Category Archives: Energy

Canada`s lack of drinking water standards: Fracking waste water being injected into old wells in northeastern B.C.

This is not safe at all. Does our government and elected leaders understand that our Human Rights are at risk? Water.ca reports “there are literally thousands of different water systems in British Columbia—more than 3,000 public and community water systems under provincial jurisdiction and 468 small First Nations water systems under federal jurisdiction. While water systems share some common features, individual water systems are designed in different ways and will face specific issues and challenges.”  Here is a ijerph-11-04634 (2) Drinking Water Quality Guidelines across Canadian Provinces 2014 that states more research is required due to the high degree of variability in drinking water management and oversight capacity between urban and rural areas. While research is recommended our water is being contaminated due to the lack of consistent drinking water standards across Canada. Add global warming and fracking to the mix and we have a recipe for disaster of unknown proportions. If you know of any other reports that should be archived, please forward it to me through a Comment below; I would be very grateful for your help. Sorry, I had quite a few problems getting this document to look and read correctly so I`ve given up. Please read it though. Thanks.

In this Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water in British Columbia  report dated 2002 it states:

There are more than 3,300 water systems in BC:
British Columbia’s Water Systems
There are more than 3,300 water systems in B.C. The 96 systems
operating in large municipalities serve close to 90 per cent of the
population. The remaining 10 per cent of the population is served
by a variety of public and private systems:
 • Small municipalities (57 systems);
 • Regional district service areas (97 systems);
 • Improvement districts (211 systems);
 • Private water utilities (185 systems);
 • Water users communities (118 systems);
 • First Nation reserves (468 systems);
 • Individual private wells and domestic licensees (est. 63,000);
 • Others including Crown Corporations, industrial operations,
 BC Parks and private campgrounds, mobile home parks,
 restaurants and service stations (estimated 2100 systems).
Approximately 2,000 systems have fewer than 15 connections

 

Based on the conflicting number of water systems reported below, I don’t believe the BC Government has any idea how many water systems we have in BC. If that is true, then how can they have control over the safety of our water?

In this report waterreport08_web BC Govt of Health report titled Progress on the Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water dated 2008 dated 2008 it states there are over 4,591 different water systems in BC and 945 on Vancouver Island.

In this reported drinking-water-report-2011 Progress on the Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water in BC 2011 dated 2011 states there are 4,550 water systems in BC and 746 on Vancouver Island.

 

I have been watching the boil water advisories in Powell River who installed a water treatment system a few years ago and still have too many boil water advisories for my comfort level. Why is that?

 

 

In this report dated 2004 titled Please Hold – A Report on Diminished Monitoring and Enforcement Capacity in the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection it states:

“there are 320 human icons on this report’s front cover. Each
represents a public servant who lost his or her job with British Columbia’s
Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection over the past three years. Colour
changes signify job losses in a new job category. The large mass of 128
purple icons on the bottom half of the page, for example, corresponds to
the 128 Scientific Technical Officers whose jobs were lost. For a complete
breakdown of job losses by category see page eight of this report.”

The above report further states:

Viewed in isolation, the cutbacks to the Ministry of Water, Land and Air
Protection may seem dramatic. When recent history is considered, however,
they take on added gravity.

Drawing on payroll and budget data from the provincial government it is
possible to arrive at figures on just how many people and/or full-time
equivalent positions were dropped from the public payroll over the past
decade.

Two ministries where substantial cuts occurred were MWLAP’s predecessor,
the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP), and the Ministry of
Forests (MOF). Payroll data shows that between the years 1991 and 1996
employment in both ministries rose considerably. But from 1996 through
2000 employment levels steadily dropped.4

The number of regular MOF employees fell nearly 17 per cent from 4,590 to
3,823. In MELP the cuts were deeper, amounting to an even 22 per cent,
with the number of regular employees falling steadily from 2,336 in 1996 to
1,823 by 2000.

It also has a table which I’ve cut & paste below and states:

Two ministries where substantial cuts occurred were MWLAP`s predecessor, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP), and the Ministry of Forests (MOF). … MELP was subsequently split into two ministries – MWLAP and the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management or MSRM.

