TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 14

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Superfast quantum computers could drastically change the future, and Microsoft might build the first one.

By Tom Simonite in MIT Technology Review

2. Water-smart urban design can reimagine life in Western cities suffering the worst drought in decades.

By Reed Karaim in JSTOR Daily

3. The new censorship: How intimidation, mass surveillance, and shrinking resources are making the press less free.

By George Packer in the New Yorker

4. A new approach to housing for families at risk that includes intensive, wrap-around services is showing early success.

By Mary Cunningham, Maeve Gearing, Michael Pergamit, Simone Zhang, Marla McDaniel, Brent Howell at the Urban Institute

5. Our best bet in the fight against Boko Haram might be sharing lessons on intelligence gathering.

By Jesse Sloman at Africa in Transition

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Bill Gates has some notes for Thomas Piketty: Tackle income inequality by taxing consumption, not capital.

By Bill Gates in Gates Notes

2. Thousands have died as Central African Republic slides toward civil war, but media coverage is scant. Is there an empathy gap?

By Jared Malsin in the Columbia Journalism Review

3. Europe’s apprentice model isn’t a perfect fit for U.S. manufacturing, but it could change the way we train a new generation of blue-collar workers.

By Tamar Jacoby in the New America Foundation Weekly Wonk

4. Ebola may be gruesome but it’s not the biggest threat to Africa.

By Fraser Nelson in the Guardian

5. In dry California, regulators are using an innovative pricing scheme to push conservation.

By Sarah Gardner at Marketplace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME fun

Feel Good Friday: 14 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From presidential selfies to human towers, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

TIME

A Lot of Earth’s Water Is Actually Older Than the Sun

The Crew Of Apollo 17 Took This Photograph Of Earth In December 1972 While The Spacecraf
NASA/Getty Images

That's more than 4.5 billion years old

Up to about half of the water on our planet is older than the sun, according to a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science.

While you next take a sip, ponder this, too: the fact that Earth’s water is so old bodes well for our hunt for wet environments — and, for life — elsewhere in the universe.

Life on Earth owes everything to the presence of liquid water here, but, even so, scientists don’t have definitive answers for how or when the water got here — or, for that matter, when the water itself was formed.

The new research seeks to answer that last question: Was our water made before the sun existed, brewed in the same cloud of dust from which the sun would form? Or did water come later, forming as the Earth also formed?

As the Washington Post explains, during the sun’s birth a band of unused space dust gathered like skirt hems around it. Such material, called the protoplanetary disk, would go on to form the solar system’s planets.

Scientists know that water accompanied the sun’s birth but wondered if it might have been destroyed in the process of the sun’s formation, leaving Earth to go it alone in stirring up its own water.

To find out if the water from that dust cloud made it to Earth, researchers measured the ratio of deuterium, or heavy hydrogen to hydrogen. The findings show that heavy hydrogen levels on Earth are higher than they would have been in the protoplanetary disk. That means that some of our water must predate the sun, when heavy hydrogen was in abundance.

So, if water can survive a star’s birthing process, and if other solar systems in the universe formed much like ours did, that means that water might be a common ingredient in the making of other planets far from our own.

“By identifying the ancient heritage of Earth’s water, we can see that the way in which our solar system was formed will not be unique, and that exoplanets will form in environments with abundant water,” said Tim Harries, a professor at the University of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy Department, in England, and an author of the paper, in a statement.

“Consequently,” he said, “it raises the possibility that some exoplanets could house the right conditions, and water resources, for life to evolve.”

Last spring, scientists announced that there could be up to 11 billion exoplanets — planets outside or solar system — that are at just the right distance from their stars to have liquid water, and, perhaps, life as well.

TIME weather

See How Flash Floods Devastated Southwestern States

In a year of record drought, severe flooding submerged parts of Arizona and Nevada on Monday. Roads were closed, homes flooded, and at least one person was killed in the deluge

TIME Iraq

Iraq’s Battleground Dams Are Key to Saving the Country from ISIS

Tribal fighters seen during a battle with ISIS militants, in Haditha, Iraq, Aug. 25, 2014.
Tribal fighters seen during a battle with ISIS militants, in Haditha, Iraq, Aug. 25, 2014. Osama Al-Dulaimi—Reuters

U.S. airstrikes prevent ISIS from seizing control of Iraq's water supply—but now the Kurds control a major dam, complicating Iraqi politics

When militants in Iraq made their recent assault on Haditha Dam, it pushed the U.S. to strike in this part of western Iraq for the first time since August. The Iraqi national army and allied Shi’ite militia have been battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for months in Anbar province, but until yesterday, Washington had shied away.

