Tag Archives: Environment

The Curse of Black Gold: Vast Oil Find Puts Guyana on the Verge of Riches – or Failure

Perhaps everything would be easier if people could actually see the oil. If the drilling platforms, the supply boats and the gigantic specialized vessels used to clean and store the oil were anchored just offshore and not way beyond the horizon. Then, perhaps people would better understand the great lengths that oil companies go to to get at the oil. And better understand just how wealthy the stuff can make you.

The oilfield that ExxonMobil discovered five years ago is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) off the coast of Guyana, which used to be called British Guyana back before anyone was thinking about oil. The result is that the fishermen who sit smoking and chatting on the cement wall built to protect the land from the ocean can see nothing at all from their vantage point. Frigate birds soar lazily through the heat while bright red ibises fly above the mangroves. Everything looks as it always has, but soon, it will all change. That is the hope harbored by many, and the fear felt by some.

The oil off the coast of Guyana is of the highly coveted light sweet crude variety, and it is easily accessible. Some say that by the middle of this decade, Guyana could already be pumping more oil out of the earth per capita than even Kuwait. For the current year, the government in Georgetown issued a pre-corona forecast of oil revenues in the neighborhood of $300 million. The U.S. ambassador to the country said that Guyana could become the “richest country in the hemisphere and potentially the richest country in the world.”

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Posted by on June 29, 2020 in Africa, Reportages


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Covid-19 has led to a pandemic of plastic pollution

THE THAMES has always been a reflector of the times, says Lara Maiklem, a London “mudlark”. Ms Maiklem spends her days on the river’s foreshore foraging for history’s detritus, from Roman pottery to Victorian clay pipes. She can tell the time of year, she says, just by the type of rubbish she has to sift through: champagne bottles during the first week of January; footballs in summer. The year 2020 has left its own mark. Since the coronavirus reached Britain the mud has sprouted a crop of latex gloves.

In February, half a world away, Gary Stokes docked his boat on Hong Kong’s isolated Soko Island. Soko’s beaches are where OceansAsia, the conservation organisation he runs, sporadically records levels of plastic pollution. Mr Stokes says he is all too accustomed to finding the jetsam the modern world throws up, such as plastic drinks bottles and supermarket carrier-bags. But what he documented that day made news across Hong Kong: 70 surgical facemasks on a 100-metre stretch of beach. Having cleaned it up, he went back four days later. Like a stubborn weed, the masks had returned.

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Posted by on June 24, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Greta and Bernie should be leading in these troubled times, but they are NOT RADICAL ENOUGH

With everything that’s plunging the world into chaos right now, one thing surprising me is, why are Greta Thunberg and Bernie Sanders comparatively quiet? Make no mistake, racism, climate issues and the pandemic are all connected.

Except for a short note from Greta that she thinks she survived the Covid infection, the movement she has mobilized has failed to avoid getting drowned out by the Covid-19 pandemic panic and the anti-racism protests in the US. As for Bernie, although he advocated measures (like universal healthcare) which are now, amid the pandemic, recognized as necessary all around the world, he is also effectively nowhere to be seen or heard. Why aren’t we seeing more, not less, of the political figures whose programs and insights are today more relevant than ever?

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Posted by on June 18, 2020 in Uncategorized


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The Great Barrier Reef’s Great Big Complicated Story

Headlines have portrayed Australia’s bucket-list destination as dead, or dying. But that’s an oversimplification of a complex story—and the most dire threat from tourism may be what you least expect.

Page 53 of my dive log from 1992 contains the details of my 26th scuba dive. For location, I wrote: “study site, Davies Reef, GBR.” Under purpose: “Acanthaster fert expt.” 

At the time, I was a 25-year-old graduate student in marine science at the University of Southern California. I had a berth on a research cruise organized by the Australian Institute of Marine Science to the Great Barrier Reef near Townsville, about midway along its latitudinal expanse. The project’s aim was to understand the population explosion of the sea star Acanthaster planci. These prickly echinoderms have the common name crown of thorns starfish, often shortened to COTS. 

