Today is Earth Day -- the annual holiday, first celebrated in 1970, to recognize and encourage environmental protection efforts, all while binding disparate peoples around the globe together in a common cause. It's a stirring cause, but one that was greeted this year with many articles lamenting the world's declining interest in both the holiday and the environmental movement it represents.
In the United States, at least, there seems to be some truth to these grumblings. As the Huffington Post reports, polling data demonstrates that environmental issues have become less important to Americans over the past few decades:
[A] 1971 Nixon poll found that 63 percent of respondents said that it was "very important" to work to restore and enhance the national environment, with 25 percent saying it was "fairly important" and only 8 percent saying it was "not too important." But in the 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, only 39 percent of respondents said it was very important, while 41 percent said it was fairly important and 16 percent said it was not too important.
Just looking at Google searches for the term "Earth Day" tells you something. Worldwide, the popularity of the search term is at an-all time low since 2004, which is as far back as Google Trends goes. It's unclear what caused the search numbers to drop so suddenly in 2005 and again in 2009 (let us know if you have any theories).
According to Google, the United States still leads the world in terms of Earth Day interest. But the search term's popularity within the country also seems to be on the decline, with variations from year to year:
But for all those who now fear that environmental complacency has put both Earth Day and the Earth in peril, it's worth noting that things may not be that bad. The same Huffington Post study showed that Americans are using less electricity and recycling more than they were 30 years ago. And hey, for a time "Earth Day" was the "hottest" Google search term today in the United States, Canada, and India. Not even Ryan Lochte's new reality TV show could top it.
Could it be that we're showing our Earth Day spirit in ways other than simply Googling the term? Or, in this plugged-in world, does Interet popularity truly correspond to awareness, enthusiasm, and activism?
Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images
It looks like the English Channel is more than just polluted -- in a sense, it's also radioactive.
On Friday, Der Speigel reported that a team of German journalists has discovered barrels of radioactive waste at the bottom of the waterway, just a few miles off the French coast. Apparently, the British and the Belgians threw 28,500 such barrels into the English Channel between 1950 and 1963 -- the year that the British Radioactive Substances Act of 1960 came into effect.
The existence of the barrels isn't a secret, but experts had assumed that the containers rusted open years ago, allowing the nuclear material to dissipate to harmless concentrations. Instead, photos from an unmanned submarine showed that at least some of the tens of thousands of barrels are very much intact -- prompting German environmentalists to call for their removal.
We've come a long way since barrels of radioactive waste could be dumped by the thousands in the English Channel. International law has prevented the disposal of nuclear waste in the ocean since 1993 (before that, from 1946 to 1993, more than 10 countries used ocean dumping to dispose of radioactive waste). And today, there are two commonly accepted methods for disposing of the material. The first is near-surface disposal, where radioactive waste is stored in containers either at ground level or in caverns a few meters below. The second is deep geological disposal -- the preferred method for radioactive isotopes with long half-lives -- where waste containers are placed in mined tunnels as much as 1,000 meters underground and then sealed in with cement and clay.
Does all this mean we've finally found safe solutions? Check back in with us in a few decades.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
In a country where land is such a precious commodity, you might think that suddenly having more acreage would be a blessing. Instead, it's sparked yet another political fight.
As it has for decades, the water level of the Dead Sea is dropping at a rate of more than three feet a year -- largely as a result of dams built in Israel, Jordan, and Syria, and water subsidies that make agricultural irrigation cheap and wasteful. This, in turn, has caused the shoreline to recede and exposed 35,000 acres of new, unclaimed land.
Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, after two years of legal battles, the Israeli Civil Adminstration has decided that the new coastline is state land. The decision comes despite the claims of neighboring Palestinian communities that their holdings previously extended to the waterline, and that the newly exposed land should therefore be theirs as well. According to the Haaretz report, the Civil Administration could not verify these claims.
Shoreline property is a particularly valuable resource on the Dead Sea. Resorts built on beachfront property 20 years ago now have to shuttle tourists to the water's edge. The sea's southern portion is hydraulically engineered and entirely artificial -- pumps transport water from the north into "evaporation pools" in the south for the production of potash and other cosmetic products that capitalize on the sea's supposed healing properties.
The Haaretz article notes that the Israeli government will use the land for tourism projects, but whether the territory can sustain development is uncertain; the exposed land is pockmarked by large sinkholes where now-dry aquifers have collapsed, and the runoff that does make it to the Dead Sea is polluted by sewage. The new land may be more trouble than it is worth, but that's not likely to defuse the fight over who controls it.
NASA image by Robert Simmon
A Dead Sea's worth of water has disappeared from the Middle East. It sounds like something out of Carmen Sandiego, but it's actually the finding of a joint study by scientists from NASA, the University of California, Irvine, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, published today in the journal Water Resources Research.
Using gravity-measuring NASA satellites -- which allowed them to bypass political boundaries and gather data from space -- the scientists learned that between 2003 and 2009, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet of stored freshwater. Jay Famiglietti of UC Irvine described the findings:
GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India.... The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.
According to the researchers, the countries directly impacted by this trend are Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- not exactly the world's most politically stable states.
So how will this play out? While "water wars" are often forebodingly cast as the next big source of global conflict, water security researcher Peter H. Brooks, writing in Foreign Policy, has dismissed some of the hype as alarmist and not all that new, citing Mark Twain's own observation that "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fightin over." But, he adds that the Tigris and Euphrates basins -- which are ripe with border disputes, conflict over Kurdish minorities, and now major conflicts in Syria and Iraq -- might be more prone to the insidious effects of water instability than other places around the globe.
In 2009, responding to severe water shortages, Iraqi parliament demanded an increase in the share of Turkish river waters. Despite this and continued droughts, Turkey has continued building dams. As broader regional instability permeates into Syria and Iraq, expect water to play an increasingly important role in future local and international disputes between these three countries.
