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Pitch

The earth is in a state of disrepair and needs your help to fix it. Here are some tools. Use them and perhaps add more to the list.


Description

Summary

The earth is in a substantial state of disrepair and in need of urgent action to improve its condition.There are many substantial projects in place but these are large and attack specific problems. However, there are opportunities for individual people, communities, educational and scientific organisations, commercial enterprises and governments at all levels to become involved in many modest adaptive activities, operating at very local levels. For these to be effective, information, people, methods, money and resources must be shared, so that the design, operation and results of a single successful operation will provide a template for many similar activities in the future.

At the core of this proposal is a public domain database that is an audit of the entire land surface of the earth, divided into basic land units (BLUs), each approximately 1 sq. km. in area, defined by GPS co-ordinates. The initial physical information within each BLU may be collected at a number of levels; satellite imagery, airborne vehicles and people or robots on the ground. Internal structures, such as rivers and lakes, will also be defined by GPS co-ordinates. Additional qualitative information may either be donated to the public database, or retained on the contributor's server, with appropriate links to the public database.

All of the information on the database relating to a specific BLU will be used to define optimal or acceptable suboptimal usages for the BLU or specified areas within it. Usages include (but are not limited to) settlements, agriculture, carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, mining, power supply (including nuclear) and land recovery. The intention is to identify groups of high-value BLUs (hotspots) whose location would justify provision of transportation and other services to the area to support future projects. These services would be highly standardised to minimise costs. This proposal suggests some methods and designs which might meet the necessary criteria.

 


What actions do you propose?

At the core of this proposal is the land audit database. It is important that it is created under the control of a single independent organisation, so that the information conveyed is not manipulated for political or commercial interests. My original concept was limited to Australia and I thought that I might be able to engage the Australian Computer Society (of which I am a member) in the project. Expanding it to a worldwide concept suggests that a management committee drawn from an international consortium of similar organisations might be a more appropriate arrangement, free of any overriding national concerns. Once the appropriate management facilities are in place and consistent data gathered, it might be possible to extend the technology to marine  areas.  

Initially, the database will consist of structural information, such as the names, keys and links of Basic Land Units (BLUs) and the natural structures within them. At the next level, codes will be required to identify features such as surface materials, vegetation, resident animal species and so forth which will be found in the BLUs or more limited areas within them. Most of this information will come from external sources and will either be stored in the core database or in databases owned by the contributors. The latter must conform to structural and operational standards laid  down by the management committee, so that consistent information may be drawn from the core database and the network of contributing databases.

Hotspots are defined by the number and value of potential uses an area can lay claim to and will be identified by reviewing the features listed above and also by examining their proximity to or distance from complementary hotspots. For instance, mining is a controversial activity when associated with fuel supplies, but the fact is that we do need many metallic and other ores and a valuable and economic project can be proposed, if the supply chain between mines, power supplies, smelters, manufacturing activities and waste disposal can be minimised. At the other extreme, a single hotspot where work is required  to save the habitat of some important species is of a smaller scale (but still very valuable) and could be carried out by volunteers, relevant societies and educational and scientific establishments.

My earlier posts on climate change were written in the context of a sustainable population for Australia, where the vast majority of residents lived in a few very large cities. Agriculture is carried out on a large scale, with the size of some farms measured in sq. kms. Other areas are seriously degraded, but could be recovered if the appropriate techniques were applied. Much mining is carried out in the northern half of the country, with some consequences (such as the corruption of underground water supplies) that could leave an indelible mark on the landscape. My approach, suggested by the writings of authors such as Bill McKibben, was to propose a return to country living, where residents in villages or small towns would be fully engaged in food production and activities for the public good such as reafforestation. However, the living and working conditions pertaining in earlier years would have to be replaced by a more sophisticated way of life, though one consistent with our needs to ameliorate the effects of climate change.

There are many remedial activities taking place in areas adjacent to where there are populations and services to support them. However, there are also very large areas distant from population centres, which could play a greater role in supporting sustainable populations, ameliorating some effects of climate change and adapting ways of life and productivity to cope with those we cannot modify. The support of communities and activities in these areas will require the development of flexible services, made available at minimal costs related to the scale and importance of the activities taking place.

Three concepts can have a significant effect on the economics of any manufacturing or production process; prefabrication, standardisation and multiple usage opportunities. In the following paragraphs, I will describe some ideas for initiatives in several fields which should impact positively on the costs of projects, particularly those in locations distant from major cities or industrial areas.