Cuts resulted in employment declines by:

MWLAP 29.8%

MSRM 50.4%

MOF 27.9%

DATE MWLAP MSRM MOF

July 2001 1,317 FTEs 1,519 FTEs 4,083 FTEs
(1st Liberal budget)
Feb. 2004 924 FTEs 754 FTEs 2,942 FTEs
(latest budget)
Total Lost 393 FTEs 765 FTEs 1,141 FTEs
Percentage Decline 29.8 % 50.4 % 27.9 %

I strongly recommend reading the whole report to understand how these cuts are going to affect us with respect to fracking in BC.

 

 

Here is another report from our Ombudsman dated 2008 that is well worth reading too.

 

Acknowledgements:

Click to access Ombudsmans-Report-on-Drinking-Water.pdf


Click to access waterreport08_web.pdf


http://www.water.ca/wkd-guide-drink-water-1.asp#bc

Click to access safe_drinking_printcopy.pdf


http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Fracking+waste+water+being+injected+into+wells+northeastern/9942146/story.html
http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
ijerph-11-04634 (2) Drinking Water Quality Guidelines across Canadian Provinces 2014
waterreport08_web BC Govt of Health report titled Progress on the Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water dated 2008

drinking-water-report-2011 Progress on the Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water in BC 2011

Warning To Gulf Volunteers: Almost Every Cleanup Worker From The 1989 Exxon Valdez Disaster Is Now Dead

This is like signing up for a war. Would you volunteer to help? Click here to read this article.

Germany’s 10 Huge Lessons About Solar Energy

Check this out from Germany who have embraced solar energy. Why can’t we? This is a must read. Click here for the full article or read an excerpt below.

 

http://climatecrocks.com/2013/02/11/germanys-10-huge-lessons-about-solar-energy/

 

Electricity suppliers get their electricity on the grid through a bidding process. The suppliers that can sell their electricity to the grid for cheapest win. Because the costs of solar and wind power plants are essentially just in the process of building them (the fuel costs are $0 and the maintenance costs are negligible), they can outbid pretty much every other source of power. As a result, 1) they win the bids when they produce electricity; 2) they drive down the price of wholesale electricity.

Because solar power is often produced when electricity demand is the greatest (and electricity is, thus, the least available and most expensive), it brings down the price of electricity even more than wind.

 

 

Canadian Fracking Lacks Credible Groundwater Monitoring: Expert

Between Environmental Officers being let go and Scientists still working afraid to speak out how are we to know what is happening to our groundwater except for individuals like Jessica Ernst standing up for us to speak out on our behalf. She doesn’t need us, we need her. Click here for the source of the article and stand behind and support Jessica Ernst if you can. Thanks.

 

 

The Alberta Energy Regulator has also reported the contamination of a shallow aquifer by fracking fluids in Grand Prairie in 2012.

Industry, government and media “mantras” of fracking as problem-free industry stem from a near total absence of good science and proper groundwater monitoring across North America, Cherry said.

“I found no cases where rigorous groundwater monitoring has been done at any fracking pad. Exactly zero, not a single one. Anywhere, ever,” Cherry said during his recent Toronto talk.

‘International delinquents’

Cherry also said that dismissive comments by Rich Coleman, British Columbia’s minister of Natural Gas Development, about water concerns and fracking weakened the industry’s social licence.

Last year, Coleman called a Vancouver Province editorial on the water impacts of shale gas fracking by geologist David Hughes and journalist Ben Parfitt as “unfounded and inaccurate.”

Cherry called such comments by a politician irresponsible. “As an expert, I know that British Columbia has invested very little money in the type of research and monitoring that it would need to make statements about shale gas being safe.”

An effective groundwater monitoring system, as first set out by Vancouver engineer Frank Patton in 1998, places measuring devices into specifically-designed wells that sample and track the movement of water contaminants over time and at various depths from a variety of locations. Not even the oilsands has set up such a basic system, said Cherry.

Given that industry spends millions of dollars on the fracking of unconventional deposits and often billions in certain regions, it is imperative that government funds basic research to protect groundwater and the atmosphere, he said.