Already, there have been pitched battles over dams in the Syrian civil war, and regional dynamics could shift as Iran seeks water from Afghanistan. As if countries in the Middle East need something new to fight about.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
This morning, Russians in Chelyabinsk, an industrial city 950 miles east of Moscow, were jolted awake when a meteor exploded in the sky, producing shockwaves that shattered windows, set off car alarms, and injured at least 500 people. The meteor was traveling at 19 miles per second, according to Russian authorities, before exploding mid-air, likely as a result of the immense heat generated as a large object speeds through the atmosphere.
On the ground in Chelyabinsk, Russians witnessed a scene that must have seemed ripped out of an apocalyptic film, as a bright, flaming object suddenly appeared in the sky, streaked across the horizon, and unleashed a bone-rattling shockwave. The extraordinary developments were captured on video, in part through the automobile dash-cams that are nearly ubiquitous in Russia.
Below, we've compiled a selection of some of the best videos of the meteor shower, along with translations of the reactions of the stunned Russians on the ground.
At 1:40, the speaker says that there was an extremely bright flash going across the sky. Once the blast can be heard he says, "What the hell? ... Something fell. Do you hear? You know what that was? It was supersonic. It must have been an asteroid, and that's the blast wave." At 2:38, the speaker exclaims, "What the fuck?" They look at the broken windows and say it's like something out of the war. Then, another speaker says, "It must have been a rocket or something." While they're cursing up a storm, one of his friends says, "It must have been the Chinese!"
The video below gives a sense of the magnitude of the blast's shockwave.
This video, shot across the border from Kazakhstan about 200 miles from Chelyabinsk, shows how far from the city the meteoroid could be seen.
The blast blew out windows in Chelyabinsk. The closed-circuit video below gives a sense of how many Chelyabinsk residents likely experienced the meteoroid.
This video of a street in Chelyabinsk, which doesn't capture the direct path of the meteoroid, shows how the meteoroid lit up the street, casting a veritable klieg light on an entire city block.
This video compilation shows how residents experienced the meteroid across the city, and includes footage from a Chelyabinsk school right after the explosion was felt on the ground.
As climate talks continue to grind along in Doha, food security would seem to be a major concern (especially as the U.N. issues warnings about the increasingly desperate food situation in Syria). However, the question of how farmers will feed the world's booming population while adjusting to changing weather patterns appears to have been sidelined even as this year's crippling drought in the U.S. sent grain prices to record highs.
That doesn't mean, however, that the race for food security hasn't already begun. As the authors of the recently released book The Global Farms Race argue, cash-rich but resource-poor governments have been quietly making controversial bids for the arable fields of foreign lands to shore up their own food security. Since the 2008 global food crisis, these "land grabs" -- considered an economic lifeline by supporters and neocolonialism by critics -- have been booming. The editors of the book note a 2011 Oxfam study that claimed nearly 230 million hectares of land have been sold or leased since 2001, mostly after 2008 (that's about the size of Western Europe). In one of the most publicized deals, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics leased 3.2 million acres in Madagascar in 2008 to grow corn and palm oil so that the company could "ensure our food security." The deal, which was eventually canceled, was so unpopular domestically that it contributed to an uprising that helped to oust Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana.
While that deal fell apart, countless others have gone through, sparking debates over the economic, environmental, and political implications of exporting crops from food-insecure countries. As Michael Kugelman, co-editor of the book with Susan L. Levenstein, said at a book launch event at the Wilson Center on Tuesday, this development marks "a new phase of the global food crisis" -- one that may help countries importing food, but has grave implications for the countries hosting the crops. One of the disaster scenarios of these large-scale investments is that they will recreate scenes straight out of the Irish Potato Famine, during which crops were shipped out of the starving nation to feed wealthy foreigners. But equally urgent are the day-to-day economic, environmental, and political ramifications of the deals, from the effects of clearing forest to make way for new farmland to the implications of replacing food crops with biofuels.
Defenders of this type of direct foreign investment often tout the willingness of investors to share technology -- such as seeds for drought-resistant plants and satellite monitoring for crops -- with the host nation. However, corrupt governments willing to offer deals that don't benefit their own populations compromise these promises of development. (Unlike the land-grabs of yore, host governments solicit many of these deals. According to Kugelman, Pakistan offered a 100,000-strong security detail to protect the property of foreign investors and other countries have offered "fire sales" on land in the form of tax write-offs).
As the book acknowledges, these deals are most likely here to stay, so the focus is on minimizing the potential conflict over the contentious real estate. Many of the policy recommendations provided by the book lean toward community supported agriculture programs: Wealthy nations contracting directly with small-scale farmers to meet food needs while also providing them with the technology and capital to improve their yields. While that's all well and good, the willingness and ability of foreign investors to abide by these recommendations seems doubtful, especially given the difficulty of enforcing even well-established international economic rules.
The inability of the current multilateral climate talks to make meaningful headway on even a single key issue highlights the inherent problem with these arrangements. "You can have all the rules and regulations for land rights," contributor Derek Byerlee, the World Bank's former Rural Strategy advisor, said on Tuesday, "But you have to be able to implement them."
News of a new "seal flu" has many fearing a repeat of the 2009 swine flu outbreak that infected more than 5.7 million in the United States before peaking as a level 5 on the WHO's 6-point pandemic alert. The H3N8 flu virus was discovered after the mysterious death of nearly 200 harbor seals off the United States' northeastern coast. Describing it as "a combination we haven't seen in disease before," researchers warned that the new strain of influenza A could have severe repercussions for human health.
The real shock of the story may be the public realization that such doe-eyed creatures could cause harm. While mosquitoes and ticks, those pesky harbingers of West Nile, dengue fever, cholera, Lyme disease, and Kyasanur fever (among other assorted viral, fungal, and bacterial pathogens) are universally hated, it's hard to believe the Earth's more cuddly creatures could breed evil. Here's another 13 to ruin your next trip to the petting zoo:
Peacocks are dying in droves in Pakistan's Thar Desert region in an outbreak scientists believe is linked to Newcastle disease. Highly contagious in birds, the viral infection is currently rare in humans. Its unique replication properties make it a potential candidate for agroterrorism, but more positive headway been made in its use as a human cancer treatment.