“The potential loss of control of the dam or a catastrophic failure of the dam—and the flooding that might result— would have threatened U.S. personnel and facilities in and around Baghdad, as well as thousands of Iraqi citizens,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in statement Sunday, justifying strikes which seem to fall just outside of the American mission’s mandate.

The facility, wedged in the Euphrates River, is the country’s second-largest dam, and along with its big brother the Mosul Dam, on the Tigris River, it has been a strategic target of the expansionist Sunni militants. Over 95 percent of Iraq’s water comes from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, making it easy for anyone controlling those dams to put a stranglehold on the country’s water.

“If these dams—Mosul and Haditha— are outside of the control of the Iraqi state, it would be a national catastrophe,” says Shirouk al-Abayachi, a member of the Iraqi parliament and previously an adviser to the Ministry of Water Resources. “This is the ultimate danger.”

Given that ISIS’s stated goal is the end of the Iraqi state, to be replaced by a new, flourishing Islamic Caliphate, it’s no surprise that the terrorist group has focused on the country’s dams. The power to dry-out Baghdad and the Shi’ite farmlands south of the capital—along with the ability to provide water and the electricity produced by these facilities to their new subjects—could put ISIS in the driver’s seat.

“Military decision makers should take into consideration that these dams are the most important strategic locations in the country,” says al-Abayachi. “They should be very well protected because they affected everything—economy, agriculture, basic human needs and security.”

For all the talk that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was primarily about oil, even in the early days of the offensive, significant military resources were put into controlling water and electricity facilities. In fact, this weekend wasn’t the first time U.S. forces were employed to keep the Haditha Dam out of unwanted hands. In June 2003, the U.S. carried out air strikes near Haditha to allow collation forces to seize the facility from Saddam Hussein’s army. But while al-Qaeda—which essentially gave birth to ISIS—and other militant groups repeatedly targeted infrastructure in Iraq during the chaotic years that followed the invasion, none dared to attempt ISIS’s blatant grab for control of these resources.

From January to April this year ISIS used its control of the Fallujah Dam to flood adjacent lands, and cut water to south and central Iraq. But the impact was nothing compared to what the militants would be able to do with control of the Mosul or Haditha Dams.

However, ISIS may not be they only group that wants strategic control over the taps in Iraq. In February, as Baghdad halted transfer payments to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, the Kurds shut off the water to Iraqi farmers from Kurdish-controlled dams.

“Let them endure a water shortage; that’s their problem,” Akram Ahmad Rasul, general director of dams and water storage in the KRG told the local news agency Rudaw of the farmers outside the Kurdish region.

Since then the stakes have been raised. Kurdish peshmerga fighters led the ground offensive to retake the Mosul Dam from ISIS, as Iraqi national forces had already proved they were incapable of holding the position. Now the Kurds control the dam, and amid the chaos in recent months, they have intensified their calls for complete independence from Baghdad. “If the Kurds keep control of the Mosul Dam…they will have about 80 percent of Iraq’s water, which is tremendous leverage for them,” says John Schnittker, who served as a U.S. advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. “They will essentially have a vital lock on the water supply for central and southern Iraq. It just leaves the government of Iraq in a very weakened position in negotiating with the Kurds.”

While the U.S. strikes seem to be the only way to keep these facilities out of the hands of ISIS militants, Schnittker said the attacks may have effects not necessarily intended by Washington. “The Kurds are in a really strong position to leverage Baghdad,” says Schnittker. “And my real concern is that the U.S. would be kind of complicit in a Kurdish land and water grab.”

TIME Environment

What We Can Learn From Australia and Turning Off the Tap

500627073
Andrew Bain—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

The country's long drought taught people that they need to mimic nature

As an Australian, I have been taught from birth the value of water. In school, history lessons always included details of early explorers who died of thirst, such as Robert O’ Hara Burke and William John Wills’ disastrous expedition between the Gulf of Carpenteria and Melbourne in 1861. Today, the threat remains; it’s not uncommon for people to die from lack of water when their cars break down in the Outback.

And while we’re used to water scarcity in Australia, we do have particular periods of national drought, the latest stretching from 1997 to 2010. It has taught all of us that water is priceless, because we cannot live without it. It’s also brought a greater understanding in Australia’s towns and cities of what it is like to live in the bush. A drought so long and severe required all Australians to bear the burden.

Schools and community groups got deeply involved in Waterwatch, a national volunteer water quality monitoring and water education program. Farmers installed observation bores on their property and regularly measured water table levels and groundwater quality, to guard against salinity that can spoil water and land in droughts. If you drove into a country town during the drought, the first thing you saw was a large sign stating the level of water restrictions.

