Flooded Planet

Exploring the World of Writing to the Very Last Drop...of Ink

Tag: technology

Speeding Trains Will Not Budge

As I was barreling down the highway today (well, actually I’m more often accused of driving like an old lady, so I chose ‘barreling’ to make it sound more dramatic than it really was…let’s say I was going 57 mph in a 55…all caution thrown to the wind).

Anyway, so there I was. I had to slam on my brakes in order to avoid a collision. My laptop was situated on the back seat of the car, because I’m dense and don’t think that what happened last time will happen this time). Mr. Hewlett Packard went crashing to the floorboard…again. Inertia does what it’s paid to do—it keeps things going in the same direction they were just undertaking a moment ago, even when some outside force says that the situation has changed.  It takes a moment or two for all things to sync up again I guess.

All objects in motion tend to stay in motion until acted upon by some outside force (I’m paraphrasing, Mr. Newton, so stop looking at me like that…it’s close enough).

Fortunately, the computer is still working…again, after being slammed to the floor for the umpteenth time.

This inertia law applies to pretty much anything and everything in the physical universe, including heavy things, like speeding trains, and even things as light as atmospheric gasses, like CO2, methane, water, or sulfates of various ilk. If we can picture the idea of the CO2 being ‘pumped’ into the air (the classic smoke stack doing its thing is a nice visual), that really means just a couple of things. First, because these compounds are gasses, they’re going to go, and then mostly stay, where we’d expect them to—up. Second, their elemental composition of relatively small molecules, coupled with the idea that a turbo-boost of heat energy helped to send these little cuties aloft in a big time way…well maybe this picture helps us to imagine what will be necessary to get those annoying gasses back down where we can do something constructive with them—we’re going to have to ‘suck.’

I read a headline today that the world’s first industrial-scaled attempt at removing carbon from the atmosphere was recently brought online (question…why would this seemingly simplistic endeavor take this amount of time to come to fruition? Surely I’m missing something here). Sounds exciting, I thought to myself, delving into the story with gusto. Turns out it’s the Swedes once again leading the way, and apparently there’s an enterprising businessman on the development team.

The facility is located somewhere outside of Zurich and basically operating the way most people might imagine. At its most basic, we’re talking about a ginormous vacuum cleaner that sucks the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Once this has been accomplished, the carbon is filtered out, then used, in this particular example, to help grow things in greenhouses (commercial plant vendors already do something similar, introducing copious amounts of CO2 into the plants’ environment so that they’ll be prompted to grow better, faster, stronger… faster). The company’s rep also claims that synfuels may be developed, as well as providing carbonation for soda, which I thought was a very worthy benefit to pursue.

Then I read the part of the story that absolutely did not work for me. The company hopes to remove 1% of civilization’s global annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. To do so, he said, 250,000 comparable-sized facilities would have to put into operation, as well. Yes, you read that correct—250,000 plants. So…eight years…250,000 more buildings of similar capacity…to achieve 1% extraction of annual global CO2 emissions. Sounds like a good plan, right?

One other very very important aspect of this story to unfortunately emphasize: this enterprise is not contributing to the concept known as ‘negative emissions.’ What’s that, you ask? In practice, it would mean that we are removing more carbon from the air than we are spewing into it. The theory is that, if we reduce the overall amount of the CO2 floating around up there in the atmosphere (the stuff causing the greenhouse effect that is warming the planet) we might gradually cool things down. This facility is not doing that. It’s ‘repurposing’ the carbon (my term), using the very by-product of their efforts for other things such as those already mentioned.

So, to be clear, yes, this outfit is sucking carbon out of the air, but it’s not permanently removing the stuff. No sequestering happening here yet. One can easily imagine that if a company is going to pursue that business model, I guess what we might call the “Removing carbon from the atmosphere, not to better secure an optimistic outlook for future generations, but to then take the sucked-out carbon and make a little cash on the side by using it for things like safeguarding soda as the sticky sweet carbon-ated beverage king it already is” business model, well, that company might be accused of ethical transgressions, moral hazards, legerdemain, bait and switch, etc., and, indeed, such accusations have already been flying.

I’m sure that businessman tucked amongst them is happy to spin the questions that will surely be leveled against him as this carbon removal enterprise begins to look more and more like business as usual.

I took the time to dive into some of the other alternatives on the table as possible solutions to our Climate Change sticky widget, quickly discovering that nobody out there really has the slightest idea about how we’re going to tackle Climate Change head on. There are fleas on the ticks on the flies on the hair of the half-starved dogs we’re calling the best of the best. A solution that comes even remotely close to something that looks and smells like a bona fide solid scientific promise is as far off as that speeding train looked nearly 50 years ago when the subject matter experts started sounding the alarm. As hard as it is to stop a speeding train, looks like it’s just as hard to get up a good head of steam (objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by some…well you know the rest).