Found primarily in Latin America, armadillos are better known for their unique defense mechanism than their role as a global disease vector. Beneath their shell, however, these mammals shield leprosy, a rare bacterial infection that attacks the skin and nervous system. Though associated more with the bible than modern medicine, the disease remains active throughout the world -- with armadillos responsible for more than a third of infections in the United States.
The world's largest mammal offers plenty of real estate for influenza A, a viral flu strain with the most potential for interspecies transmission. Luckily, the chances for accidental contact remain slim -- just another reason to skip the whale meat.
Monkeys and apes
Described by malaria researchers as a "reservoir for human disease," monkeys and apes are widely known for harboring emerging zoonotic diseases. The HIV virus originated in African monkeys and strains of malaria, Ebola, and monkeypox virus continue to be created or transmitted by monkey and ape populations -- not to mention the cases of measles, rabies, tuberculosis, salmonellosis, shigellosis, amebiasis, balatidiasis, herpes B, giardiasis and helminthes believed to have appeared first in man's closest relative.
Dogs and cats
While many a dog-lover cheered reports of a feline parasite's negative impact on human dopamine production, man's best friend carries its own risks. Though undulant fever is more commonly associated with other species, human cases of the leptospirosis bacteria, an infection whose effect ranges from flu-like symptoms to liver and kidney failure, encephalitis, and pulmonary involvement, have been reported to originate in dogs.
More commonly associated with rats, plague seems to have chosen prairie dogs as its modern rodent host. One leg of a complex threesome that includes mice and fleas, prairie dog coteries across North America have been struck by a mass outbreak of bubonic and sylvatic plague. In an effort to cull the epidemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented a mass fumigation campaign.
While flying foxes are their natural reservoir, the Hendra and Nipah viruses have adapted to survive within horses where they take residence alongside anthrax. Worse, equine encephalitis virus, a pathogen listed as a global priority by the Global Early Warning System for Major Animal Diseases, Including Zoonoses, has spread globally. Transmitted by mosquitos, the virus can be fatal in both horses and humans.
Rabbits and hares
Guinea pigs and hamsters
However popular with the preschool set, guinea pigs and hamsters are still rodents. Next time your kid asks to bring one home remember - these furry beasts are disease vectors of lymphocytic choriomeningitis, leptospirosis, yersiniosis and salmonellosis. Handle with gloves.
TIMM SCHAMBERGER/AFP/Getty Images
Canadian scientists and supporters staged a mock funeral in front of parliament in Ottawa yesterday to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed cuts to scientific research.
The July 10 event, called the "death of evidence" rally, drew an estimated 2000 protesters from across the country. Led by a participant dressed as the grim reaper, lab coat wearing mock-pall bearers carried the casket containing the "body" of evidence up the steps to Parliament Hill.
The Harper government's budget cut millions of dollars and 12,000 government positions from basic research in Canada. Major slashes will impact institutions such as Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library and Archives Canada, the National Research Council Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
According to the Globe and Mail, protesters "decried the Conservative government's overall economic agenda, which they say puts the environment at risk for the sake of creating jobs." This includes the closure of research stations such as the Experimental Lakes Area - which provides cutting edge research on acid rain and phosphate pollution.
A great slide show of photos from the rally by Trevor Pritchard is available here at OpenFile Ottawa.
Trevor Pritchard/ OpenFile Ottawa
The Chinese government has decided to ban shark fin soup at official receptions, the New York Times reports. For decades, environmentalists have lobbied to end the practice of eating shark fin soup, popular in China and other parts of Southeast Asia, because of the toll it takes on endangered shark species.
However, the decision, lauded by shark protection groups, was not driven by conservation concerns but by concern about the appearance of state-sponsored opulence, according to Chinese state media. The Chinese GSA announced on Tuesday the decision to ban the delicacy in order to avoid the appearance of government waste.
Of course, the move is more gesture than substance: party officials continue to enjoy the spoils of office in the form of privatization deals for family members and closed bids for government contracts. This latest announcement follows a series of moves in a broader campaign to reduce perceptions of inequality, including a 2011 ban on the use of the word "luxury" in advertising.
The impact the ban will have on government balance sheet remains unclear; Although China is known to be the largest consumer of shark fin soup, no figures were released on government-specific soup expenditure.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images)
Nearly 24 hours of voting, 425 pages of legislation, over 800 proposed amendments: This is the marathon from which Canadian members of parliament (MPs) emerged on June 15.
The session, characterized by the Globe and Mail as "22-plus hours of consecutive spanking" of the dissenting opposition parties by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative majority government, will allow the government to push through omnibus bill C-38.
Canadians are up in arms about the bill because it includes legislation that will weaken and threaten the legal status of leading environmental groups.
Because Harper is determined to build a new pipeline out of the Alberta tar sands, the center of Canada's oil industry with known reserves that rival Saudi Arabia's. And he is not about to wait for November to get it done.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would have funneled Canadian oil down to refineries on the Gulf Coast, remains in political deadlock after the Obama administration blocked the deal in January.
Incensed by Obama's decision, Harper claimed the pipeline process was being "held hostage" because "certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America."
In the meantime, Harper's government, as well as impatient oil exporters and Asian markets hungry for Canadian crude, are determined to find new ways out of land-locked Alberta in order to increase oil export volumes.
"Enbridge, a transporter of Canadian oil exports, announced a $3 billion plan called Eastern Access. It is seeking permission to build a new "Northern Gateway Pipelines" network, to bring 525,000 barrels a day to Canada's Pacific Coast. Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy company, said it will nearly double the capacity of an existing pipeline network along a different route."
All of these options will have to overcome staunch opposition by indigenous groups and well-entrenched environmental interests on both coasts. Which brings us back to the reasoning behind the Conservative government's push to pass the omnibus bill with the intent of weakening these groups' legal footing.
