Floating Buildings Are Resilient If Global Warming Rises

(p. B6) More developers are building waterborne structures. Floating buildings can alleviate housing shortages in major cities at a time when land is scarce and restrictive zoning makes it hard to build up, said Koen Olthuis, whose Netherlands-based architecture firm Waterstudio specializes in floating structures.

For flood-prone cities like Miami, structures that rise and sink with the sea offer an alternative to waterfront construction that looks increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels. “Climate change has definitely helped us spread our designs and ideas,” Mr. Olthuis said.

. . .

In Rotterdam’s harbor, developer RED Company is building a 54,000-square-foot, three-story, wooden, floating office building. The project, which will serve as the new headquarters of the Global Center on Adaptation, will be energy-neutral and feature solar panels and a floating swimming pool, according to the company.

GCA helps countries, companies and organizations to adapt to climate change. The center’s CEO Patrick Verkooijen said that Rotterdam is threatened by rising sea levels and that the “completely self sufficient floating office is one of many examples of how we must adapt to the realities of climate change to ensure our infrastructure is not only resilient but future proof.”

. . .

Some hope the trend will ultimately lead to floating cities. The Seasteading Institute advocates for communities in international waters as “startup societies” that can make up their own rules. It was founded by investor Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman, the grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

For the full story, see:

Konrad Putzier. “Developers Float Answer to Floods.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2020, and has the title “Are Floating Hotels, Office Buildings the Answer to Rising Sea Levels?”)

Single-Use Plastic Bags Are the Best Environmental Choice

(p. A15) Popular misconceptions have sustained the plastic panic. Environmentalists frequently claim that 80% of plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources, but a team of scientists from four continents reported in 2018 that more than half the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. Another study, published last year by Canadian and South African researchers, found that more than 80% of the plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore of Inaccessible Island, an uninhabited extinct volcano in the South Atlantic, originated in China. They must have been tossed off boats from Asia, the greatest source of what researchers call “mismanaged waste.”

Of the plastic carried into oceans by rivers, a 2017 study in Nature Communications estimated, 86% comes from Asia and virtually all the rest from Africa and South America.

. . .

Yet single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining.

For the full commentary, see:

John Tierney. “Plastic Bags Help the Environment.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 18, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Nature Communications study mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Lebreton, Laurent C. M., Joost van der Zwet, Jan-Willem Damsteeg, Boyan Slat, Anthony Andrady, and Julia Reisser. “River Plastic Emissions to the World’s Oceans.” Nature Communications 8, no. 1 (June 10, 2017): 1-10.

“This Is America, Where People Most Value Their Time”

(p. A24) New York is banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags statewide on Sunday [March 1, 2020] . . . .

. . .

There, . . ., are skeptics of the plastic ban, especially in New York City, where most people do not drive to supermarkets and shops. A bedrock feature of life in the city is running errands on the spur of the moment, or making impulse buys while walking or using public transportation.

“This is going to be the worst thing to happen to this store,” said Sal Husain, who manages a C-Town grocery store in the Inwood section of Manhattan.

. . .

Across the street, Fatih Demir has been selling fruits for the past 15 years from a stand pitched below a white canopy. Most of his business comes from subway riders heading to and from the A train, he said.

“Our customers keep asking, ‘What’s going to happen?’” he said. “The woman who sells next to me keeps asking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ People don’t have the time to prepare for this stuff. This is America, where people most value their time.”

For the full story, see:

Anne Barnard. “Don’t Forget Your Tote Bag! Ban on Plastic Arrives.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Get Ready, New York: The Plastic Bag Ban Is Starting.”)

“Dr. Dyson’s Mind Burned Until the End”

(p. B12) Freeman J. Dyson, a mathematical prodigy who left his mark on subatomic physics before turning to messier subjects like Earth’s environmental future and the morality of war, died on Friday [February 28, 2020] at a hospital near Princeton, N.J. He was 96.

. . .

As a young graduate student at Cornell University in 1949, Dr. Dyson wrote a landmark paper — worthy, some colleagues thought, of a Nobel Prize — that deepened the understanding of how light interacts with matter to produce the palpable world. The theory the paper advanced, called quantum electrodynamics, or QED, ranks among the great achievements of modern science.

. . .

Dr. Dyson called himself a scientific heretic and warned against the temptation of confusing mathematical abstractions with ultimate truth.

. . .

Relishing the role of iconoclast, he confounded the scientific establishment by dismissing the consensus about the perils of man-made climate change as “tribal group-thinking.” He doubted the veracity of the climate models, and he exasperated experts with sanguine predictions they found rooted less in science than in wishfulness: Excess carbon in the air is good for plants, and global warming might forestall another ice age.

In a profile of Dr. Dyson in 2009 in The New York Times Magazine, his colleague Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate, observed, “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”

Dr. Dyson’s distrust of mathematical models had earlier led him to challenge predictions that the debris from atomic warfare could blot out the sun and bring on a devastating nuclear winter. He said he wished that were true — because it would add to the psychological deterrents to nuclear war — but found the theory wanting.

For all his doubts about the ability of mortals to calculate anything so complex as the effects of climate change, he was confident enough in our toolmaking to propose a technological fix: If carbon dioxide levels became too high, forests of genetically altered trees could be planted to strip the excess molecules from the air. That would free scientists to confront problems he found more immediate, like the alleviation of poverty and the avoidance of war.