Transport.

If there are sufficient hotspots in a given area generating income or adding value to the public good, or if there is a nearby city promising to generate sufficient traffic to justify the construction cost, an overhead railway can be a very useful asset. Because it is above ground, the only site variable is the foundation. Other advantages are; the usage of the land over which the railway passes is only interrupted by the process itself and the railway is much less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions which may cause flooding.

A model I have proposed in earlier writings consists of a standardised deck in the form of a trough wide enough to carry up and down lines. The rails will be set in the deck (as are tramlines) so that the structure can carry road or rail traffic at different times  of the day by arrangement. The deck will also be capable of carrying water pipelines, power lines, communications networks and facilities for tracking the movements of vehicles and trains to ensure that conflicts between various traffic types do not arise. The standard support structure will be an A-frame sitting on concrete foundations or piles, but other designs can be accommodated to suit local needs.

The construction materials can be carried to the railhead on the railway itself. Vehicles and equipment can be lowered from the finished deck to work on temporary and permanent supports while the next span is being constructed on specially designed wagons prior to being rolled forward to sit on the completed supports. In the main, this makes the railway construction independent of other, possibly inadequate, transport facilities in remote areas.

Other on-site uses for the railway structure are possible. For instance, the legs of the A-frames could be connected with cladding to turn the area under the deck into a storage area, or to carry solar panels to generate electricity locally. In extreme cases, the deck itself could be used to divert floodwaters.

Water Supply.

Large dams can only be constructed economically where there is an appropriate topography such as a canyon, where the length of the dam is as short as possible and the depth of the retained water (and hence its volume) is deep enough to justify the cost. Smaller dams, such as those found on farms, can be constructed on more gently undulating land, but because they are shallower, their surface area is greater. Hence there is an oncost in the amount of arable land which is lost to the dam.

Many years ago, the University of Melbourne wished to construct an underground car park under a garden within its grounds. One stipulation was that on completion, the garden (including many trees) was to be restored to its former state. The consultants engaged to design and manage the construction of the car park (and for whom I worked) came up with a solution which involved creating a roof which was in effect a series of umbrellas, where the greater depth over the columns would allow substantial trees to be planted. Each umbrella was formed from a set of four hyperbolic paraboloids. This shape has curved profiles along two axes (which made it very strong), but had a straight profile along another axis, which made very easy to construct with reinforced concrete. A set of six forms, made from a very robust plastic material were each used twenty times. The final area covered was in excess of 10,000 sq. m.

If such a structure were constructed over a rural dam site, the area above the dam could be used for crops such as fruit, nuts and vines. A bonus is that the evaporation of the water in warm climates would be significantly reduced. Multiple dams could be used as a mass storage facility, collecting water and releasing it in dry conditions.

Buildings.

In cities, much greater use should be made of prefabricated housing, preferably with steel frames. Blocks of land should have multiple sets of services provided, so that when a large mansion becomes empty, the interior may be rearranged to form a group of units. The process may even be reversed and the units turned back into a house. In remote areas, prefabricated buildings are easily transported and erected in sites where traditional building materials are not available. In Germany, the Huf Haus is assembled, transported anywhere in Europe by road and erected on site in as little as two weeks.

Long-tern remedial and transformative operations undertaken in remote areas can be carried out more efficiently with quality housing and industrial buildings. The life-time of prefabricated buildings can be extended by replacing the roofs and cladding by those with new technologies for power generation, temperature control and so forth.

Electronic Management In Remote Areas.

In Australia, very large farms are already using electronic media such as mobile phones and tablets to read data collected by devices located on the ground or attached to livestock. This data can even be forwarded directly to support sites for business analysis. In remote areas, drones could be used to perform data collection in appropriate cases. Multiple dams could be monitored and controlled electronically 

Australian companies such as Austrack and Agworld are continually developing new products to broaden this field. Companies in other countries are undoubtedly making similar contributions.

Waste Management Techniques.

On the whole, waste management is a well-established practice, mainly by committing processed waste to the ground by ploughing or mulching. However, there are opportunities for improving the returns on waste treatment. After reviewing the waste management practices in as many BLUs as possible, it would be useful to carry out an intense study of the waste materials accruing, to see whether processing of some kind might offer a better return than simply consigning them to the ground. For example, an Egyptian settler in Australia's far-north Queensland (the home of Australia's banana industry, where the general practice is to burn the plants and leaves after harvest) has opened a papyrus factory. This is a very strong paper-like material, used mainly for packaging and similar activities. Its great advantages are that it is bio-degradable and fire-resistant.