In order to further quell dissent, Harper's government has also been going after anti-pipeline charity and advocacy groups. A variety of groups, including Tides Canada and ForestEthics, have been threatened with having their charity status revoked. Canadian regulations have long maintained that charities cannot devote more thant 10 percent of their budgets to advocacy. Additional laws pushed through as part of the C-38 package "will bring more scrutiny to foreign funding for charities and also how they use money for political purposes. Charities will also have to take more responsibility for the political activities of groups to which they give money."
The government has also insinuated that shadowy foreign entities are responsible for funding charities in their efforts to derail Canada's well-oiled ascendance to the status of petrostate. The Conservatives' new efforts to regulate "transparency" in Canadian charities has gone so far as to alarm large foundations with names like Bronfman, Asper and Bombardier on their letterheads.
Turns out even Canada is not immune to the lure of "black gold."
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Two years ago today, British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Though BP reached an "estimated multibillion-dollar settlement" with lawyers representing individual and business plaintiffs in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Gulf Coast is strill struggling to recover from the disaster. Fish are dying, Louisiana's seafood industry is reeling, and Gulf Coast residents and cleanup workers continue to experience health problems tied to the spill.
After taking measures such as sacking then-CEO Tony Hayward, running an aggressive advertising campaign throughout the region, and settling on the multibillion-dollar payout, BP continues to shower the Gulf Coast with goodwill. According to Mike Utsler, president of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, the company is still spending "millions of dollars" on the cleanup operation, and even offering guided tours of the recovery efforts.
Millions of dollars, of course, is just a drop in the bucket for BP, which Forbes recently called "one of the greatest corporate survival stories in history":
"Since last year BP has risen a remarkable 379 spots to 11th place in The Forbes Global 2000 survey. Key to the climb is a return to profitability in a big way. In 2010 BP took a $41 billion charge against earnings, giving shareholders their financial whipping all at once rather than dribbling it out over years. In 2011 BP reversed the previous year's $3.3 billion net loss, posting $26 billion in income, with promises of a further profit surge in the years ahead, thanks to high gasoline prices and a new slate of projects coming online."
One of the 15 new projects that BP plans to bring online by 2015 is its first post-spill well, Kaskida, located 250 miles southwest of New Orleans. If anything goes wrong, one hopes CEO Bob Dudley won't be as insensitive as his predecessor.
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Ulan Bator is funding a $730,000 ‘ice shield' initiative to counterbalance urban heat island effect and global warming and to lighten up the city's air conditioning bill. The experiment is sort of like a scotch on the rocks, except instead of scotch it's Mongolia, and instead of one cube or two it's the artificially super-frozen Tuul river. The hope is that a giant ice sheet -- known as a naled -- will store the winter's cold and cool the city through the hot months to come.
At the end of November, the engineers of the Mongolian ECOS & EMI firm will begin recreating the natural naled-forming process by drilling holes through the ice covering the river Tuul. This will allow water to rise through the ice sheet in the warmer daytime temperatures and spread across its surface. Then the new layers will freeze during the nights and create an ever thickening ice shelf.
While naleds have served industrial applications before, as military bridges in North Korea or as platforms for drilling in Russia, the Ulan Bator climate experiment is unprecedented. But if the Tuul successfully cools down the spring and summer as it gradually melts, providing water and a hospitable microclimate, the practice may become more common in places like Mongolia where the environmental conditions are right.
Worst comes to worst, with Winter Olympics only two years away, Mongolia's figure skaters have a new place to practice in the summer.
Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images
Australia's government this week approved the world's most comprehensive legislation so far regarding global greenhouse gas emissions, including a new tax on carbon emissions.
"Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land. This comes after a quarter of a century of scientific warnings, 37 parliamentary inquiries, and years of bitter debate and division," Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
Australia has spent more than a decade debating the issue, which was instrumental in the 2007 fall of former conservative Prime Minister John Howard and Labor's Kevin Rudd in 2010.
The carbon tax is part of a series of new environmental laws approved by both houses of Australia's government, including the establishment of a Climate Change Authority, and the creation of a Green Fund to spur investments in the renewable energy sector. The bill's passage was a significant achievement for Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Though it only produces a small percentage of the world's carbon output, Australia's heavy industry has made the country one of the highest per capita pollution emitters.
With the new law, Australia now joins a club of countries including Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden where some form of carbon legislation on the books. The Australian law has a much wider scope and will have a broader impact on the country than the carbon taxes passed elsewhere. Some local areas such as Quebec in Canada and San Francisco, California have also issued their forms of local carbon taxes. The European Union does have the emissions trading system (ETS), but its implementation has been sharply criticized because of the weak authority given to its regulators.
Some emerging market countries have also proposed legislation towards reducing pollution. Last year, India passed the first levy on coal producers, which was set to raise over $535 million. China and South Korea have also proposed some types of carbon taxes, but many of the details behind have been left up in the air. Last year, the United States attempted a deal on carbon trading legislation, but was scuttled due to political pressures within Congress.
Governments will try once again to reach a broader, more comprehensive deal at the COP-17 talks that are beginning at the end of November in Durban, South Africa.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images
The recent Solyndra debacle involving U.S government subsidies towards a now bankrupt solar energy startup has dominated headlines in the U.S. But China is facing a more serious solar crisis.
After four days of protests at the Jinko Solar Holding, an NYSE listed company based out of Haining, Chinese officials have shut down the plant and apologized to citizens over alleged dumping of toxic waste into the local river. The protests come after a large number of fish deaths from what are perceived to be high levels of fluoride in the water. The Los Angeles Times' Jonathan Kaiman reports:
The decision is an indication of the growing power of environmental protesters to sway government policy in China. As many as 500 villagers participated in the protests near Haining, an industrial city of 640,000 in coastal Zhejiang province.
The plant's operator, JinkoSolar, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company, issued a public apology Monday.
"We cannot shirk responsibility for the legal consequences which have come from management slips," Jing Zhaohui, a company representative, said at a news conference.
Company officials are claiming that recent rainfall, and poor containment of solid waste at the factory contributed to runoff which fed into the river system. While there have been no human casualties as of yet, much of the toxins that killed the animals, including lead, are linked to human neurological conditions as well. Jinko's shares also took a hit today from the news, declining by nearly 10 percent in today's trading.
