Inside a mile-deep open-pit copper mine after a catastrophic landslide

For the past few months I’ve been reporting a big story on the copper industry for Pacific Standard. It takes a broad look at how the global economic boom of the past decade, led by China and India, is pushing copper mining into new regions and new enormities of investment and excavation.

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ExxonMobil, FAA, Arkansas cops establish flight restriction zone, threaten reporters who try to document Mayflower, AR spill

Expect to see a lot fewer images of toxic sludge creeping through small communities, thanks to the hard work of ExxonMobil. The company could have used its prodigious resources to make its oil pipelines more secure, preventing town-destroying leaks like the one that hit Mayflower, Arkansas. But they figured out that it would be cheaper to just corrupt the local law to chase reporters out and get the FAA to establish a Temporary Flight Restriction zone over the spill. Problem solved!

Michael Hibblen, who reports for the radio station KUAR, went to the spill site on Wednesday with state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel was in the area to inspect the site and hold a news conference, and Hibblen and a small group of reporters were following him to report on the visit. Upon arrival, representatives from the county sheriff's office, which is running security at the site, directed the reporters to a boundary point 10 feet away that they should not pass. The reporters agreed to comply. But the tone shifted abruptly, Hibblen told Mother Jones on Friday:

It was less than 90 seconds before suddenly the sheriff's deputies started yelling that all the media people had to leave, that ExxonMobil had decided they don't want you here, you have to leave. They even referred to it as "Exxon Media"…Some reporters were like, "Who made this decision? Who can we talk to?" The sheriff's deputies started saying, "You have to leave. You have 10 seconds to leave or you will be arrested."

Hibblen says he didn't really have time to deal with getting arrested, since he needed to file his report on the visit for both the local affiliate and national NPR. (You can hear his piece on the AG's visit here.) KUAR has also reported on Exxon blocking reporters' access to the spill site.

Reporters Say Exxon Is Impeding Spill Coverage in Arkansas [MotherJones/Kate Sheppard]

(via Kadrey)

Citizen science project: Tracking cicadas on the East Coast

You can build your own cicada detector and help Radiolab track the movements of a once-every-17-year cicada swarm expected to invade the US East Coast this summer.

Evolution can happen faster than you think

I'm contributing to Voice, a new group column on environmental science at Ensia. My first piece is about those swallows in Nebraska that seem to have adapted to highway traffic and what they can teach us about the speed of evolution and the way invasive species adapt to new homelands.

Ocean scientists say 19-year-old's "realistic" plan to clean up the ocean isn't actually realistic

Earlier this week, Jason told you about a TEDx talk in which 19-year-old Boyan Slat presents a plan to remove plastic from the world's oceans. Lots of people are excited about this, which is reasonable. Particulate plastic in the ocean is a big problem that has, thus far, evaded any reasonable clean-up plans. There's just so much of it, it's so tiny, and the ocean is, you know, kind of huge. If a kid can come up with a plan that works, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, the ocean scientists at Deep Sea News say Slat's system isn't as simple and practical as he thinks it is. Among the many problems: Slat's plan would catch (and kill) as many vitally important plankton as pieces of plastic, and it calls for mooring plastic-collecting ships in the open ocean where the water is 2000 meters deeper than the deepest mooring ever recorded. Here's a mantra to remember: TED Talks — interesting if true.

Why architects should stop drawing trees on top of skyscrapers


Vanessa Quirk Tim De Chant argues that the practice of drawing trees on top of skyscrapers in architectural renderings should stop. First, because pretty, high-altitude foliage is the first thing that cost-conscious developers jettison when the actual building is underway; but secondly, because trees can't really survive at that altitude:

There are plenty of scientific reasons why skyscrapers don’t—and probably won’t—have trees, at least not to the heights which many architects propose. Life sucks up there. For you, for me, for trees, and just about everything else except peregrine falcons. It’s hot, cold, windy, the rain lashes at you, and the snow and sleet pelt you at high velocity. Life for city trees is hard enough on the ground. I can’t imagine what it’s like at 500 feet, where nearly every climate variable is more extreme than at street level.

Wind is perhaps the most formidable force trees face at that elevation. Ever seen trees on the top of a mountain? Their trunks bow away from the prevailing winds. That may be the most visible effect, but it’s not the most challenging. Wind also interrupts the thin layer of air between a leaf and the atmosphere, known as the boundary layer. The boundary layer is tiny by human standards—it operates on a scale small enough that normally slippery gas particles behave like viscous fluids.

Bottom line: if we're going to have skyscrapers, let's build them without the illusion that they'll harbor high-altitude forests.

