On June 5th, and as all the years since 1974, is celebrated the World Environment Day. Annually, a theme is choosen to conmemorate this day, in 2022 the choosen one has been “Only One Earth”, slogan shared by the Stockholm Conference of 1972 where the United Nations Environment Programme was created (PNUMA).
REsearching all these information, I´ve stopped at the slogan of the past year, not only because of the theme but because I like words games. In 2021 the known 3R of the recycling were modified (REduce, REuse and REcicle) for making the slogan of the Environment 3R “REIMAGINE, RECOVER, RESTORE”
These 3 words are totally aligned with our daily work but what it seems to me more important, because of the difficulty involved, is the “R” of restore…
When we listen that a space needs to be restore, we tend to think in an abandoned mine, a landfill or any space that is desolated and in which we have to plant a handful of trees to make it again pleasing to the eye.
The truth is that ecosystems recover of all the alterations in a natural way, regardless of whether or not the hand of man has intervened, and even some of these changes are temporal or cyclic natural modifications. Then, when we have to act? The answer is easy, when the ecological balance that allows ecosystems to mature and maximise the services and benefits produced has been broken .
If we really stop to think in the spaces that we degradate or the ecosystems we break we will realise that behind our every steps there would have to be an environment restoration project.
For example, what occurs when we construct a road? We divide a landscape, but well, what is a line in the infinity of the castillian land? Seen like that, nor is it… However, what involvement could this line have in our ecosystem? From the point of view of biodiversity, the effects could be devastators. On which side of the road have animals stayed? And where have food stayed? And water? And shelter areas? And if we have divided a herd?
Environmental restoration projects aim to restore the environment to its original state, but this doesn´t mean that roads can´t be built or wind farms put up or a mine exploited. Environmental projects disrupt habitats for imitate the structure, function, diversity and dynamic that has the original ecosystem including also the visual integration of new elements of the landscape.
As well as the restoration of work of arts, we have to take into account several factors if we don´t want that our environmental restoration projects end up being as famous as Borja´s Ecce Homo, do you remember?
For the final result to be as expected, it should be very well planified, because this is the most important and decisive stage of the restoration, and should be addressed from an integrator and multidisciplinar point of view. Ecosystems are complex system in which infinity of variables intervene, therefore the planification must be confronted from all the available perspectives: ecology, zoology, botanics, geology, hydrology , engineer…
Once realized the diagnosis of the area, studied the ecosystem , stablished the objectives that wants to reach and the focus that is going to give, should be defined the technique solutions and evaluate the viability of each one, for later design and execute it.
If we continue with the previous example, for the right execution of huge lineal infrastructures , it should have take into account the ecosystem partitioning, and part of its restoration goes through realize wildlife crossings, that not only avoid traffic accidents for collision with animals or track exists, but allows giving those continuity to the fragmented habitat and avoid the loss of associated biodiversity. Design of wildlife crossing, lower or in height, must be made adapting to the infrastructures in accordance with the existing species of the area, as the needs fot he amphibians would be totally differnt that the needs of small mammals or the ones of big mammals.
Lower wildlife crossings, can be built taking advantage and adapting drainage structures, making them more wide and luminous to avoid tunnel efect, and revegetating entries for favouring the approach of animals but do not obstruct dreinage.
Superior wildlife crossings, in general we know them better, although probably we haven´t noticed them and we think that they are simple bridges or tunnels over our roads. The design of infrastructures has its own technique specifications of wide, acoustic and light insulation, height of side barriers, but also about vegetal and edaphic coverage and access shape for the animals to have a broad view of output and do not perceive they are crossing a high risk area for them.
If 50 years after the creation of PNUMA we can reuse the same slogan, isn´t because we take the 3R´s of recycling to the extreme, but because we should learnt of our mistakes and restored so that this time yes or yes, let us be “ONLY ONE EARTH” #OnlyOneEarth #WorldEnvironmentDay
Climate change and environmental degradation represent one of the greatest threats, not only in the European Union, but in the world. In fact, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that “the climate crisis is a code red for humanity and consequently an urgent and coordinated climate action is needed before it is too late”. This entails work on defining effective adaptation and mitigation strategies towards a climate neutral and resilience society, overcoming the current silo approach in favour of a systemic one for evaluating impacts, risks and interactions of climate change across sectors or systems (e.g. Climate, Energy, Land systems).
