Farmers Insurance Group, which filed nine class actions in May against nearly 200 communities in the Chicago area, is withdrawing its lawsuit.

The suit accused the Illinois municipalities of failing to prepare for severe rains and flooding. It argued that the local governments should have known rising global temperatures would lead to heavier rains and should have done more to fortify their sewers and stormwater drains.

Some have speculated it could be the first in what could be a wave of litigation over who should be liable for the possible costs of climate change.

Interesting development. Originally, Farmers Insurance wanted to sue cities and towns for the costs of insurance it paid out to hundreds of property owners to cover damages from rain storms. Sewer and drainage systems burst and flooded basements, causing millions in damages.

Farmers argued that the cities and towns were not upgrading infrastructure to prepare for increasingly intense storm events. While enviro-bloggers’ commentaries celebrated Farmers Insurance lawsuit as a climate change “win”, in reality the scheme would have backfired.

They would have also lost the suits, since cities are pretty much bullet-proofed from such lawsuits (e.g., you generally cannot sue federal, state, local, or tribal governments due to sovereign immunity, aka “the king can do no wrong” laws, which basically state that so long as a government is performing ‘governmental functions’, states are immune from being sued. Fun times!).

Nature vs. The Internet: How Google Protects Its Undersea Cables from Shark Attacks

Footage from a recent survey of Google’s undersea fiber-optic cables revealed that shark bites are a very real threat to global telecommunications. Indeed, a Google spokesperson noted that the company actually coats its cables in a Kevlar-like material to protect against sharks. Interestingly, sharks seem to have more of a taste for fiber-optic cables than the old-fashioned coaxial copper wires. A report from the United Nations Environment Programme and International Cable Protection Committee Ltd. speculates that sharks may be "encouraged by electromagnetic fields from a suspended cable strumming in currents." In other words, sharks, which can sense electromagnetic fields, may mistake the cables for live prey. The phenomenon highlights the ways in which technology and nature can intersect, and the strange new interconnections between the energy of the natural world and our man-made grids. 


With the succesful effort to repopulate the Gran Paradiso National Park in northwest Italy with alpine ibex, it is now a fairly common sight to see the wild goats on the near vertical face of the Cingino Dam, licking the salt incrusted stones.

Top 2 photographs by Maurizio Piazzai.
Bottom photograph by Stanislao Basileo.


Crossrail | BLDG BLOG

More than 23 miles (nearly 90%) of train tunnels are now complete, with tunnelling due to finish in spring next year. Six of Crossrail’s eight tunnelling machines have now completed their drives. The construction of ten new stations in central and southeast London is more than half complete.

The surface works, delivered by Network Rail, are well underway. Significant progress has been made on the new flyover at Stockley, providing access to Heathrow, and on a new dive under at Acton. In addition, a temporary station has opened at Abbey Wood to allow the new Crossrail station to be built.

More than 10,000 people are working directly on Crossrail at around 40 construction sites. Over the course of the project, it is estimated that Crossrail and its supply chain will support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs across the country. More than 7,000 people have completed training at Crossrail’s Tunneling and Underground Construction Academy in Ilford, which opened in 2011. In addition to Crossrail, 61,000 jobs are created around the country annually through TfL’s investment program. TfL and its suppliers have also created over 5,000 apprenticeship roles since April 2009.

Camera Robot Made For Disney Now Inspects Bridges


by Michael Keller

Bridges are made to transport vehicles, not to make it easy for inspectors to do their job. That’s why inspecting the undersides and support pillars of tall ones is no easy task, either requiring people looking for problems to perform feats of contortion or the structure to go without review.

But infrastructure left without scrutiny is infrastructure bound to fail. In the case of the reinforced concrete that makes bridges, the test is a fairly straightforward one.

Inspectors use a device that checks for unseen corrosion within the concrete. The tool is an electrode attached to a wheel that detects big differences in electric potential within the material. This is a sign that corrosion—either from deicing salt that eats away the steel inside or atmospheric carbon dioxide that seeps in and changes the concrete’s chemistry—has set in and needs to be monitored. 

The question is just how to get to those hard-to-reach spots. Now engineers and roboticists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have developed a solution. 

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