Can We Please Stop Drawing Trees on Top of Skyscrapers? (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Images: “Le Cinq” Office Tower / Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Rendering by Visualisatie A2STUDIO, Pentominium / Murphy/Jahn. Image courtesy of Murphy/Jahn.)

Canadian "pipeline" game enrages humourless oilpatch blowhards


Adam Young sez,

A developer made a game that's a spin on the old "waterworks"/"pipe mania" type game with an oil pipeline theme... complete with pixel-art anti-pipeline protesters. Like most indie developers, they were eligible and applied for funding from a variety of sources. They are donating a portion of the proceeds to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Apparently this made some blowhards angry, who think that "tax dollars funded the game" and shouldn't fund a game about blowing up pipelines, and that the developer donating to a non-profit charity somehow constitutes an ethics violation, having received so-called "tax-dollar funding". Tax breaks and grants and things are available to all sorts of content and media producers in Canada. Game development and film production and the like are industries that are very active here. It's also not illegal to donate proceeds to non-profit charities.

Pipe Trouble

Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Toms River by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing. Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on.

Surviving a massive wildfire

In 2011, the Pagami Creek Fire burned through 92,000 acres of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At Outside magazine, Frank Bures tells the story of two kayakers caught in the inferno. Includes some amazing photos taken by one of the kayakers.

New Brazilian environmental political party based on social networking

Gmoke sez, "Former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva and recent Green Party Presidential candidate (she came in third to force a run-off election) launched the Sustainability Network in Brasilia on 16 February, 2013 and seeks to collect the required 500,000 signatures by September 2013 to become a legally recognized political party. From Sustainability Network's political manifesto (PDF):

We believe that networks, as a means for meeting and organising, are an invention of the present that bridge to a better future. Therefore, it is through networking with society that we want to build a new political force, with alliances underpinned by an Ethics of Urgency, aiming to construct a new model of development: sustainable, inclusive, egalitarian and diverse.

Former Brazilian Minister’s New Party Mixes Sustainability, Social Media · Global Voices (Thanks, Gmoke!)

(Image: José Cruz/Agencia Brasil (CC BY 3.0))

Bedouin "solar mamas" can't get backing for solarizing their village in Jordan

Gmoke sez, "Two years ago, two Bedouin women, Rafea Al Raja and her aunt Seiha Al Raja (Um Bader), returned from a six-month solar engineering training at the Barefoot College in India as 'solar engineers' to start a training center for other women. Although they solarized 80 houses in their village, the government of Jordan, NGOs and international organizations have shown little or no interest in their work. Even with a documentary on their training and projects at home, 'Solar Mamas', there hasn't been enough funding to sustain their work and their dreams.

“We are still not working and the training has not started either,” Rafea told The Jordan Times in an interview on Saturday.

They came with hope, she said, but this hope is fading away. The government, NGOs and international organisations are showing little or no interest, according to FES officials, leaving the project stranded in the desert.

“Now even our fellow villagers have started to make fun of us because they see nothing is happening on the ground,” said Rafea, who with her aunt were received with festive firing and an “official” ceremony upon their arrival from India.

The situation took a dramatic turn for both Rafea and Um Bader. Although they provided solar energy to 80 houses in the village, they are now facing the darkness of personal problems that have plighted them since they completed their training in India.

Hopes fade for two bedouin ‘solar engineers’ [Gaelle Sundelin/Jordan Times]

(Thanks, Gmoke)

I will trade you 12 sheep for 1 barrel of non-renewable hydrocarbons

What would Settlers of Catan be like if you added oil wells to the already potent resource mix of sheep, wood, ore, brick, and grain? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds out when reporter Ann Griswold sits in on a game of Catan: Oil Springs.

HOWTO assemble the Powercube, hydraulic power source for the Global Village Construction set

Tristan from Open Source Ecology sez, "This comprehensive, user friendly video shows you how to assemble the Powercube; Open Source Ecology's modular power unit. This machine can be used to Power any of the 50 Global Village Construction set machines, including the Liberator CEB Press." (See today's earlier post on the CEB Press).

Full instructions are available on the CEB Wiki:

Power Cube VII (Thanks, Tristan!)

HOWTO make your own automated compressed earth brick making machine

Tristan from Open Source Ecology sez, "This comprehensive, user friendly video shows you how to assembly the Liberator CEB Press; the worlds first open source, automated compressed earth brick making machine. Made from $4000 worth of parts, this machine sets a new standard in affordability, allowing users to build almost any type of brick structure out of dirt."

The OSE Wiki page has full instructions for building your own:

CEB Press (Thanks, Tristan!)

Beijing air "like an airport smokers’ lounge"

Beijing's air quality is so bad the EPA doesn't have a scale that goes up far enough to define it. [Edward Wong at the NYT]