A system consists of “an integrated set of interrelated elements that works together and interact within a complex socioeconomic framework” (Hoffman and Wood 1976). In particular, the land system(terrestrial component of the Earth system), recently recognised as a “planet boundary” at risk of being exceeded, is the result of human interaction with the natural environment, so that it encompasses all processes and activities related to the human use of land, including socioeconomic, technological and organizational investments, as well as the benefits gained from land (e.g. food, materials, energy, households, etc.) and the unintended social and ecological impacts of societal activities, as for instance, the biodiversity degradation or the energy poverty among others.
In recent years, land system science has moved from a focus on observation of change and understanding the drivers of these changes to a focus on using this understanding to design sustainable transformations through stakeholder engagement and through the concept of territorial and land use planning. So that, it is clear that a better understanding of drivers, state, trends and impacts of different systems helps to reveal how changes in the land system affect the functioning of the socio-ecological system as a whole and the trade-off these changes may represent. Therefore, thanks to the interrelation among land system and the rest the critical systems on fighting the climate change, land use planning is appointed as key even critical tool in the ecological transition.
As you might imagine, Land use planning is not a new concept, regulating land use may have originated about 4,000 years ago in the mud brick cities of Mesopotamia, however from 1980s onwards, Land use planning practises shifted towards an integrated and participatory approach, involving planning experts, decision-makers and citizens.
Especially relevant in the ecological transition, is the planning of land uses in urban areas, since cities dynamics consuming unlimited resources (cities account the 75% of the natural resources consumption), is unsustainable and exceeds the capacity of some essential variables of ecosystems.
Salvador Rueda1, proposed to consider the city as an ecosystem (formed by interrelated elements among which there are biological organisms), evaluating the efficiency of such ecosystem as the relation between the consumption of resources (E), the number of urban legal entities (n) (economic activities, institutions, facilities and associations) and value of the diversity of legal entities, also called urban complexity (H).
According to this, efforts in cities planning should be focused on establishing a new urban model following the principles of ecosystemic urbanism: improving urban compacity and complexity in its land use organisation, ensuring an efficient use of resources (urban metabolism) and ensuring a greater social cohesion.
In CARTIF, we work on the development of models (at different scales) tools and solutions to support this systemic approach in the transition towards a sustainable use of land, so as to guide decision making Land Use Planning processes and the holistic evaluation of adaptation and mitigation solutions. For instance, in the eParcero project we work to support territorial and land use planning by identifying plots with potential for specific land uses (e.g. industrial development, energy production, etc.), while in the RENERMap project we are developing models for the identification of plots with renewable energy potential (e.g. wind, solar or geothermal energy) that contribute to the decarbonisation of the energy system of our region, through the integration of geospatial climate, environmental and social data in the territorial planning.
Specifically, the RethinkAction project (GA 101037104) coordinated by CARTIF, aims at delivering an Integrated Assessment Platform to simulate and evaluate land use-based solutions at local, EU and global scales over time (2050 and beyond). At local level, a methodology to develop dynamic models in the 6 case studies (representative examples of climate change impacts and land system pressures) will be delivered, by using dynamic modelling methods such as System Dynamics (SD) or Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) along with GIS tools.
From the smartphone we carry every day, the tablet or the computer, till any other portable electric tool we use in our everyday have implicit the use of an electric energy accumulation system, or what is commonly known as batteries, in this case rechargable batteries.
But, we really know what batteries are, what contain or how the materials that make them function can be recovery?
Many times the unknowledge of our environment make us carrying a bad management of some of the elements that surrounds us when they reach their service life.
Before knowing these details, could you tell me how many types of batteries exists nowadays?, we talk about Nickel Metal Hydride, Nikel Cadmium or we focus on lithium-ion, now on everyones´ lips?
Nikel Cadmium are used mainly to feed computers, mobile phones and wireless and some varieties of toys, but they are used less and less.
Nikel Metal Hydride are a battery variety less harmful for the environment and with a longer service life.
Lithium-ion are the batteries with the biggest energy storage capacity in comparison with the previous ones and those that are currently most widely used.
Although this post could go on for as long as some of the encyclopaedias have volumes, those that gather dust on our shelves at home, the initial idea is to get to know lithium-ion batteries a little better and why is necessary to attend the recovery of its materials at the end of their service life.
To understand the importance of this need for materials, it is necessary to understand the dependence of our European continent on raw materials, critical raw materials such as the ones that we found in nowadays Lithium-ion batteries as cobalt, nikel, lithium or manganese. Much of these materials are concentrate in very specific places of the planet, which creates a greater dependence on these.