Asked why government was reluctant to monitor a public resource as valuable as groundwater, the hydrologist replied that it costs money to monitor past societal mistakes. “Groundwater pollution develops slowly over years and decades. If there is anything that government can shrug off to the future, it’s groundwater.”  [Tyee]

 

Shale Gas Supply to the Greater Toronto Area

Fracking is not all its cracked up to be. Click here to read an assessment by David Hughes. If fracking is coming to your area, do a water analysis in order to establish a baseline.

 

Early warning of climate tipping points

Interesting document with graphics. Click here for the entire article and please share; I`m sure someone could definitely use this information. Thanks.

Asia: Project Surya – Fighting Climate Change Now

This was on Knowledge Network TV tonight and is the first I’ve heard about it.  Click here to learn more or read an excerpt below.

 

Protecting Water and Food Security

The Glaciers of the Himalayas – Asia’s Water Fountain

BC emissions threaten supplies of water and food for up to 4 billion people worldwide

The Himalayan mountain range has the world’s largest concentration of glaciers outside of the polar ice caps (33,000 km2).  These glaciers feed virtually all of Asia’s major rivers: The Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang Ho rivers all originate in the Himalayas.  The populations of South and East Asian nations thus rely heavily on these glaciers for their water.  This is why some call the Himalayan glaciers the “water fountain of Asia.”

Glacial Retreat: A Threat to Security

Glacial retreat is being accelerated by global warming.  Moreover, black carbon (BC) emissions that enter the atmosphere drop back to earth after a few months, and when that BC lands on glaciers, it darkens them, attracting sunlight and further exacerbating melting.

Progressive retreat of the Gangotri Himalayan glacier 1780-2001

Glacial lakes formed by retreat of glaciers in Bhutan

If that were to happen, the water and food security of up to two-thirds of the world’s population would be imperiled. 

 

Cyanobacteria: Washington state the center of climate change solutions

I am really not sure about this technology given that we don’t know a whole lot about what it is capable of. Click here for the full article or read an excerpt from their website.

 

Our synthetic and systems biology approach has led to several game-changing breakthroughs. We’ve engineered strains of cyanobacteria that can both produce high levels of lipids (oils) internally or secrete them externally. We’ve developed tools and the capability to genetically engineer multiple species of cyanobacteria. We’ve profiled the expression and metabolite patterns of multiple strains of cyanobacteria which allow us to unlock regulatory bottlenecks and identify new pathway opportunities.

 

 

Cyanobacteria: 4 Ways Tiny Microbes Changed Life on Earth Forever

For something so tiny, these bacteria or microbes have amazing power. I`m still not sure what they`re really capable of. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below. Wow!

Sarah Zhang, Gawker Media

This is the microbes’ world-we just live in it. Throughout the history of Earth, microbes have radically reshaped life on the planet, from creating the very air we breath to wiping out almost all life on earth. Don’t underestimate the power of tiny, tiny microbes populating the Earth trillions of times over.

Here are some of the ways microbes have done what humans are doing now: geoengineering the climate.

How the Earth’s Atmosphere Got Oxygen

Among the complications of traveling 3 billion years back in time is the fact that you would immediately suffocate. There wasn’t much oxygen, if any, in Earth’s atmosphere back then. But about 2.7 or 2.8 billion years ago, cyanobacteria-also known as blue-green algae-began to proliferate for reasons still unclear. Like their descendants today, these cyanobacteria could turn sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. You might recognize this process as photosynthesis.

The oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere increased rapidly-for a geologic time scale, anyway-reaching the 21 percent we breathe today. The Great Oxygenation Event had a profound impact on Earth’s life. Oxygen is highly reactive, which means it messes up the metabolism of microbes unused to living in an oxygenated atmosphere. Those microbes, called anaerobes, once dominated the Earth but now live deep underground or underwater where oxygen is still scarce. On the flip side, oxygen’s reactivity could also be harnessed for metabolism, making possible the very existence of energy-hungry, multicellular organisms like us. Complex animals could not exist if not for these cyanobacteria.

Geologists know about the Great Oxygenation Event because of the sudden appearance of iron oxides-basically forms of rust-over two billion years ago in the Earth’s crust. Collectively, these tiny cyanobacteria made their mark on Earth, shaping both the planet’s animate and inanimate forms.