As the Guardian's Jonathan Watts reported, the clash is also indicative of the types of challenges that China faces as it struggles to move away from a primarily coal-based energy portfolio toward one including cleaner tech. Furthermore, the protest will bring further questions about the extent to which China's support of solar manufacturers can last.
As the AFP noted, China's extensive use of "cheap labor and state support" has bolstered the industry into producing nearly 70 percent of the world's supply. FP's Clyde Prestowitz recentlyfurther into detail on how China's aggressive policies are eating into production from countries including the United States.
Of course, the burgeoning sector isn't going to go very far if clean tech proves prone to toxic accidents.
SIMON LIM/AFP/Getty Images
Beachgoers in China looking to kick back at the shores of the country's beer capital might want to think twice. An algae bloom off the eastern coast of Qingdao, in Shandong Province, has covered 7,400 square miles and counting, according to Xinhua News Agency, and researchers expect to see part of it wash ashore in the next few days.
Whatever does make it ashore from the bloom will add to a 75,000 square foot patch already coating Qingdao's beachside waters. But the residents of Qingdao are used to these algae invasions. Blooms have become something of a summer tradition in Qingdao's Yellow Sea since they first emerged in 2007. The 2008 bloom forced the government to deploy thousands of soldiers and locals to clear the waters in time for the sailing competitions being held at Qingdao as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What's behind the outbreaks over the past few years? Bao Xianwen of the Ocean University of China, located in Qingdao, told Taiwan's China Post earlier this month, "We don't know where [the algae] originated and why it's suddenly growing so rapidly. It must have something to do with the change in the environment, but we are not scientifically sure of the reasons." But Western outlets like the New York Times and the BBC who covered the blooms in 2008 blamed that year's algae explosion on agricultural and industrial run-off.
Though the bloom hasn't sat well with many of Qingdao's beachgoers, some intrepid swimmers are taking a different tack. ""We have not been disturbed by the green algae. I swim here as usual," 32-year-old local swimmer Zhao Xiaowei told the China Post. Li Li, a preschooler from inland Hebei Province, told China Daily he didn't mind it either: "I like the green 'grass.' It feels so soft."
STR/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
North Korea won't tell its citizens this, but the Hermit Kingdom is broke. Luckily, ever-ingenuous Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il and his government have a new plan -- sell carbon offsets for cold hard cash. The isolated Stalinist enclave has a series of hydropower projects that it hopes to leverage with the United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) scheme, which allows developing countries to partner with typically richer countries looking to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. The industrialized countries (or companies from such countries) earn carbon credits, while the host country gets cash from the sale of these credits.
Since 2006, over 2,000 projects have been approved -- according to the New York Times, 40 percent of the projects are located in China and most involve hydropower. In 2008, carbon credit transactions totaled close to $7 billion.
According to Reuters, North Korea is looking to get approval for three hydro power plants of 7-8 megawatts in the northeast part of the country.
North Korea -- currently facing sanctions over its nuclear weapons program -- faces serious challenges in selling carbon offsets. Aside from serious economic mismanagement, Reuters lists a whole host of reasons why these projects might not make it past the brainstorming stage:
"Even if they open up, who in the world wants to pay for North Korea that is blamed for its nuclear weapons programme?" said Choi Soo-young, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Cho said the UN needed to prevent outside cash going into its nuclear development activities, while Luckock, of global law firm Norton Rose, said: "Their limited access to hard currency has to be a concern for buyers - the damages clauses will carry limited weight without some security there."
Another challenge is that North Korea would have to make public its energy consumption and generation data and disclose information on the amount of energy linked to the hydro project.
"Annual inspection, constant measurement and energy flow posting on the [UNFCC] website - all these things are new for North Korea," [Bernhard] Seliger [of the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany] said.
North Korea has a history of serious flooding disasters, although these might be better solved through fixing the country's drainage systems and reversing the effects of enormous deforestation.
Of course, enabling North Korea's nuclear program might be good for the environment in other ways: NASA recently used computer simulations to prove that a "limited" nuclear war might temporarily halt global climate change.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate, followed by the House on Tuesday, passed a groundbreaking shark conservation bill banning the practice of shark finning in the Pacific. The bill closes a loophole in earlier legislation that had banned shark finning off the coast of the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill also empowers federal authorities to identify and list which fishing vessels come from countries with different shark conservation rules than the United States.
Shark finning is a brutal practice where sharks are captured, their dorsal fins are sliced off, and they are thrown back into the water to bleed to death. According to some estimates, shark finning alone is responsible for the deaths of up to 73 million sharks annually, resulting in shark populations that have been depleted by as much as 90 percent in the past few decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service reports that 1.2 million pounds of sharks were caught in 2009 in the Pacific, although it doesn't specify what portion were fins. Many species of sharks are highly endangered -- there are only about 3,500 great white sharks left in the world.
Shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a (not particularly tasty, in this blogger's opinion) delicacy across much of East Asia, used by upper classes to demonstrate wealth, taste, and prestige at wedding banquets and corporate feasts. With China's growing middle and upper classes eating more and more of this soup each year, activists and scientists worry that shark populations are being depleted beyond sustainable levels.
"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," Sen. John Kerry, the bill's author, said in a statement. "Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life."
While any effort to regulate this $1 billion a year industry is laudable, the trade in shark fins is extremely difficult to monitor and much of it happens outside U.S. waters. For example, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that 50 to 80 percent of the global market for shark fins is centered in Hong Kong. While many Americans are aware of the environmental implications of shark finning, that same consciousness has yet to hit the market that really matters -- China. Last year, for example, a Chinese wedding industry group survey found that only about 5 percent of couples choose shark-free menus at their weddings.
ANDREW ROSS/AFP/Getty Images
Looks like even Bono couldn't stop it. Despite a wave of protest environmental and civil society groups throughout the summer, it appears that the Kremlin is going ahead with a controversial plan to build a highway through the Khimki forest, north of Moscow:
The Moscow-St. Petersburg highway has become a political issue for the Kremlin after a wave of opposition protests last summer. In August, President Dmitry Medvedev suspended it in a decision welcomed by environmentalists.