Right, we already know that exists different types of materials inside lithium-ion batteries, but let´s make it a little more complicated, so it not only exists one type of lithium-ion battery, but, depending on its application, we talk about different chemicals, that is to say, the components that form the different cells of the batteries are based in different materials, quantities and conglomerate, as well as different morphologies. These different, lets say models, are changing since their invention at the end of the 90´s, because of their dependence on raw materials or because of the technological advances. We can count with up to 6 different types of lithium-ion batteries models. And in case you were thinking about it,yes, this will complicate their recycling.
We have already assume that we are dependent in terms of raw materials, but, in addition, we have to add the tendence to decarbonization of our energetic system, that mainly at the transport sector is tending to electric vehicle, that as we already know, uses lithium-ion batteries. Europe´s goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Going back to the initial question, we already know which materials make up a battery and that there are many types of them, but in addition we know the need of our european community in terms of reuse of these materials, therefore, we would have to recover those materials at the end of the lithium-ion batteries life service, but, how it is done?
Currently it exists 3 huge methods for recycling those batteries named pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy and direct recycling, whose influence over the value chain is next one:
Pyrometallurgy: high temperature foundry process, it should be made up of 2 steps: first, batteries are burnt in a foundry, where the compounds are decomposed and organic materials are burnt, such as the plastic and the separator; the new alloys are generated by the ashes carbon reduction.
Hydrometallurgy: in this process, the materials recovery is achieve by an aqueous chemistry, through the leaching in acid disolutions (or basic) and his later concentration and purification, by the evaporation or separation of the solvent. Purity and quality of the extracted metals are usually differentiated according to this last purification stage of the process.
Direct recycling: recovery method proposed for reaconditioning and recover directly batteries active materials, preserving their oirginal structure.
If we pay attention to carbon neutrality, the first method will no longer be feasible at long term, so involves a series of green house efect emissions associated, therefore the most sustainable ways would be hydrometallurgy and direct recycling.
People hear a lot about the decline of bees, about the lack of pollinators, but what are pollinators? more importantly, what do they do for us and what do we do for them?
The group of pollinators is very wide, not only honey bees, which belong to one specific family. In fact, in Spain we have more than 1,000 species of bees from six different families, 75% of bees are solitary and live on the ground and with more than 20,000 species of bees in the world they have evolved and are organised in many different ways.
Other pollinators are birds, mammals and reptiles because plants are very clever – they have been on earth for many millions of years longer than we have! And that results in greater evolution and adaptation. Plants have developed sophisticated methods of attraction to achieve their reproductive purposes because the pollen has to reach its destination! They use everything from lizards to flies and bats, not forgetting air and water, which also help in pollination.
But if there are so many means for pollination, why are pollinators, in particular bees, so important? Well, at least, in this case, size and shape matter! There are all kinds of insects, small, fat, long, with very long tongues, in short, many sizes! Just as there are many shapes and sizes of flowers and pollen grains because plants are very sybaritic.
Plants have evolved in such a way that each one has developed its own system, some of them very exclusive, to avoid pollen from other plants, that is why there are so many smells, to make a first selection of “be my guests!”; and many sizes, some bees have to stick out their proboscis or “tongue” up to 20mm to get to the food; some, like the passionflower, have very large stamen and pistils, and can only be pollinated by large bumblebees; others are complicated, like the snapdragon flower, where the bee has to get inside as if it were a cave; and others are smaller, likedaisies, which need a small insect and are therefore pollinated, for example, by small black and yellow striped flies, which are the hoverflies. The sunflower is a large daisy and therefore needs a larger pollinator such as the honey bee. There are thousands of families of bees of different sizes, ranging from 4-5 mm to 30-35 mm (honey bees measure between 15 and 20 mm).
Both flowers, sunflower and daisy, have large yellow or white “petals” around them (which are actually ligule) and a bunch of little yellow flowers in the centre from which the seeds come out (which in sunflowers we call pipas). Next time you pass by a park, pick up a daisy and look closely at the yellow part, they are all little flowers! With their stamens, stigmas and all the parts of a flower that we hardly remember from when we studied them at school!
Colours are another attraction mechanism for pollinators to detect them from far away! With our eyesight, all colours look the same to us, but with their special vision, they see the colours of the flowers differently. In the end, plants have made insects and pollinators evolve as pollen carriers, and in return, they provide delicacies in the form of fruit, seeds, pollen, nectar, etc. As you can see, there are numerous mechanisms to attract the right pollinator, so if the population of one disappears in a short period of time, the plant cannot adapt and even less reproduce.
Many pollinators obtain food rewards from plants, but they do not feed exclusively on them like reptiles or birds, but bees do, they depend exclusively on plants for food. Both their larvae and the adult insect feed on floral products such as nectar and pollen. And as we have seen, not all flowers feed all pollinators.
