Loyal readers of my blog know I am a big fan of technological inventions that shine in their simplicity and have a big impact at the same time. Among the many solutions that have been showcased earlier on The Shift, the Lifestraw is one of my favourites. Being cheap and simple, it can potentially save thousands if not millions of lives by providing clean drinking water in developing countries or regions hit by severe weather events. But… I have found a strong competitor: an off-grid portable refrigerator to stransport vaccins safely to the final destination in developing countries. And I am not the only one who seems to like it; recently its inventor received the prestigious UK James Dyson award.
Exactly one week ago I embarked on one of the most exciting journeys of my life. With a oneway ticket to Barcelona, I exchanged the safety of my comfortable life in rainy Belgium for the Spanish vibes in Barcelona. Having no place to call home yet, I booked a cosy hostel to start my apartment hunt in the Gracia neighbourhood — popular with students, young professionals and families alike. With its abundance of second hand shops, vegetarian restaurants, ecological streetmarkets and low-traffic streets, it didn’t take long before I fell in love with this village within the city. No wonder rooms are expensive and hard to find.
But Gracia has not always been like this. It was only after a major reorganisation of the neighbourhood in 2003 that the streets were given back to the people. The urban concept behind the area-wide urban experiment is the Superille or Superblock. The superblock idea was first outlined in 1987, after studies revealed noise and pollution levels in the capital of Catalunya are far above what can be considered healthy. Madre mia! Disclosing a territorial unit smaller than a neighbourhood but larger than a residential block for public space — therefore bearing the name superblock — are meant to improve the quality of life and conditions for local residents. Car traffic is deviated to a couple of large streets enclosing the superblock, within pedestrian and bikers are king.
Last Monday marked a pity event: Earth’s population reached so-called ‘Earth Overshoot Day’. This is the moment when our demand for natural resources exceeds the regenerative capacities of the planet who replenish them. In a way, we are now biting into our planet’s savings account for the rest of the year. With the current population and its living standard, we actually need 1.6 planets to support us.
But not all countries are to blame. Living like an Aussie or a Congolese is a whole world of difference. Some countries also just happen to be lucky with a wealth of natural resources. One thing is very clear though: everyone should take a moment to (re-) consider their lifestyle. At the current rate, it goes into the wrong direction. Totally the wrong direction. To understand the concept of Earth Overshoot Day a bit better, I spent a decent amount of hours putting together a nice infographic (what else would I have done on a rainy Belgian summer day, you know). Enjoy, and please share if you like it!
Deforestation is the process whereby natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning, either to use the timber or to replace the area for alternative uses such as agriculture or urbanisation. The FAO estimates 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute.
TIP: if you’re in a hurry, you find a summarizing infographic at the end of this post
As an energy engineering student, I come across a lot of inventions that are about to save the world. At least, if they would ever get further than their inventor’s desk. Sometimes low-tech solutions can have a way bigger impact, simply because they happen. Urban development site de Ceuvel in the up-and-coming Amsterdam Noord area is a gem that exemplifies exactly what I’m talking about.