Since the 1960s, swarms of COTS have intermittently infested the Reef, eating coral with the voraciousness of locusts on crops. They were—and still are—among the greatest threats to the coral. Half of the Reef bears scars from COTS outbreaks. 

On dive #26, my job was to scan for COTS, collect them with massive barbecue tongs to avoid getting poked, and return them to the research boat for study. We induced spawning and collected the eggs in a modified giant syringe called a COTSucker. A single female, it would turn out, produces 35 million eggs a year. That kind of fertility is why population control has proven difficult. 

My search target was about the size of a dinner plate, rust- or purple-colored with 8 to 21 arms arrayed around a central disk like petals of a sunflower. During the day, COTS hide in dark crannies. Peeking into those shadows, I met nervous cardinal fish and spider-like feather stars. Sparkling clouds of blue chromis tucked themselves into the arms of branching corals. The pastel lips of giant clams kissed closed as I kicked past.

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Posted by on June 15, 2020 in Reportages


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La corsa all’acqua è già cominciata

L’acqua, bene primario necessario alla vita in tutte le sue forme, comincia a scarseggiare. In particolare quella potabile, ma il problema ha un impatto crescente anche nell’agricoltura e nella produzione industriale. Per questo il possesso delle fonti e la gestione delle risorse idriche sono oggetto di un crescente interesse economico, spesso speculativo, ma non solo. Multinazionali del settore – per esempio quelle che controllano il mercato delle acque in bottiglia – e grandi gruppi finanziari stanno investendo in questo campo: chi infatti controllerà le risorse idriche del pianeta, le infrastrutture necessarie alla loro distribuzione, o gestirà le tecnologie per decontaminare l’acqua inquinata, si ritroverà per le mani un tesoro, e non solo in senso figurato.

L’“oro blu” potrà insomma diventare una materia prima in grado di alimentare formidabili business e drammatici conflitti. Nel luglio del 2010 l’assemblea generale delle Nazioni Unite ha stabilito che “l’acqua potabile e i servizi igienico-sanitari sono un diritto umano essenziale per il pieno godimento del diritto alla vita e di tutti gli altri diritti umani”. La pandemia di covid-19 ha messo in luce come un bene tanto essenziale per il rispetto delle norme igieniche di base non sia equamente distribuito: secondo l’Organizzazione mondiale della sanità (Oms) infatti, il 55 per cento delle strutture sanitarie dei paesi poveri è privo dei servizi idrici di base, l’accesso all’acqua in molti casi è all’esterno degli ospedali e non è possibile nemmeno lavarsi le mani correttamente, il che favorisce il diffondersi di infezioni e aumenta la mortalità.

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Posted by on June 12, 2020 in Reportages


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We can’t go back to normal after the pandemic. We must start respecting animals and nature

Fifi is a chimpanzee in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. Unlike the ideal image you may have about African wildlife, she lives in a cage, all alone, in the parking lot of a guesthouse in the middle of a city. The sheet metal in one corner of her cage has peeled back, evidence she’s been trying to escape. It must scratch her or even cut her to pull on the sharp metal and squeeze her limbs through.

A pile of crumpled water bottles near her cage indicate how she was given water, but the bottles are so crushed that they don’t stand up, so as soon as she puts a bottle down the water runs out of it, leaving her with nothing to drink, possibly until the next day. A pile of mushy black bananas covered with flies makes up her diet. She hasn’t been allowed out of the cage for close to 10 years. As soon as anyone approaches, she reaches through the bars, desperate for contact, as chimpanzees are among the most social species on Earth.

Fifi’s condition is heartbreaking, but unfortunately, her situation is not unique. Far from it.

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Posted by on June 10, 2020 in Uncategorized


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“Only when the tide goes out,” Warren Buffett observed, “do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” For our society, the Covid-19 pandemic represents an ebb tide of historic proportions, one that is laying bare vulnerabilities and inequities that in normal times have gone undiscovered. Nowhere is this more evident than in the American food system. A series of shocks has exposed weak links in our food chain that threaten to leave grocery shelves as patchy and unpredictable as those in the former Soviet bloc. The very system that made possible the bounty of the American supermarket—its vaunted efficiency and ability to “pile it high and sell it cheap”—suddenly seems questionable, if not misguided. But the problems the novel coronavirus has revealed are not limited to the way we produce and distribute food. They also show up on our plates, since the diet on offer at the end of the industrial food chain is linked to precisely the types of chronic disease that render us more vulnerable to Covid-19.