The comments I read in many of these journalistic articles are the most honest and unfiltered truth one can find out there. Leave it  to somebody who is a natural born cynic and skeptic to state things as they really are. In truth, we don’t know what the heck we are doing, and we’re simply running out of time to even have a chance at figuring it out.

Meanwhile, the POTUS has taken us out of the Paris Agreement when he absolutely did not have to. Pretty soon, we may have to say that we’re out of the game entirely…all of us, because we understood the rules, we just thought we could skirt around them.

Here’s part of the comment that I liked best because it says the same thing I’ve been saying on this post for several months now. I will not give attribution because I didn’t get this person’s permission. I only offer a ‘two-thumbs-up’ for the honest and simple words that really drive it home for me, simply because it’s true (grammar, punctuation, and slight wording changes mine to improve read…intent wholly intact):

“…I mean besides a very, very select few of us, how many do you observe who take this matter to the level of seriousness it deserves? Most people shrug it off. “Warming, yep, what can you do?” Then they get in their oversized SUV or pickup, crank the AC and floor it into the sunset. There has to be some major major events before people as a whole will take notice, and then it will be too late. I just cannot see people rolling back to the level required to avoid going over the cliff…”

Sincere Thanks for stopping by!


The Dutch and the Garuda

The other day, my friend was looking online at some visually pleasing structures designed solely for the purpose of managing the flow of unwelcome water. She suggested to me that they looked like works of art. I had to agree, even though I imagined that the river they sat in would have been more beautiful still in their absence. I suppose that the trick with all construction whose form follows function is to present them to those forced to stare at them each day in the most palatable aesthetic possible. I think of wind farms and consider that, at times, there’s not much that can be done to “pretty things up.”

That got to me to thinking about the Netherlands, the poppies, windmills, and dikes, and how I keep hearing about Dutch engineering firms staying busy throughout the year and around the world designing the projects that are going to take on the predicted sea levels in the years to come. I wondered why it was that the Netherlands seemed to be dominating the scene as opposed to other countries. Then, after reading up a bit, I realized that, but for human ingenuity, the Dutch geography, left to its own devices, would probably just slip out to sea one day.

Almost the entirety of the country fits cleanly into just three categories: below sea level (more than half of all the land), at sea level, and barely above sea level. Just waking up anywhere in any part of the country would seem to suggest that there must be a constant mindfulness of the sea’s proximity. I also read that the port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and very well run. I supposed, then, that, by default, the Dutch probably had some pretty longstanding and firsthand experience in matters of flood control, with time simply adding to the projects they can point to and say, “Yeah…we know how to do that.” These days, water management projects are in no short supply. Dutch engineering standards are in high demand far and wide.

When I discovered what the Dutch are up against where Climate Change is concerned, it is small wonder that the country takes ‘all things water’ as seriously as it does. They are going to get hammered from here on out and on multiple levels ranging from an encroaching sea, land subsidence, the growing unpredictability of weather patterns, threats to ground water resources, shifting coastlines, rising population, and a host of others challenges that keep the policy makers on high alert at all times. The poor people even have to deal with muskrats intent on destroying the very levies holding the water back. It’s a daily ‘cat and mouse’ game that must be played, else the muskrats win (apparently) and the towns flood.

It seems common sense, then, that the Dutch would export their know-how and can-do attitude when it comes to assisting less-experienced countries dealing with their own Climate Change challenges. The Netherlands is home to some of the world’s most top notch engineering firms, involved in hundreds of projects literally all around the world.

When I think of the Netherlands now, I will think of a country fully engaged in solutions. The more I learned, the more I was inspired. These people are truly amazing and I commend them on the efforts being made to ensure, not only that the country, itself, but countries around the world, can enjoy the benefits of an entrepreneurial spirit that might just make a small but size-able dent in the challenges that lie ahead, and for the betterment of all.

With the whispers from another post here in which I alluded to the bundles of money that will be made in the “Climate Change Sector,” here are a few projects I found the Dutch taking on, and in no particular order:

  • Providing technical assistance (this is probably an understatement) and pitching their best preventive medicine as part of New York’s task force in avoiding future disasters caused by the likes of a Hurricane Sandy.
  • To combat rising sea levels, Jakarta is building a sea wall in the shape of a giant mythical bird known as a Garuda. The Dutch and the Indonesians have been working together on similar ambitious projects for years now, but the scale of this one certainly takes the cake.
  • The Dutch Wind Wheel “a wind turbine that generates electricity from wind without moving parts.”
  • The Dutch help South Africa to better manage their water resources through a number of admirable projects (ORIO and King Fisher).

Check out these related posts and Sincere thanks for stopping by!

An Amazing Truth


The Marvelous Marly Machine

If you are a lover of history, and also jump at the chance to hear any tale involving water in some way, you’re in for a real treat when you stumble upon, as I did, the Marly Machine. If they haven’t made a movie about this fascinating episode in French history, they should.