4 Ways Tiny Microbes Changed Life on Earth Forever

Banded iron formations in red at Dales Gorge in Australia. Wikimedia Commons

The Worst Mass Extinction in the History of the Earth

250 million years ago, Earth went through the Great Dying. Temperatures rose, the oceans acidified, and ninety percent of all species were wiped off the face of the planet. One of the more prominent explanations for the Permian-Triassic Extinction is a burst of volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps of modern-day Russia. A recent study fingers an additional culprit: a bloom in methane-belching microbes called Methanosarcina.

According to this study, Methanosarcina simply acquired two genes from an unrelated bacterium about 250 million years ago. These genes let the microbes feed on a previously untapped food source: a carbon compound called acetate abundant in ocean sediments. Feed and grow they did, all the while releasing vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, that warmed the atmosphere and acidified the oceans. Volcanoes could have still played in a role in spewing out nickel, which is necessary for the chemical reaction that lets microbes make methane gas. The abundance of nickel would have eased along the microbe’s runaway growth-and decimation of the rest life on Earth.

Nitrogen-Fixing Microbes and Our Food

In 1910, the German chemist Fritz Haber invented a process to mimic what microbes had been already doing for millions of years: fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia. While all life on Earth requires nitrogen, the inert nitrogen gas that makes up 78 percent of the planet’s atmosphere is useless to all but some nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The Haber process changed that. With a new source of nitrogen fertilizer, agriculture exploded and the human population more than quadrupled in that time. It’s estimated that half of the nitrogen in all our bodies originated with the Haber process.

While Haber’s invention enabled a human population boom in the past century, it’s nitrogen-fixing microbes that sustained all life before it. (And, remember, the other half of nitrogen in our bodies still originated with these microbes.) The microbes that fix atmospheric nitrogen gas are called diazotrophs. They’re a diverse group that inhabit nearly every ecosystem on the planet, from the soil to coral reefs to lichen. In a way, they’re at the bottom of every food chain.

4 Ways Tiny Microbes Changed Life on Earth Forever

Root nodules of alfafa. Wikimedia Commons

The most famous of diazotrophs might be Rhizobia, bacteria that live inside the root nodules of legumes such as clovers, peanuts, and alfalfa. These plants feed sugars to the bacteria in exchange for nitrogen. The fixed nitrogen stays in the soil even after the plant dies, which is why farmers plant cover crops like clover and alfalfa in between seasons. As overuse of nitrogen fertilizers has wrought its own problems-like run-off that causes algae blooms-we might better appreciate role of these nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

What Microbes Mean For Climate Change

In July of 2012, 100 tons of iron filing were dumped off the coast of Canada in the world’s largest geoengineering experiment-and an entirely unauthorized one at that. The American businessman Russ George was trying to prove a bizarre sounding idea to combat climate change: ocean fertilization. In theory, phytoplankton would capitalize on this sudden iron bonanza, growing like crazy and pulling in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While George’s unauthorized experiment was soundly rebuked by the international community, the role of microbes in climate change is coming under increasing scrutiny.

Microbes can both absorb or release carbon, depending on their diets, so the direction of their influence is not so clear. But, in aggregate, they are huge players in the carbon cycle. Just the microbes that decompose dead plants in the soil, for example, release 55 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is eight times what humans contribute through fossil fuels and deforestation.

And climate change is changing how these microbes function. In the cold Siberian tundra, for instance, there is normally not much microbial activity. In recent years, however, the tundra is releasing more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, which scientists believe is due to rising temperatures allowing more microbes to feed in the tundra and release carbon dioxide. The same could be happening in the oceans.

You might say microbes were the original “geoengineers” of the Earth, leaving a profound influence on the planet’s climate and the lifeforms. As we begin to understand Earth’s microbial world, geoengineers are also looking at how to harness the awesome power of these tiny microbes. Small changes in aggregate trillions of times over can entirely reshape life on Earth. [Nature NewsScientific AmericanYale Environment 360]

Lead image: Stromatolites formed by cyanobacteria in Australia. Wikimedia Commons

Biommimicry, solutions derived from nature

I love this interview. Unbelievable information. Click here for the source or read the article below. Wow! I guess I’m an optimist because I’m trying to share best practices for others to develop. Who knew that I would learn something about myself from an interview. Please share these wonderful ideas with others to further development and even more importantly implement. Thanks.