To be continued.

Following some very wise comments, I am doing a bit of a rewrite off-line to improve the focus of the proposal.

Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Who will take these actions?

In essence, this proposal seeks to create an ongoing facility for the setting up of large and small initiatives for the repair or adaptation of areas all over the world which have either been damaged by climate change events or which can play a role in offsetting the effects of these events felt elsewhere. The proposed centralised database will be used to identify areas needing attention  and the resources needed to accomplish the required changes. It is essential that this database is managed by appropriately qualified people who will be free of social and political pressures. I recommend that the personnel be drawn from members of professional IT institutions in the first instance. The computer equipment will be funded by global donations at various levels and will use Cloud concepts to make the information as widely available as possible.

I have placed some emphasis on the need for standardisation to keep costs low and I suggest that governments, educational institutions and so forth offer prizes for procedural ideas and the design of equipment to carry out various kinds of work or provide services such as transport. Any proprietorial rights will be given to the institutions offering the prizes, but royalties may be paid to the designers and manufacturers as part of the costs of projects using the ideas or equipment.

At the operational level, participation in remedial or adaptive projects may range from commercial companies undertaking work on behalf of entities holding an interest in the land identified by BLUs and who expect to benefit financially from the project all the way down to small groups of volunteers with skills appropriate to the task at hand.

Where arable land has been recovered or has been converted to arable use, local people will inevitably become involved in the production of food, plants, timber, etc. They must be trained to use proper techniques such as the alternation of C4 abd C3 plants (to capture and release carbon). 

To be continued.

 


Where will these actions be taken?

Because of the very large volume of data which will accumulate over time, several copies of the database should be maintained on servers in different parts of the world. This will reduce the vulnerability due to cyber attacks or physical conflicts in various places. Where data is entered on one server, an automatic process should automatically update the others.

Amelioration projects will obviously take place all over the globe. However, where clusters of the same kind of work can be identified, it would be useful to establish depots for the local manufacture and storage of equipment and materials. They could also be used to manage facilities for the training of volunteers and long-term workers.


What are other key benefits?

Many of the potential locations for remedial work have reached their current condition due to neglect, well-meaning practices which have turned out to be damaging and so forth. However, there are areas in the world where the damage has been systematic and either intended or due to careless or unethical behaviour. The small scale of the BLUs offers opportunities to register and analyse these areas in detail and to either support the abandonment of such processes or the payment of penalties to assist in the later repair of the damage. It may also be possible to develop less harmful practices and pressure the vandal companies into using them. 


What are the proposal’s costs?

It is not possible to estimate the cost of this proposal because (a) it's lifetime could be several decades, (b) the accrual of information will substantially increase the size and complexity of the database and its management and analytical software and (c) the manpower needed will increase in proportion. However, one can suggest some operational models which might minimise costs.

  • IT organisations and companies could delegate an employee with appropriate skills to work on the system on a day-to-day basis. This could be a pro bono operation or could earn fees sufficient to cover part of the employee's earnings.
  • The development of analytical software for specific requirements could be outsourced to commercial IT software houses. This software would be paid for on completion (hopefully with a pro bono component) and the rights transferred to the project management organisation. Alternatively, there is no reason why a software house should not develop software on its own behalf and sell it to specific projects where a return could justify the purchase.


Time line

As indicated above, the lifetime of the proposal could be several decades. However, the setting up of the organisation and its various IT components could probably be effected in a few months. The population of the BLU records would depend on the availability and format of the satellite imagery and this will dictate how soon the system may be made available for public viewing and contribution.

As soon as this point is reached, the development of analytics for the identification of usages and hotspots may begin. As much of the incoming data may be provided by organisations and people with an interest in promoting on-the-ground projects, the procedures for requesting and allocating resources for these projects will need to be set up. Thereafter, the various activities will proceed in parallel with one another. 


Related proposals

A  brief review of all of the current proposals indicates (to me, at least) that many of them may either benefit from this proposal or may themselves benefit this proposal. Because some of these are couched in very general terms, I leave it to the various authors to indicate how they see a linkage between their proposal and this one.


References

http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/imageservices/index.php/2008/12/underground-car-park/

www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/planting-ideas-on-carbon/story-e6frgd0x-1226820954230

http://www.theage.com.au/environment/the-tree-whisperer-20140425-36ze4.html