King Louis XIV (our famous Sun God who might just as accurately have called himself a Water God, given his affinity for the liquid) was in dire engineering straits. The divine ruler needed water and needed it desperately. How was he supposed to host a respectably splendid and stunning fountain show for his subjects at Versailles and Marly without the requisite water? (hint…choose sites for your entertainment venues that are closer to ample water supplies). So he put the word out on the street that he would pay handsomely anyone who could successfully fill his need…and the reservoirs. As time went on, although he collected many proposed hydrologic remedies, Louis was disappointed by the pool of candidates, with most of the outlines for blasting water up the bluff somewhat questionable, at best.

All seemed lost when, at the 11th hour, a couple of ambitious, smart, and creative young fellows by the names of Rennequin Sualem (master carpenter) and Arnold de Ville (engineer for hire) appear on the scene, plans in hand for building the machine. Well, of course, both had prior experience in moving water around, fashioning pumps, extracting water from coal mines, that sort of thing. In the end, the king knew a good thing when he saw it and immediately pushed the project their way, fully confident that the water would effortlessly flow to the fountains. And it did, sort of… eventually, several years later.

Sualem and de Ville feverishly began the work, together plotting and planning the difficult work of modifying the Seine, laying out the construction site, gathering together the small army of workers who would pound the whole flatrod system together. It was one of the most ambitious engineering feats to date. After all, they were going to move water over a longer distance than was prudent and up a steeper incline than was practical (almost a 500 foot vertical rise, all told). How does one go about such an enterprise when electrical pumps haven’t yet been invented (although steam was on its way)? Answer…use water to move water.

Over the centuries, the water wheel has been one of the most basic and useful tools for performing work. Its simple and straightforward principles are still used in many parts of the world today for such mundane tasks as making flour and sawing wood. Dip some paddles down in the flowing water and you have instant, constant, and reliable rotation. Rotary movement is a hallmark for getting work done.

The enterprising duo would have known this, of course (although many engineering principles that would have greatly improved their efficiency were still unknown at the time). It was as much a matter of sheer will power, however, as it was engineering prowess to move the quantities of water they were proposing at the time. The massive machine that resulted, most impressive by any standard, was also highly prone to mechanical failure.

With the entirety of the torque derived from the rotating wheels way down on the river below, the linkages necessary to drive the pumps much further uphill were bound to be problematic. It was probably not well conveyed to the king at the time the contract was awarded that a standing maintenance crew of some sixty men would be required to address the frequent breakdowns that were part and parcel of the mechanical components throughout the project’s lifetime.

Fourteen paddle wheels—each thirty plus feet in diameter—was remarkable stuff, churning on a river that had been narrowed and dropped to provide the necessary flow. After all, the wheels were the engines that drove those hundreds of pumps that heaved the water uphill. The quantities of labor and materials to pull off the King’s self-indulgent stunt were staggering.  Almost two thousand laborers, multiple tens of thousands of tons of wood and iron and lead. It was as though Louis was outfitting an army preparing for war. But if it was war, it was one of aesthetics.  Water, in the case of Louis and Versailles and his fountains, was simply an elegant and expensive way to suggest endless supplies of prestige, power, consumption.

The rattletrap noise the machine made when cranking at full bore (which would have been rare, since…you can probably guess…maintenance and repairs) must have resembled a battlefield barrage, and became the infamous stuff of legend, at times keeping the neighbors angrily awake at all hours of the night.

At any rate, a successful demo was done for Louis in mid-1682, only a year or so after the project had broken ground. Water was shown to move successfully up to the top of the hill by the Seine. It wasn’t until several years later, though, after staged reservoirs had been dug, and a well-arched aqueduct was complete, that the thing was considered finished.

Overall, the king must have been pleased with the results. Sualem was well-compensated for his hard-to-come by skills, eventually obtaining a position in the king’s court and enjoying the benefits of knighthood. Engineer de Ville (Baron and lawyer, to boot) also became quite rich, ultimately bestowed with his own chateau in the vicinity, and rising in stature as he went along, never missing an opportunity to climb.

As is the case in many such monumental undertakings, however, the results were not exactly as planned. As already mentioned, maintenance was ever present and costly. The efficiency of the engineering was beyond inadequate, and the thing was falling down, by degrees, almost before it was fully stood up. And besides, the fountains at Versailles were a real drain on things, simply requiring too much pressure and capacity to run very often as designed. Much of the water pumped by Marly wound up flowing to the much smaller and intimate Chateau of Marly, instead. The water wound up where it was most supposed to be.

Over the decades and centuries, the Marly Machine would undergo numerous transitions, always driven by improved engineering technology. Although the original construction remained in operation until the early 19th century, only remnants of the original works are still evident today.

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