Vedomosti quoted several unidentified Kremlin sources, including a senior official, as saying construction would go ahead after all. The Kremlin declined to comment Thursday.
Opponents to the project argue the highway could easily be re-routed without damaging pristine woodland. The project has become a rallying point for environmentalists, rights groups and Kremlin critics.
FP contributor Julia Ioffe adds some context:
Why did this happen? Well, money, for one thing. Vinci, the French company building the road, apparently used the French government to lean on the Kremlin, which was already probably quite willing to listen: if there was deemed to be a breach of contract between SKZZ (Vinci’s vehicle) and the Russian company N-Trans, N-Trans could be liable for as much as 3.5 billion rubles ($113 million). And let’s not forget who N-Trans invited to participate in the project to make sure it gets built: longtime Putin buddy Arkady Rotenberg.
Something tells me that, as much as the Kremlin totally, absolutely, hilariously wants to appease– I mean, pretend– I mean, develop civil society, that Rotenberg’s — and Putin’s — skajillions matter more.
Three journalists who have reported critically on the project, including Kommersant's Oleg Kashin, who have reported crticially on the project have been attacked over the last two years.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is known for loving both cute things and adrenaline, so it's no surprise that he has taken to movie star Leonardo DiCaprio like a puppy to a new chew-toy. DiCaprio landed in St. Petersburg earlier this week to attend a tiger-conservation conference, but his journey to Russia was rife with excitement. His first Russia-bound plane was forced to make an emergency landing in New York after an engine failure. His second plane had to stop in Finland for unscheduled refueling because of strong headwinds.
According to the Telegraph, Putin spotted DiCaprio in the audience and deviated from his set speech to praise DiCaprio as a "real man" noting that "a person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign - that it was not worth going."
DiCaprio apparently was also feeling the love, telling Putin about his Russian heritage. (A Russian film producer, noting Leo's uncanny resemblence to Vladimir Lenin, is reportedly looking to cast the Inception star as a re-animated version of the Soviet revolutionary in an upcoming sci-fi film.)
With all this love in the air, the tigers were not left out. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the International Tiger Conservation Forum ended with the approval of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which aims to double the number of tigers in the wild. DiCaprio personally donated $1 million for tiger conservation (which should also make Malia
Of course, Putin's feelings about tigers are already well-known.
Russia is one of 13 countries where tigers still exist in the wild, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The U.S. embassy in Beijing has an air-quality monitoring station that tracks the level of certain pollutants in China's notoriously smoggy capital -- and then broadcasts results via Twitter. Most tweets from the sober-minded scientists behind @BeijingAir look like this:
11-17-2010; 10:00; PM2.5; 154.0; 204; Very Unhealthy // Ozone; 0.2; 0
But yesterday a new reading was pronounced, one not listed on the US EPA's usual air-quality index:
11-19-2010; 02:00; PM2.5; 562.0; 500; Crazy Bad
A "Crazy bad" day, apparently, is one in which the pollution reading -- a score typically from 1 to 500 reflecting measurements of ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide in the air -- is literally off the charts. That is, it exceeds the EPA's maximum score of 500, the upper bound for a "hazardous" day. The definition of a "hazardous" day is pretty ominous: "Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected." But what's beyond hazardous?
The new category of "crazy bad" will not be formally incorporated into the EPA's index, but will first be renamed, as the embassy later told the Associated Press. Just another record broken in China for which we have yet no name.
Hat tip: @gadyepstein
At the end of last week, with relatively little international media coverage, the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity, meeting in Nagoya, Japan, adopted a new set of protocols on the protection of natural diversity. The deal was struck at the last minute, with a dispute between developed and developing nations over the sharing of biological resources threatening to scuttle the talks entirely. Bryan Walsh at Time's Ecocentric blog gives the highlights of the new Nagoya Protocol:
The signatories agreed to protect 17 percent of the planet's land and inland waters, and 10 percent of coastal and marine waters by 2020. (That's up from 13 percent of land and just 1 percent of marine areas right now.) There's also a broad "mission" to take action to halt the loss of biodiversity -- nations will aim to halve the loss of habitats and will each draw up national biodiversity plans that will chart how each country is mean to halt overfishing, control invasive species and in general stop the rampant destruction of the natural world.
Even more noteworthy, however, is the fact that the diplomats in attendance managed to come up with a compromise on what was by far the most contentious issue on the table: the trade in biological and genetic resources. For nearly 20 years, countries have been at odds over how to police the growing trade -- or biopiracy, depending on your perspective -- in biological and genetic resources, the plants and animals usually found in the developing world that can be used to make medicines, drugs and other products in the developed world.
The Nagoya Protocol will create an International Regime on Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources that will begin to create ground rules for the international trade in genetic resources. Notably, it will also push governments to consider ways to provide restitution for genetic material or "traditional knowledge" taken from developing nations that has been used to create patented drugs or other products. That compensation might come in the form of a special fund that could be used to finance conservation or development in poorer countries.
Of course the agreement isn't quite as ambitious as conservationists had hoped and time will tell whether countries can actually meet these goals, but after the disappointing failure of the Copenhagen climate talks and amid the pessimistic forecasts for Cancun next month, the concrete pledges in Nagoya represent a rare victory for international coordination in solving global environmental challenges.
The need for action on biodiversity is no less pressing than global warming -- scientists believe as many as one-fifth of all vertebrate species could be facing extinction. And the sociopolitical overtones of global action to protect endangered species are no less fierce -- see Jeffrey Gettleman on the proposed Serengeti highway in Sunday's New York Times, particularly the Tanzanian presidential spokesman's statement: "You guys always talk about animals, but we need to think about people."
But one advantage that biodiversity negotiators have that climate change negotiators do not is that their issue gets relatively little attention. As I wrote after Copenhagen, the media attention surrounding the event -- which included drafts being leaked and dissected by the media, a sideshow counter-convention by climate change denialists, cameo appearances by Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez, and some high-stakes face-saving shuttle diplomacy by Barack Obama -- wasn't all that conducive to the goal of reaching an agreement that is bound to require painful sacrifices from all parties involved.
