htm

“Robot swarm takes many shapes” by Andrew Grant in Science News Sept 6, 2014 – https://www.sciencenews.org/article/robot-swarm-takes-many-shapes?mode=magazine&context=188995

The Science News article below by Meghan Rosen could not be found in digital form at http://www.sciencenews.org.

[1] “Octobot uses webbed arms to swim faster” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014

[2] “Hybrid robot merges flier with two snakelike machines” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014

[3] “Hopping robot powered by explosion” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014

“Robotics revolution to replace most human workers in three generations” by Mike Adams posted on 9/30/13 at http://www.naturalnews.com/
http://www.naturalnews.com/042276_robotics_revolution_worker_displacement_depopulation.html

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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