It’s been two years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster unleashed 4.9 million barrels of oil on the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of the disaster, BP and its contractors did everything they could to keep people from seeing the scale of the disaster. But new photos released Monday offer some new insight to just how grim the Gulf became for sea life.
In 1979 another in a growing line of alien species hitched a ride on a fishing skiff from a remote village on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula to land on Rasa Island, a tiny sun-blasted wafer of rock in the Gulf of California. The invader was Enriqueta Velarde, a petite 25-year-old Mexican graduate biology student who looked 18, with a comely smile and an adventuring heart. It was the launch of her Ph.D. research into one of the island’s resident species, the Heermann’s gull, a petite, pretty bird about which almost nothing was known. In fact, little was known of the island beyond its desolate oddities: thousands of mysterious stone cairns and pathways thought to have been made by guano miners in the 19th century, three wooden crosses marking unremembered graves, a stone hut crumbling with the region’s frequent temblors.
Nhan and Chan Nguyen grow melons, peanuts, casava, and turnips here, on a patch of land off a dirt path shooting off of a dirt road that turns off from another dirt road.
For years, the couple used local watermelon seeds. But it’s become harder to make money on those plants in recent years. They were prone to disease, and didn’t handle screwy rain patterns very well. It used to rain for about six months each year, but now the rains can come for up to nine months out of the year. “In the past the weather was more regular, so we could use the old seeds, no problem,” said Nhan. But they realized that growing melons was just getting more difficult. “We were worried and we thought about it a lot. We thought we would have to do something different.”
Through a grant from Oxfam, the Nguyens and nine other families were able to start planting a different variety of watermelon instead, a more resilient variety that wouldn’t suffer as much in unfavorable weather. And they were able to buy black plastic to cover the rows of seeds after planting, which helps lock water and heat in the sandy soil to coax the vines out of the ground. The project is more about adopting better agricultural methods, something that’s needed with or without climate change. But the effect Oxfam is hoping to get from the project is making farmers more resilient to whatever nature might bring them.
Every year, coal-fired power plants generate about 130 million tons of coal ash—leftover sludge containing arsenic, mercury, and lead. The industry recycles around 55 million tons of the stuff annually, sticking it into a variety of products, from cement to cosmetics. No wonder it wasn’t too happy about an EPA proposal to classify coal ash as hazardous waste. Here’s where you can find recycled coal ash, in order of increasing creepiness.
On a warm, sticky winter morning, I waited nervously in a parking lot in Foshan, a city in southeastern China’s smog-choked Pearl River delta, for a man I’d never met. His name was Mr. Ou, and he ran the sprawling factory in front of me, a jumble of offices, low-slung buildings, and warehouses. Though the factory was teeming with workers, a Subaru SUV and BMW coupe were the only cars in the lot. Drab, gray worker dormitories loomed nearby, and between them ran a dusty road that led to the factory. At last a young man emerged from an office building. He motioned for me to follow him in…
Sweden is renowned for its beautiful boreal forests of spruce and pine—and for its sustainable environmental policies. But surprisingly lax Swedish forestry laws leave many logging decisions to the appetites of timber companies…with predictable results.
Image: Virgin spruce forest in Fulufjället National Park, Sweden. Via.