Endangered species advocates are no doubt frustrated that their cause doesn't get the same amount of publicity, but when it comes time to actually sit down and hammer out a deal, obscurity can have its advantages.
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images
The big surprise out of yesterday's Brazilian election was the surprisingly strong showing of Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who beat the projections by picking up 19 percent of the vote and forced a runoff between the two leading candidates. Brazil's Greens, who haven't decided which of the remaining candidates to support yet, are in a pretty good mood:
Sirkis said the record vote meant the Green party would be able to force debate on crucial environmental issues in the lead up to the second round. Such issues included controversial changes to Brazil's forestry code, which environmentalists claim will further damage the Amazon rainforest, and Brazil's commitments on climate change in Copenhagen.
The O Dia newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, where Silva came second with 31.52% of the vote, described a "green tsunami" in its front-page headline.
"Marina Silva's face will not be on the ballot on October 31 but her electoral ghost will decide the second round," the newspaper said. "She has become the central figure in this campaign," said Altino Machado, an Amazon journalist and blogger who has known Silva since the late 1970s.
Silva resigned with quite a bit of publicity as Lula's environment minister in 2008 over the government's unwillingness to implement her anti-deforestation agenda. In addition to an embrace of Silva's compelling personal story -- she is the child of rubber-tappers from the Amazonian state of Acre and was illiterate until the age of 14 -- the Green's success shows the increasing political salience of environmental issues in Brazil, where 85 percent of the population views global climate change as a major problem. (Only 37 percent of Americans feel that way.)
It would be nice to think that Silva's success -- along with the recent collapse of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government over broken climate change promises -- is a sign that voters are starting to take environmental issues seriously at the ballot box. But it's probably a bit premature, and I somehow doubt we'll be seeing a "green tsunami" rolling across the American heartland in November.
The Italian mafia doesn't exactly have the best environmental record. This is an organization, after all, whose idea of "waste management" involves dumping hundreds of barrels of toxic waste into the Mediterranean. But now, it seems, even the wise guys are going green.
In the largest Mafia seizure of all time, Italian authorities have confiscated $1.9 billion dollars in assets and revealed that they plan to launder assets through alternative energy projects like wind and solar:
At the center of the investigation was Sicilian businessman Vito Nicastri, 54, a man known as the "Lord of the Wind" because of his vast holdings in alternative energy concerns, mostly wind farms.
General Antonio Girone, head of the national anti-Mafia agency DIA, said Nicastri was linked to Matteo Messina Denaro, believed to be Mafia's current "boss of bosses." Investigators said Nicastri's companies ran numerous wind farms as well as factories that produced solar energy panels.
"It's no surprise that the Sicilian Mafia was infiltrating profitable areas like wind and solar energy," Palermo magistrate Francesco Messineo told a news conference.
Officials said the operation was based on a 2,400-page investigative report and followed the arrest of Nicastri last year. Senator Costantino Garraffa, a member of the parliamentary anti-Mafia committee, said the Mafia was trying to break into the "new economy," of alternative energy as it sought out virgin ventures to launder money from drugs and other rackets.
Lord of the Wind?
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
The internet is generally seen as a "green" technology -- emails can cut down on paper waste, teleconferencing can save on CO2 emitted by flying, and smart grids can help reduce overall energy consumption. But, according to the Guardian's series on carbon footprints, the internet releases about 300 million tons of CO2 each year -- as much as all the coal, oil, and gas used for energy in Turkey and Poland.
The British newspaper acknowledges that carbon footprints are, in general, tough to calculate. However, it arrived at this rough estimate by accounting for the power used up by data centers ("buildings packed top to bottom with servers full of the web pages, databases, online applications and downloadable files that make the modern online experience possible") and personal computing devices. Data centers are one of the less visible factors in understanding the global carbon trail left by our emails, blog trolling, and facebooking, but they are quite significant. A Harvard physicist last year estimated that just two Google searches generate about 14 grams of CO2--or enough to bring a kettle to boil.
A recent UK study determined that in 2005, consumer and commercial information and communication technology (ICT) accounted for about 1.2 percent of fossil fuel emissions. The report predicts that ICT's footprint could climb by 60 percent by 2030.
The Guardian feature highlights some other carbon footprints. Among them:
The Iraq War: 250-600 million tons of CO2 since 2003
The World Cup: 2.8 million tons of CO2 ("more than a billion cheeseburgers")
The 2009 Australian bushfires: 165 million tons of CO2
A banana: 80g CO2 each
Almost a year and a half since protests spurned a coup that removed democratically-elected President Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar's political crisis continues to drag along. The government remains paralyzed and isolated, and formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.
Yesterday, the interim government, led by former DJ and mayor of Antananarivo, the country's capital and largest city, President Andry Rajoelina, who also has the backing of the country's military, reached an agreement with nearly 100 smaller political parties for new election dates. The accord is set to be adopted tomorrow, but it looks to have little impact: The three main opposition parties are boycotting discussions. These parties say they will only take part in elections that they help orchestrate, not just one organized by Rajoelina's government.
The accord sets presidential elections for the middle of next year, with a vote on a constitutional referendum on November 17. Originally, the referendum was supposed to be held this month and presidential elections in November, but opposition parties balked at these too. Earlier power-sharing negotiations, conducted in South Africa, also failed to bring all parties to an agreement.
This news does not bode well for the Malagasy people, of whom about 70 percent live below the poverty line. The EU, World Bank, and USAID have blocked development aid. Also in peril is the island nation's delicate and extraordinarily unique environment, famous for endemic species like lemurs and baobab trees. Instability caused by the coup has created an illegal logging crisis in Madagascar's national parks. Loggers plunder rosewood trees, while lemurs have been hunted for bushmeat. This month, UNESCO's World Heritage committee added Madagascar's tropical forests to its Danger List of threatened ecosystems.