So how can we help pollinators?
We can build them a shelter, depending on the family of bees they have different forms of housing or social grouping. Some build galleries in the ground where they live, so placing a pot in the window is enough; others in holes in logs or pieces of wood, even shells!. So a simple and space-saving way is to put up a hotel for solitary bees. It is very simple, consisting of a bundle of cut bamboo canes or a piece of wood with holes of different diameters between 5-25 mm, with a base, that is, that does not go through the wood and without cracks, as these are possible entrances for parasites and predators. There the bees will lay their eggs, which they will leave with the nectar or pollen collected and cover it up, and after a year the new bees will leave and go and look for another hole. So there is no danger of being stung. Bees don’t live there, they just lay their eggs, they are solitary, they don’t form hives, they don’t form communities, they sleep on flowers and branches.
Solitary bees don’t sting! Well yes, but not like honey bees, I mean, many bees die when they sting you, solitary bees do not form communities, as they do not have to defend it, they are not aggressive, they do not attack, they do not sting, this makes it a good idea to install this type of shelters in schools, children can get close and see how many holes are plugged, and count the bees they have helped.
Also, these bees only collect food for their own food and larvae, so they don’t need to collect so much, others need food to raise all their offspring, and others need food for the whole colony and humans, so if you disturb them with your hand, most of them leave, they don’t want trouble, attacking you costs them their lives, but others are more insistent because they need a lot of food and the closer you are to the hive, like the honey bees, the more aggressive they can become and attack.
This is why there are special regulations for keeping beehives, which are considered a type of livestock farming (beekeeping or honey farming) and have to comply with requirements regarding distances to populations, etc. It even has to respect the distance between them, since, if there is little food, it attacks other pollinators, such as solitary bees, as they are competing for food.
It is also important to have flowers all year round, for them and for us, there are many native plants with different flowering periods so that they have food all year round, in different sizes for bees of all sizes.
How do they help us? The best-known part of the work of pollinators is that of pollination. 80% of plants depend on them, and many of them are responsible for providing us with food. 75% of crops currently need pollination, and this includes the crops needed to feed livestock, so the production of livestock by-products also depends on them.
Pollinators are therefore our allies, and it is thanks to them that a large part of natural and urban plant communities and our food is maintained. Climate change, pesticides, agricultural intensification, the continuous clearing and mowing of parks and fields, including the proliferation of beehives, are causing their population to decline rapidly. Moreover, we still have a lot to learn about them, so it is very necessary to help them consciously and rationally, and not only at the level of experts, but also at the social level, all of us can help their conservation, taking care of pollinators and cultivating more flowers around us, since without flowers there are no pollinators and vice versa.
The education that people receive during all his life it´ s been influenced by the environment in which we live. When we are young and we start to be conscious about the world, the society usually provide us with the models and with the level of knowledge that it is consider, in general, necessary. The families, the neighbourhood, health professionals and the school maybe are the ones that more influence exercise because from the adult society it is believed that they are the ones that can help us the most to teach the level of minimal culture that it is considered, as standard, necessary. Without entering into the discussion of the more appropriate educative model, the right thing is that nowadays we give a lot of emphasis to the type of education that it has to be offer in schools and in other education centers.
From the project LIFE myBUILDINGisGREEN, in which CARTIF takes part, we want to explore how incorporating healthy and re-naturalized spaces in schools, can help to, in addition to adapt the buildings to the climate change effects, to form people and to increase the culture in childhood.
Schools have a huge importance in girls and boys, as it is where they spend most part of their childhood and the new generations also begin to develop as individuals. On one side, they begin to acquire basic knowledge that is part of the colective culture and that in different degree humans are using. It is also where they begin to acquire values and reference models.
On the other side, the school building and its design it also has a huge influence in the learning, as it affect to the environmental conditions where lessons are developed. The humidity and temperature levels in the classes are relationed with the learning capacity 1,2,3,4. High temperatures could have a significative impact in the students efficiency, inhibit learning and generate stress. The interior thermic conditioning and the air renovation levels is a theme that was not taken into account in the construction of most of the schools that are nowadays in use and, in consequence, the environmental conditions of the education centers most of the times are not adequate. Should not be accepted that lessons can be develop with temperatures and air relative humidities below or beyond the range that it is established in the actual regulation (as it is the RITE5 case in Spain). Maybe, because of the singularity and importance of the schools, the standars should be even more restrictives that those considered by the regulation. In this sense, using natural solutions can be exploited the principles of the bioclimatic architecture to improve the thermal comfort of people inside the buildings. Moreover, these type of natural solutions also allow to improve the conditions in the outdoor play and physical activity areas, improving the quality of the learning environment.