The juxtaposition of images in the news of farmers destroying crops and dumping milk with empty supermarket shelves or hungry Americans lining up for hours at food banks tells a story of economic efficiency gone mad. Today the US actually has two separate food chains, each supplying roughly half of the market. The retail food chain links one set of farmers to grocery stores, and a second chain links a different set of farmers to institutional purchasers of food, such as restaurants, schools, and corporate offices. With the shutting down of much of the economy, as Americans stay home, this second food chain has essentially collapsed. But because of the way the industry has developed over the past several decades, it’s virtually impossible to reroute food normally sold in bulk to institutions to the retail outlets now clamoring for it. There’s still plenty of food coming from American farms, but no easy way to get it where it’s needed.

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Posted by on June 9, 2020 in North America, Reportages


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Countries should seize the moment to flatten the climate curve

FOLLOWING THE pandemic is like watching the climate crisis with your finger jammed on the fast-forward button. Neither the virus nor greenhouse gases care much for borders, making both scourges global. Both put the poor and vulnerable at greater risk than wealthy elites and demand government action on a scale hardly ever seen in peacetime. And with China’s leadership focused only on its own advantage and America’s as scornful of the World Health Organisation as it is of the Paris climate agreement, neither calamity is getting the co-ordinated international response it deserves.

The two crises do not just resemble each other. They interact. Shutting down swathes of the economy has led to huge cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. In the first week of April, daily emissions worldwide were 17% below what they were last year. The International Energy Agency expects global industrial greenhouse-gas emissions to be about 8% lower in 2020 than they were in 2019, the largest annual drop since the second world war.

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Posted by on June 5, 2020 in Economy


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The Conscience of a Human Being

Sometimes, I wonder whether average human beings possess a conscience—an ability to independently judge and be motivated by moral truths—or if they instead possess only the instinctive disposition to conform to social conventions and the demands of the powerful. Most seemingly ethical behavior could be explained by such conformity—for instance, it could be that the reason why most refrain from robbing, raping, and killing other people is that those behaviors are contrary to the conventions of our society and the commands of our government. This would not require most human beings to possess a genuine conscience. The test of whether one has a conscience would have to be about whether one recognizes and is moved by moral considerations when those considerations fail to align with the social conventions, the law, or the commands of the powerful. The majority of human beings, by my read, fail that test about as badly as one could fail it.

For example, we know from the famous obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram that close to two thirds of people can be persuaded to electrocute an innocent person if ordered to do so by a man in a white coat.[1] We know from history that large numbers of people can be induced to participate in a genocide when so commanded by their government. In our own society today, most citizens are untroubled by behavior on the part of the powerful that would outrage us if performed by those without political power: If an ordinary person forcibly extracts money from his neighbors to fund his own charity organization, that person is a thief and an extortionist; if the government does the same, it is merely pursuing normal tax policy. If an ordinary person kills large numbers of people in order to bring about some political change, that person is a vicious terrorist; if our society’s dominant group does the same, this is a standard military operation.[2]

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Posted by on May 18, 2020 in Reportages


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Airlines and oil giants are on the brink. No government should offer them a lifeline

Do Not Resuscitate. This tag should be attached to the oil, airline and car industries. Governments should provide financial support to company workers while refashioning the economy to provide new jobs in different sectors. They should prop up only those sectors that will help secure the survival of humanity and the rest of the living world.

They should either buy up the dirty industries and turn them towards clean technologies, or do what they often call for but never really want: let the market decide. In other words, allow these companies to fail.

This is our second great chance to do things differently. It could be our last. The first, in 2008, was spectacularly squandered. Vast amounts of public money were spent reassembling the filthy old economy, while ensuring that wealth remained in the hands of the rich. Today, many governments appear determined to repeat that catastrophic mistake.

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Posted by on May 11, 2020 in Uncategorized


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