 

Interview with Biomimicry 3.8 Co-Founder Janine Benyus

Updated 3/16/14

Background Info
What if rather than working to tame, dominate and take from nature, we listened, looked and learned from its 3.8 billion years of sustainable designs? This is the basic tenet of biomimicry and Janine Benyus, its champion.

Janine Benyus is a natural sciences writer, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including her latest – Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Since its 1997 release, Janine has evolved the practice of biomimicry, consulting with sustainable businesses and conducting seminars about what we can learn from the genius that surrounds us. In 2005, Janine founded The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute , a nonprofit organization based in Missoula, MT. The Institute’s mission is to nurture and grow a global community of people who are learning from, emulating, and conserving life’s genius to create a healthier, more sustainable planet. Water Chronicles publisher Josée Dechêne spoke with Janine over the phone on February 17. Below is an abridged transcription of the interview as well a full audio recording.

Related Water Chronicles Stories
 Sustainable Building in a Changing World – A panel discussion – 4/30/2008
 Biomimicry – Backgrounder – 4/28/2008

Audio Interview – 28 min.

Interview Transcription

First, can you give our viewers a very simple explanation of biomimicry?
Biomimicry is learning from, and emulating, nature’s designs in order to create a more sustainable world. It’s literally inventors who are looking to nature to come up with, to be inspired by, to find greener ways to do everything including cleaning, storing, and transporting water.

What are some examples you can give us as related to water?
I’ll give you some case studies: there is a Danish company called Aquaporin who is making a filter which does forward osmosis. The concept is based on the way our body cells handle water. The red blood cells have pores in them, called aquapores. They’re hourglass shaped pores. The water molecules are attracted to these pores, they line up, go through that hourglass shaped pore. They literally preferentially want to get out of the cell. They get pulled out by the power of the pore which attracts the water molecules which get squirted through in a line.

This is unlike the way we desalinate water for instance, we push water against a membrane and the salt stays on one side and the water goes through and it take s a lot of energy. In aquaporin, water molecules naturally get pulled through this pore, leaving things on the other side. It’s not a push, it’s forward osmosis. It increases the rate of desalination, about 100 times. It’s very interesting. So that’s one thing in the filtering space.

There’s also a company called Baleen Filters. Baleen refers to the tooth-like, hard comb that’s in a whale’s mouth. It’s the way that it squeezes and pulls water through in a reverse flow. It captures plankton. And because of the reverse flow of water, an intake then an outtake, it strains plankton out of the water. It’s a self-cleaning, non-clogging filter.

That idea has been mimicked in a wastewater treatment machine, mostly used in food processing. Things like capturing grape skins in the making of wine, and concentrating the solids so you can recapture as much water in the process as possible. Squeezing all the water out of the solid is pretty important any time you’re working in food processing.

In one of your TED presentations, you were talking about the scaling problem in pipes . Can you tell us about that?
One of the things that creates problems is the toxicity in cleaning pipes and the need for a lot energy in pushing water. Minerals in water build up on the inside of pipes, called scaling. In your home you might notice calcium and carbonate, a whitish mineral that builds up. As pipes get more occluded, there is a smaller diameter aperture for water to go through. Companies put toxins in, or shut down operations, and dig them up, or have stronger motors to push it through. Either way it’s a sustainability issue.

The calcium carbonate buildup on the inside of pipes is very similar to the way seashells form. They crystallize out of water, but in the molluscs’ case, or seashells, they’re all made of calcium carbonate. It’s the same process. The calcium and carbonate ions come down and crystallize. The mollusc releases a protein that creates a sheet. There is a landing site and calcium and carbonate come down and crystallize, and then the shell creates a stop protein because it doesn’t want its size to be infinite. This protein comes out and adheres to the growing face of the crystal and stops the crystallization. This has been mimicked in a product called TPA (Thermal Polyaspartate). It is put into pipes and there’s a small amount of adhering to the pipe, and the TPA stops it.