He considered himself an environmentalist. “I am a tree-hugger, in love with frogs and forests,” he wrote in 2015 in The Boston Globe. “More urgent and more real problems, such as the overfishing of the oceans and the destruction of wildlife habitat on land, are neglected, while the environmental activists waste their time and energy ranting about climate change.” That was, to say the least, a minority position.

. . .

Richard Feynman, a young professor at Cornell, had invented a novel method to describe the behavior of electrons and photons (and their antimatter equivalent, positrons). But two other physicists, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, had each independently devised a very different way. Each of these seemed to satisfy the requirements of both quantum mechanics and special relativity — two of nature’s acid tests. But which one was correct?

While crossing Nebraska on a Greyhound bus, Dr. Dyson was struck by an epiphany: The theories were mathematically equivalent — different ways of saying the same thing. The result was QED. Feynman called it “the jewel of physics — our proudest possession.”

. . .

Dr. Dyson’s mind burned until the end. In 2012, when he was 88, he collaborated with William H. Press on a paper about the prisoner’s dilemma, a mathematical concept important to understanding human behavior and the nature of evolution.

In his 90s, Dr. Dyson was still consulting for the government — on nuclear reactor design and the new gene-editing technology called CRISPR. In 2018, the year he turned 95, his book “Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters” was published.

For the full obituary, see:

George Johnson. “Freeman Dyson, 96, Math Genius, Tech Visionary and Writer, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): B12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Freeman Dyson, Math Genius Turned Visionary Technologist, Dies at 96.”)

Human-Made Shipwrecks Create “Magnificent Ecosystems” in “Habitats of Opportunity”

(p. A19) Off the coast of Mississippi, under 4,000 feet of water, a luxury yacht is slowly disintegrating. Marine creatures dart, cling and scuttle near the hull of the wreck, which has been lying undisturbed for 75 years.

But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this shipwreck and others, researchers have now shown — distinct assemblages of microbes inhabit the seafloor surrounding these structures, helping to turn shipwreck sites into artificial reefs rich in life.

Shipwrecks are trespassers on the bottom of the ocean, human-made structures decidedly out of their element. But a wreck’s intrusion gradually becomes welcome as various forms of marine life seek refuge among the steel and wood.

. . .

Magnificent ecosystems exist around shipwrecks, said Andrew Davies, a marine biologist at the University of Rhode Island who was not involved in the research. But it’s been largely unknown how these artificial structures affect the surrounding seafloor, he said, so it’s good to see studies like this that are focused on “habitats of opportunity.”

For the full story, see:

Katherine Kornei. “The Tiniest Forms of Life Roll Out the Red Carpet For Shipwreck Dwellers.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 22, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 21, 2020, and has the title “Microbes Point the Way to Shipwrecks.”)

In Last Decade, Extreme Poverty in World Fell from 18.2% to 8.6%

(p. A15) The 2010s have been the best decade ever. The evidence is overwhelming. Start with the United Nations Development Report. Framed as a warning about inequality, it plays down the good news: “The gap in basic living standards is narrowing, with an unprecedented number of people in the world escaping poverty, hunger and disease.”

The World Bank reports that the world-wide rate of extreme poverty fell more than half, from 18.2% to 8.6%, between 2008 and 2018. Last year the World Data Lab calculated that for the first time, more than half the world’s population can be considered “middle class.”

. . .

Rich countries use less aluminum, nickel, copper, steel, stone, cement, sand, wood, paper, fertilizer, water, crop acreage and fossil fuel every year, as Andrew McAfee documents in “More From Less.” Consumption of 66 out of 72 resources tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey is now declining.

For the full commentary, see:

Johan Norberg. “The 2010s Have Been Amazing.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 17, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary is related to the author’s book:

Norberg, Johan. Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. London, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2016.

The book by McAfee, mentioned in the commentary, is:

McAfee, Andrew. More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources―and What Happens Next. New York: Scribner, 2019.

Cities Suspend Recycling as Costs Rise and Benefits Fall

(p. A1) For decades, America and much of the developed world threw their used plastic bottles, soda cans and junk mail in one bin. The trash industry then shipped much of that thousands of miles to China, the world’s biggest consumer of scrap material, to be sorted and turned into new products.

That changed last year when China banned imports of mixed paper and plastic and heavily restricted other scrap.

. . .

The moves have caused a seismic shift in how the world deals with its waste. Long used to shipping off trash to poorer countries to sort and process, nations are now faced with the question of what recycling is worth to them.

. . .

(p. A11) For some towns, the finances don’t work. Waste collectors in Deltona, Fla., got just $5 a ton for mixed paper last year, compared with $120 a ton in 2017, while processing costs stayed flat at $80 a ton. “With the current state of the recycling market, there is little if any market for the processed collected recyclable materials,” City Manager Jane Shang said in January [2019]. The next month, Deltona suspended its recycling program.

For the full commentary, see:

Saabira Chaudhuri. “World Faces Trash Glut After China Ban.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, December 20, 2019): A1 & A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 19, 2019, and has the title “Recycling Rethink: What to Do With Trash Now That China Won’t Take It.” Where there is a slight difference in wording in the sentences quoted above, the online version is followed.)