In the cities, people stopped washing cars, then stopped watering lawns, and then stopped watering gardens. Many of us had a bucket between our legs in the shower, but that was voluntary! The country has expanded water recycling, with many places aiming to recycle 100 percent of their waste water. We also invested heavily in desalination (though now, because the drought has dissipated, much of the expensive, energy-consuming equipment is no longer needed). The Australian nation has had to learn together to learn to turn the tap off and treat fresh water as a valuable resource.

Australians love water and we mostly live by the sea, but getting access to fresh water is getting more dangerous for those in the northern parts of Australia. Recently a 15-foot-long crocodile plucked a bloke out of his boat in front of his family in a national park. The croc was shot (a rare event, since crocs have been protected from shooting since 1972) and the man’s body recovered. The culprit was as much the dry conditions as the croc. Crocs always guard their piece of waterway, and they are always growing bigger. As it gets drier, the big crocs and humans have less water to use, and are drawn closer together.

As an agricultural consultant on a recent trip to Northern Queensland, which is still in drought, I was introduced to a new term: “sell’em or smell’em,” meaning that that if you do not sell your cattle livestock, you will smell them dead. There was just not enough water to keep them alive.

But droughts are not new to Australia and historically our landscapes have been able to function and flourish. The question is how a modern society can cope with the droughts, which affect everyone in our nation. Perhaps we can learn from Peter Andrews, a racehorse breeder and grazier from New South Wales, who wrote an excellent book called Back from the Brink. The book explains how the Australian landscape was distinguished by its ability to hold fresh water underground in huge floodplains. These plains released water over time, but also accommodated floodwaters by absorbing them into underground aquifers.

This natural process stored excess water and then released it in dry times, feeding streams at their highest point. Reed beds acted like biological safety values. They held water back and the water would rise. The rising floodwater and floating debris increases leverage on the top of the reeds. Then they would flatten like a protective blanket, protecting what was beneath them.

This process is no more as livestock and machinery have drained the floodplains of fresh water, removed the reed beds and in many cases allowed salt to move down into the lower parts of the landscape. The drought has again taught us that we need to mimic nature and learn to read the landscape in order to start to repair it.

For those in drought, my simple message is to remember that a drought normally ends with some form of flood, which can do more damage. As there is little vegetation to slow down the flow of water and precious topsoil is washed away, too much water ends up degrading farmland and undermining bridge foundations. You can’t erase a drought all at once. So be prepared.

Gwyn Jones is an agricultural consultant in Mudgeeraba, Queensland, Australia. This was written for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Books

Why You Need to Hit the Beach Right. This. Second.

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4kodiak—Getty Images

There's some serious science behind water's ability to reduce stress, inspire creativity and promote empathy. How's that for a day in the sand?

What is it about water that pulls us, soothes us, inspires us and connects us?

During the decade I spent pursuing that simple question for my book Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, I interviewed and met people around the world with a wide variety of relationships to water: surfers, swimmers, psychologists, artists, ocean managers, fishers, veterans, captains, floaters, neuroscientists, explorers, divers, inventors, educators, poets—and people with the surname Cousteau.

Being by the water can pull the stress from us, inspire creativity and draw us closer to those we love. Research shows that feeling of awe and wonder we get by the sea can also promote compassion and empathy.

Turns out there’s some serious science behind the Beach Boys’ famous lyric, “Catch a wave, and your sittin’ on top of the world.”

So dive in and rank how blue your mind is—or how beach deprived you might be this summer—with this quiz.

Wallace J. Nichols is the author of Blue Mind and a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences. He has spent his life getting near, in, on, or under waters all over the world. He also loves sea turtles.

TIME Environment

Toledo’s Contaminated Water: Here’s What Went Wrong

The contamination came from algae toxins—and it's not likely to be an isolated incident

On Monday, the Toledo, Ohio, Mayor D. Michael Collins lifted the municipal ban on drinking water. The ban had left thousands of Toledo and Michigan residents without drinking water, which was contaminated by a toxin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie. If consumed, the toxin could cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Residents were told not to drink the water, use it to brush their teeth, or—most confounding of all—boil it.

We talked to two experts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as Craig Cox, the senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to explain everything you should know about the contamination.

What is an algae bloom, and why is it toxic?

An algae bloom is a heavy concentration of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. It looks like a huge mat, turns the bay around Toledo bright green, and produces a neurotoxin called microcystin, which makes people sick.

How does an algae bloom form?