Is this already in production?
Yes. Another thing is the fog harvesting material that mimics the Namibian beetle. The Namibian beetle is a beetle in the namib desert whose outer wing cover does a headstand on the dew in the morning. The fog comes in and the beetle gathers the fog. This is hard to do! It catches fog 10 times better than our fog catching nets.

Water-loving, little bumps on the shell and the tips are like magnets for water, they are hydrophyllic, while the sides of the bump are hydrophobic. The tips grab a hold of the fog particles, and another lands, and another, then it gets big enough to slide and gets pulled by the waxy sides of the bumps, and it runs down the channels, gravity takes over basically, and it runs into the critters mouth. It turns out this is a very smart way to do things. They’ve mimicked that by making cheaper plastic that have a checkerboard pattern with hydrophilic squares next to hydrophobic squares.

Can you harvest quite a bit of water with these sheets?
Yes, about 10 times more water than our fog nets. MIT has created the plastic Reuben, the last name. I’m not sure who if anyone is producing them commercially for bug harvesting. This is maybe one of those things that’s in the research stage.

I’ve been reading about vertical farming, which is expanding in the US. I would imagine that other biomimicry models would push these farms even further.
Absolutely. One of the ways it can be very helpful is in greenhouses. Greenhouses now, think of the Sahara forest project which uses salt water greenhouses. A pipe – this can only happen if you’re near an ocean with cold, cold water – a pipe pulls water up from the ocean, goes into the greenhouse; the greenhouse is very, very hot. The pipe sweats, and that water then, if you have the Namibian beetle around the pipe, or plastic with that pattern, the sweating of the drops is quickly wicked away by the waxy parts of the pattern and you’re able to gather even more water. Instead of the sweating drops just sitting there, they get wicked away so new sweating drops can form. So, it’s getting fog – it’s a different technique, but there is humidity which condenses in the cold and it’s a way of getting fresh water, by pulling the humidity out of the air. The material helps create a steady stream of water. Those are interesting.

What about fixing stuff we’ve corrupted, like too much phosphate creating blue-green algae. Are there any hopes from biomimicry?
This idea of having too much phosphorous in agriculture fields, for instance, that’s the real problem. At the same time we’re running out of phosphorous, it’s a mined material. There’s peak oil and we’re running out of oil, but there’s peak phosphorous too. One of the things that is very promising there is the use of mycorrhizal fungi. These are helper fungi. More than 80% of all plants in the world have helper fungus at their roots. The fungus helps the plant – the plants can’t get phosphorous on its own, it’s not bio-available, so the fungus gets it for the plant, transfers it to the plant, wraps around the roots, and the plant transports sugars, carbons, to the fungus because the fungus is underground and cant’ photosynthesize, it can’t see the sun.

So what happens when we put too much phosphorous on farm fields, we tell the fungus it’s not needed. So we have farm fields where the fungus could be providing the plants with the phosphorous, and instead we’re providing it. Part of the solution is to stop using so much phosphorous by finding other ways to get the plant phosphorous. It’s in the soil, it’s just not in a bio-available form to the plant unless they have this fungus. That’s why most species in the wild have these fungal helpers. They’re very common except in agricultural fields because we provide the phosphorous. So let’s mimic the helper community. Let’s create conditions conducive to the helper community.

What about chemicals in our water, do you have any ideas?
One of the things nature is very good at is what I would call concentrating the miniscule; the very, very small. We’re the opposite. We go somewhere and mine. We find concentrations of gold, say, and we mine that. Then we dissipate those metal across – and little bits of gold are everywhere for metals we mine and dissipate. Once they’re in very small amounts, we don’t think of mining them. They’re in water and we’re like, we don’t know how to get them.

Life, is actually very specific about getting chelation – you’ll have heard of it in a medical context where people will take chelatores which are drugs that pulls heavy metals out of the body. In the natural world chelation is happening all the time. There are molecules that are called siderophore. Antibodies grab on to foreign objects, they’ve got receptors and grab on to foreign objects in the body. Siderophores are molecule that grab onto particular ions of metal. They’re very specific. There’s a siderophore for gold, mercury, iron.