"What has been happening in Madagascar since the coup is little more than a smash-and-grab raid," Conservation International head Dr. Russell Mittermeier told Mongabay. "Unscrupulous companies have been taking advantage of the upheaval and the willingness of the current regime to allow highly damaging practices which bring no benefit to the nation and simply enrich a few greedy people."
In a surprisingly positive twist, a World Bank report (with the cautiously optimistic title: "Why has the Malagasy economy not yet collapsed?") published last month said Madagascar had largely avoided financial disaster thanks to a strong informal economy, which has grown an estimated 13 percent since 2009, and good weather. Rice yields have hit record levels after two years without cyclones.
GREGOIRE POURTIER/AFP/Getty Images
Criticisms leveled against Moscow's response to the raging wildfires are now obsolete. While Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was roundly berated for grudgingly returning from his European vacation to deal with the fires, Vladimir Putin himself co-piloted a plane over burning forests, releasing 24 tons of water on a blaze -- all without any formal pilot training.
Putin, wearing a blue shirt and jeans, boarded a Russian-built Be-200 amphibious aircraft as a passenger for a flight over the Ryazan region.
But he later went into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's seat, holding the throttle and pushing a button to dump 24 tons of water on forest fires about 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow.
Footage on Channel One television showed Putin hitting the button and asking the pilot, "Was that OK?"
The pilot replied, "A direct hit!"
After the spectacularly managed photo-op, reminiscent of a similar adventure by the second Bush, Putin visited a village where he pledged aid: Families would be compensated in cash or have their houses re-built, but at a maximum of $66,600, or 2 million rubles.
ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
This week's quiz question:
The world's deepest offshore oil-drilling platform sits in how many feet of water?
a) 5,280 feet (1mile) b) 6,600 feet (1.25 miles) c) 8,000 feet (1.5 miles)
Answer after the jump …
Lula being Lula:
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says no "gringo should stick their nose in where it does not belong."
Silva was visiting Para state Tuesday, where the Belo Monte dam is planned. It would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric project.
The dam has been opposed by figures such as British singer Sting and more recently by "Avatar" director James Cameron.
I'm relying on the AP's translation and I'm not sure if the word was meant to have negative connotations, but da Silva did also once blame the financial crisis on "white people with blue eyes," and in any case, this probably isn't the most productive way to deal with the legitimate criticisms of the Belo Monte project.
That said, Lula's comments are a useful reminder that while Cameron and his cohorts view this as a case of rapacious multinational corporations exploiting the wilderness and the Na'vi … er … I mean … indigenous people who live there, Brazilians are justifiably proud of their country's industrial growth and don't like being lectured by foreign celebrities. Cameron and Sting probably don't want any part of a fight with Lula for the sympathy of the Brazilian public.
RICARDO STUCKERT/AFP/Getty Images)
It's often said of climate change that it won't be a major priority for governments until politicians are afraid of being voted out of office over it. Well that (sort of) just happened in Australia, where the ruling Labor Party unceremoniously dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today. It's been a precipitous fall for Rudd, who began this year as one of the most popular leaders in his country's history, but now hold the dubious honor of being the only postwar Australian prime minister voted out after less than one term.
There were a number of missteps along the way, but Rudd, who described climate change as "the greatest moral challenge of our generation," abandoned his trademark carbon-trading scheme and backed down on a new mining tax. Rudd was never particularly popular within his own party, and when his public popularity began to slip, it was only a matter of time before he got the ax.
New Prime Minister Julia Gillard -- the first woman to ever hold the job -- has already promised to pursue both carbon trading and the mining tax. Australia, heavily reliant on coal and one of the world's highest emitters per capita, still has a long way to go. But it has to be encouraging to environmentalists that the country's voters seem to be holding leaders accountable for their green talk.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
If you're the kind of interior decorator who spends weeks agonizing between "white zinfandel" and "baby's breath" for the dining room walls (two hues indistinguishable to anyone who hasn't poured over the Benjamin Moore catalogue), you might consider enlisting in Eduardo Gold's latest project to combat the effects of climate change in the Peruvian Andes.
As one of 26 winners in last year's "100 Ideas to Save the Planet" competition, sponsored by the World Bank, Gold proposed an alternately ingenious and implausible plan to stall -- and perhaps even reverse -- the steady melting of Andean Glaciers: paint them white. Now, though Gold has yet to recieve his prize money, the wheels on this project are already turning in Peru. By coating the increasingly bare (and increasingly brown) rocks at the summits of the once-snowy mountain range, Gold hopes to simulate the eco-saving powers of a true glacial surface: the white veneer, if all goes according to plan, should reflect the sun's rays, sending them back out into the atmosphere and preventing warming effects at the Earth's surface. (If you're already clamoring against using chemical-laden paint in a pristine natural setting, rest assured: Gold's hue of white -- unlike Benjamin Moore's -- will be 100 percent environmentally friendly, composed of lime, egg white, and water.)
Gold "has no scientific qualifications" -- and it sometimes shows. At one point, he summarizes the science behind his proposal with a simple, and perhaps simplistic, formulation: "cold generates more cold, just as heat generates more heat." He also aspires to eventually "re-grow" the ebbing glacier -- an example, it's hard not to think, of ambitious entrepreneurship getting the best of realistic science.
Nevertheless, Gold "has studiously read up on glaciology," and his idea has won as many supporters as it has skeptics. The white-washing project appeals for obvious reasons to environmentalists: 22 percent of the glaciers in Peru have already disappeared in just three decades and doomsday forecasts predict the remaining 78 may be gone in twenty years. But Gold's biggest fans may be the Peruvians themselves.
Painting, after all, calls for painters: the venture is predicted to create 15,000 jobs over five years. Those who live in the glaciers' shadows (or, more aptly these days, their puddles) have experienced the dramatic shifts in climate in recent year, and -- for the sake of a return to normalcy -- seem to be willing to hear out even the most unusual proposals for change.
The work will be slow-going: Gold has set his sights on completing one summit, Chalon Sombrero, this summer, and then gradually moving on to other peaks. But with a page from Tom Sawyer's book, he just might be able to pick up the white-washing pace...
ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images
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