But in this sense, from LIFE myBUILDINGisGREEN wants to go further and saw that the actual design of the buildings and playgrounds where dominate hard materials, in which it hasn´ t take into account bioclimatic architecture solutions and in which it seems that the comfort of the propper users it has been sacrified in pursuit of other aspects such as the reduction of the maintenance cost or seeking to keep children´ s soling to a minimum, it is not the most propper from different points of view.
The fault of natural ground, the low presence of trees or bushes and of other vegetation makes schools places in which frequently the presence of nature is avoided. From our point of view, this conception of education spaces drives away the new generations from nature and can influence in the perception of how urbanised spaces should be.
However, the current knowledge tell us that society has to go the other way if it is to solve long-term problems or at least if we want to adapt us to the consequences of the climate change. If we don´ t start teaching child the coexistence and the respect to the nature, the propper management of the resources and to modify most of the behaviours we carry out, it will be more difficult to deal the challenge that we have in front. Society has to act from a lot of points of view, but we can´´ t forgot that those that nowadays enjoy their childhood are the ones that would have to face this challenge in the next decades. From LIFE myBUILDINGisGREEN we believe that increasing the contact of child with the nature and making it participants of their beneficial effects will allow us creating a future society more prepared to face the challenges that are coming.
We leave for another day talking about how it also affects the education in the society, not only in the childhood, the type of urban spaces we live in. Have at its disposal of parks and green areas near our houses or work areas, the presence of green infrastructures and biodiversity in the streets and the management of social challenges using natural solutions instead of using always “hard” solutions and that they only have an athropocentric view of problems. This anthropocentric vision also tends to forget the weakest, or those who complain the least.
5 The operative temperature recomended by the RITE is: In summer: between 23ºC and 25ºC (front 23ºC and 27ºC by the INSHT). In winter: between 21ºC and 23ºC (front 17ºC and 24ºC by the INSHT). The relative humidity marked is between the 45-60% in summer and between the 40-50% in winter.
On 2o July I could not stop myself from thinking about Jeff Bezos. He made a short journey to space, organizing his own private trip. There were plenty of headlines. And many different opinions on the subject.
Was the issue that was of concern to me if he was returned from space safe and sound?. Well, not exactly.
My concern was not in how much the space trip cost (or maybe yes), not in thinking if his decision had a coherent basis (or maybe yes) or in the high-impact maedia coverage (or maybe yes). The problem was that I couldn´ t get out of my mind the environmental impact of the trip, from a life cycle perspective.
After the trip, Jeff Bezos said its spaceflight revealed the fragility of Earth.
But was his trip a sustainable initiative for this fragiel Earth?
Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, shifting its focus towards the economic, social and environmental development.
To be able to say that the environmental part of the sustainability is being considered, it is needed to evaluate the impact and communicate the result through effective and transparent communication indicators, such as the carbon footprint. It estimates the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the production, processing and retailing of goods and/or services, considering their life cycle and using the global warming potential as the only indicator.
It seems that we are becoming aware of the importance of improving energy efficiency at home or using the pblic transport, but we continue to maintain many unsustainable practices in our day to day. For instance. I would ask you to think about the energy consumption required by your daily interactions on the internet. Then, multiply this number by 4,200 billion Internet users.
“Houston, we have a problem!”
Knowing which activities are the largest sources of GHG in our everyday lifes, we can change them towards more environmentally friendly actions, and thanks to the information shared by the International Energy Agency (IEA), I would like to tell you three steps to take a digital detox that will minimize your carbon footprint.
Cleaning: delete emails and online files that you no longer need. This action frees up space on the servers. And the social media accounts that you no longer use. The simple fact of existing and occupying space on the internet generates an environmental impact.
Unsubscribe from the newsletters you are not reading: whilst the carbon footprint of an email is not huge, cutting down on the number of unnecesary emails you receive is one important way to reduce the CO2 eq emitted by these emails. And in a matter of emissions, each email counts.
Choose carefully what videos you would like to play, maybe a pocast would be better.
Applying the equity principle to the environment, each person in the world has the right to us the same amount of environmental space, so if we commit ourselves to use efficiently our resources with minimal environmental impacts, the whole society will benefit.
Because this implies that the responsability is shared by everyone. That is to say, it is not only from Jeff Bezos.
The technological offer at CARTIF is varied, we are not dedicated to space tourism but we do evaluate the sustainability and calculate environmental footprints.
Therefore waiting for Jeff Bezos call impatiently!!
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