There was a company called mr3 that was making a filter (they’re no longer in business due to management issues but it was a good idea). They were making these mining operations in a box. They have filters – imagine a box with filters in it and the filters are like pieces of bread, slices of bread in a bread box. If each slice was a filter, and each filter was mesh coated with siderophores, there’d be filters for gold, mercury, iron, you’d put wastewater through that – like a river which had metals in it – and the metals would begin to build up in a very specific way in each of these filters, and you could wash, or electrospin, the filters, and pull recoverable amounts, valuable amounts, of metals. You’re basically mining wastewater. Unfortunately mr3 didn’t make it. But I still think it’s an excellent idea. Using the specificity of something like siderophores, you can call it the specific chelating powers that organisms have, we should be mimicking those to actually think of remediation of water and mining.

The reason we haven’t done that is we have a really hard time with what are called mixed-media streams – water that has a lot of metals in it. We don’t know how to grab them. And turn them back into something valuable. I think that light specificity, and any kind of impurities in water, and think of impurities like phosphorous – another example, is there a way to gather and concentrate phosphorous in water.

We have a consulting company for 16 yrs called biomimicry 3.8, and we work with companies to read in biological literature and see what in the natural world concentrates phosphorous for its survival. We find chemistry or processing or a clue that would allow an inventor to say aha that’s a great idea for concentrating phosphorous in water.

Unfortunately – it would be great if we had the money to just sit here and solve these problems – if we had a fund to research the problem that needs to be done. The way the world works – we have to wait for a client to pay us to do it. The research is quite voluminous; we go through biological literature, looking for some organism who has concentrated files for us.

You organize student challenges. Have you gotten good results from it?
If you look at our student design challenge last year, it was about water. Actually a group of students from Canada, from Toronto I think, they came up with a solution to a problem that was unknown to me – It turns out that the leakage of pipes is actually a huge, huge problem. How much water is just leaked away after being treated? So they looked into what causes the cracks in the pipes. One of the major things is that air gets trapped in water and builds up into tiny air bubbles which gets pushed all together and blob together to create these bubbles.

The bubbles create a back pressure, and as the pumps are pushing against these sort of burping bubbles of air, it creates pressure that cracks the pipes. So pipes have these mechanical valves that allow the water to get released, but the valves are prone to breaking, rusting, and are expensive to operate.

So these students looked at fish gills. There are pictures of them on the site; it’s really a brilliant thing. Fish gills: think about it, they take oxygen from water. How? How do they take breathable air out of water? They mimicked the fish gill in a very simple passive device which could be put in pipes, not mechanical, no valves, you slide it into the pipe, and it’s a membrane that works like fish gills that allows air to bubble out of the pipes; it’s just really, really brilliant. They’re engineering students. They were going to try to take their invention to municipalities to try and sell it.

Just one last question – are you an optimist? Do you think things are moving fast enough to counteract how we’re destroying the earth?
Am I an optimist…I think optimism is a choice. If you read, if you know what’s going on with the environmental assaults on our planet and the glacial political will…glacially slow political will, you have a lot of reasons to be pessimistic. You really need to choose optimism.

I choose optimism so that i get up every day and work to find solutions. I happen to work in a world in which there are a lot of people looking for a solution. You don’t know about the solutions yet, because they’re not really talked about, but i spend my whole life collecting solutions. I know about all the solutions that are out there. I know about all the people who are pushing to get these new innovations put into place. It’s not a question of whether we’ll start to turn the corner, but when. And how many species will go extinct, and how many regimes will flip over, how many ecological regimes will be degraded to the point of no return.

It’s a question of – I see us heading toward an evolutionary hole. I don’t think all of us, all species, are going to make it through that hole. I think we’re going to lose quite a bit. I don’t even know if we’re going to make it through there. I’m heading for there, and I’m trying to get through there, and I’m trying to get as many species as possible through there with us.

If you live in your head and wring your hands about this, it’s not going to help. What people need to do, we’ve spent a lot of time in the environmental movement describing the problem space, and that has been very helpful to alerting people to the issues, but if we spent a fraction of the time literally working in the solution space, imagine with all the NGOs who are now protest NGOs would start to be invention NGOs. That’s where optimism is. If you aren’t in the solution space, you cannot be optimistic. Because I live my life in the solution space, I choose to be optimistic.