There are a few reasons algae blooms form, but it’s primarily caused by runoff from farm fertilizers. In Toledo’s case, the phosphorus and nitrogen from these fertilizers runs into the Maumee River, which drains right into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie, where Toledo is located. This spurs the growth of the blooms. The summer heat has likely also played a role in this particular algae bloom’s growth.

Is this a growing problem in water?

Yes. The EPA says there is not a federal standard for blue-green algae in water, but experts say it is in the process of considering one. Farm runoff is not very regulated, so the expectation, according to Cox, is that this kind of water contamination could happen again and again. About 2o or so years ago the U.S. took action to prevent the amount of runoff draining into the lake, and things were looking up. But now, environmentalists are worried we’ve backtracked.

How did the algae get into the drinking water?

The water intake for Toledo’s water supply is located right in the middle of the Maumee Bay where the algae bloom moved to. The water intake brought in both the blue-green algae and the toxins it produces.

Aren’t there purification systems that prevent that?

Yes, but they don’t necessarily address the blue-green algae toxins. The algae bloom moved very close to the water intake system, and the water treatment system experienced much higher levels than they had previously. It put a lot of pressure on the system. The conventional treatment plan the city of Toledo has is a multi-step procedure that removes dangerous pathogens and decontaminates the water in a variety of ways. To directly address the blue-algae toxins, it is using activated carbon to absorb and remove the toxins.

How did the contamination go away in just a couple days?

The EPA worked with Toledo over the weekend to sample the water at both the supply system and the drinking water system, and a couple of things happened. First, the algae bloom moved away from the water intake system, which could have been due to the wind. The second is that Toledo enhanced its treatment system with the aforementioned carbon to specifically address the blue-algae and its toxins.

I thought boiling water decontaminates it. Why couldn’t the residents boil their water?

Boiling water kills things like bacterial organisms, but it does not get rid of blue-algae toxins. Instead, boiling water decreases the volume of the water, and therefore increases the concentration of the toxins, making it worse.

What can be done?

Creating buffers, like plants and trees that stand between farms and the water, may help catch fertilizer chemicals before they get into water ways, spurring algae growth. Farmers could also, theoretically, use less fertilizer, though there are no regulations in place as of now.

TIME Environment

Toledo, Ohio, Headed for Third Day With Drinking Water Ban

Algae in Lake Erie may have caused toxin levels to rise

Updated Aug. 4, 6:40 a.m. ET

Water tests on Sunday night showed a toxin thought to come from an algae bloom was continuing to contaminate the regional water supply from Lake Erie, threatening to leave residents of Toledo, Ohio, and part of Michigan without drinking water for a third full day, but officials said the results were improving.

Residents of Toledo and the surrounding area had been instructed on Saturday neither to drink their tap water or using it to brush their teeth, nor boil it, which would increase the concentration of microsystin, the Associated Press reports. Ingestion of the toxin could cause diarrhea, vomiting and other health issues.

While the city’s health department originally said the roughly 400,000 affected residents were free to take baths and showers, it advised that children and people with liver disease and sensitive skin avoid using water from the city’s treatment plant to bathe, CBS News reports. As of Sunday night, no serious illnesses had yet been reported.

City council members in Toledo, Ohio’s fourth-largest city, are due to go over the results at a meeting on Monday, the AP adds.

Ohio Governor John Kasich declared a state of emergency on Saturday and couldn’t say how long the warning would last or what caused the spike in toxin levels. He said the state was working to provide supplies and safe water for the affected areas.

“What’s more important than water? Water’s about life,” Kasich said. “We know it’s difficult. We know it’s frustrating.”

In a Saturday press conference, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins called upon residents to stay calm.

“I don’t believe we’ll ever be back to normal,” he said, the Toledo Blade reports. “But this is not going to be our new normal. We’re going to fix this. Our city is not going to be abandoned.”

Meanwhile, police officers went to stores to keep the peace as residents stocked up on water in a scene one local said “looked like Black Friday.”

“People were hoarding it,” a different resident, Monica Morales, told the AP. “It’s ridiculous.”

One farmer from a nearby village, John Myers, put 450 gallons of well water into a container on his pickup truck and offered it up at no charge in a high school parking lot.

“I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be giving water away,” he said.

While the city runs more tests, the Environmental Protection Agency office in Cincinnati will also investigate water samples from the lake.

Though water plants along Lake Erie, which provides hydration for 11 million people, treat the water to combat algae, plant operators have grown concerned with threats from toxins in the past few years. A similar warning was in place for a small Ohio township roughly one year ago.

[CBS]

MORE: SlideshowToledo Ohio Crisis

 

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