Essential Lithium & Essential Water

Brine pools at the Soquimich lithium mine on a salt flat in northern Chile. IVAN ALVARADO / REUTERS VIA ALAMY

On my one visit to the Atacama desert in 2009 I had a feeling unlike any I had previously experienced, and it was attributed to the lithium. There is so much, you can feel it. And to put it simply, it feels good. I knew it was being mined, but I assumed it was primarily for pharmaceutical use; no clue it would become so important for batteries. And this set up a sort of zero-sum game, which Fred Pearce helps to understand:

The Lithium Triangle region. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Why the Rush to Mine Lithium Could Dry Up the High Andes

The demand for lithium for EV batteries is driving a mining boom in an arid Andes region of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, home to half the world’s reserves. Hydrologists are warning the mines could drain vital ecosystems and deprive Indigenous communities of precious water.

What environmental price should the world be willing to pay for the metals needed to switch to electric vehicles? The question is being asked urgently in South America where there are growing fears that what is good for the global climate may be a disaster for some of the world’s rarest and most precious ecosystems — salt flats, wetlands, grazing pastures, and flamingo lakes high in the Andean mountains. Continue reading

Really, Washington Post?

Before we compromise further on planet earth, the question Really? is often a good place to start. Let’s be sure our revered journalists and the publications they work for call apples as apples, and oranges as oranges, says Bill McKibben:

A pipeline is not a windmill

Rally Thursday Against Manchin’s Dirty Deal–and Do Some Lobbying in the Meantime!

The Washington Post, which has done remarkable climate reporting in recent years, had a less successful story in this morning’s paper. Continue reading

Really, Danone?

An aerial view of people standing around the sinkhole in Santa María Zacatepec, a small town in central Mexico. The opening, almost perfectly circular, grew to be longer than a football field. Photograph by Jose Castañares / AFP / Getty

Really, as in, can you not control yourselves? We asked the same of Nestle a couple times in the past:

The Sinkhole That Swallowed a Mexican Farm

A bottled-water company tapped an ancient aquifer that thousands of people and businesses share. Then came the protests.

A Bonafont bottling plant, which was occupied by activists, pictured on September 1, 2021. Photograph by Pedro Pardo / AFP / Getty

On May 29, 2021, a boom reverberated through Santa María Zacatepec, a small town near the city of Puebla, in central Mexico. At first, the sound might have been mistaken for one of the earthquakes or small volcanic eruptions that are common in the area. Then some local children told their mother that a strange hole had appeared in the farmland behind their house. Continue reading

Strategically Planned Mutual Destruction

An extract from a GCC business card for reporters, shared by former journalist Nicky Sundt

In the long run, no winners will emerge from the obfuscation perpetrated by climate deniers. They and we all have children of the future to consider. Their efforts have assured mutual destruction, no matter how much money their denial earned them in the short run. If you are looking for a better understanding of how concern and action over climate change was strategically weakened early on, this is worth a read:

The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other. Continue reading

Unwanted Plastic Renaissance

A worker at a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, readies bags of Covid-19 waste for treatment, December last year. Photograph: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

The plague of plastic has zombie-like revivification capabilities:

How the plastic industry turned the pandemic to its advantage

With its products proving indispensable to combatting Covid-19, the plastics business is reinvigorated. What will it take to bring this major polluter to heel?

There are only two reasons that the plastics industry will change, a polymer scientist once told me: war or legislation. Continue reading

What Cruise Ships Do In Plain Sight

Cruise ship with smoke pouring from funnel

A cruise ship leaving the port of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, where environmental laws are less stringent than in the neighbouring US states of Washington and Alaska. Wildlife put at risk by cruise ships dumping waste include sea otters and orcas. Photograph: Shaun Cunningham/Alamy

If you enjoy cruise ship experiences, our intent is not to offend you by sharing this. Just to be sure you are aware of what cruise ship operators routinely do with waste:

US cruise ships using Canada as a ‘toilet bowl’ for polluted waste

Lax Canadian regulations create ‘perverse incentive’ for US cruise ships en route to Alaska to discharge toxic mix of chemicals and wastewater off British Columbia, report says

Man stands in front of cruise ship holding sign that reads ‘Poop is for emojis, not the oceans’. Passengers with luggage can be seen behind him.

A protest in April against the dumping of sewage by cruise ships arriving in Vancouver. Photograph: Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

From the comfort of cruise ships, a typical trip to Alaska offers magnificent views of glaciers and untamed national parks, and visits to quaint seaside towns. For years, these draws have made cruises to Alaska the most booked US holiday.

But the journey to those pristine areas, which involves sailing along Canada’s west coast for two or three days, is leaving behind a trail of toxic waste, including within marine protected areas (MPAs), according to new research. Continue reading

McKibben On The Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling

Photographs by Mitch Epstein

When you have found an explainer reliably clear on complicated but important issues, keep reading their essays:

The Supreme Court Tries to Overrule the Climate

A destructive decision in West Virginia v. E.P.A.

Credit where due: the Supreme Court’s 6–3 ruling in West Virginia v. E.P.A. is the culmination of a five-decade effort to make sure that the federal government won’t threaten the business status quo. Lewis Powell’s famous memo, written in 1971, before he joined the Supreme Court—between the enactment of a strong Clean Air Act and a strong Clean Water Act, each with huge popular support—called on “businessmen” to stand up to the tide of voices “from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians” calling for progressive change. Continue reading

Justice For Dom & Bruno

Dom Phillips (center), seen here taking notes as he talks with Indigenous people, reported regularly for the Guardian. Photograph by Joao Laet / AFP / Getty

Only one article by Dom Phillips in our pages, and not a single mention of Bruno Pereira seems wrong, to say the least.  As a rule obituaries are not our thing in these pages, but we have made exceptions.

Bruno Pereira was among the many senior officials and veteran experts at FUNAI who had gained a reputation for a robust defense of the agency’s guidelines in the Javari. Photograph by Daniel Marenco

Two Murders in the Amazon

The disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira, and the crisis created by Jair Bolsonaro’s policies.

From the moment that Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira vanished, on June 5th, in the Brazilian Amazon, there were suspicions of foul play. Phillips was a British freelance journalist dedicated to environmental issues, and Pereira, his friend and guide, was a prominent Brazilian Indigenous-affairs expert.

Photograph by Nelson Almeida / AFP / Getty

He was assisting Phillips with research for a book, tentatively titled “How to Save the Amazon.” Continue reading

Big Science

While working on my doctoral dissertation in the early 1990s I had a clear view into how big businesses, and industry associations, influence the creation of knowledge in research universities. The big science problem (not to be confused with the Big Science album) was clearly there, we all can see now. But I did not find it so problematic at the time. Bibi van der Zee‘s review in the Guardian makes clear why we should be more concerned about who funds the creation of knowledge, and what strings may be attached:

The Playbook by Jennifer Jacquet review – how big business takes on science and wins

A ‘guide’ for companies looking to counter unwelcome research exposes the corporate world’s dark arts

“Playbook” is a term that feels overused at the moment – mostly because of Vladimir Putin’s military adventures. Continue reading

Pantanal Priorities

The Pantanal wetlands in Brazil.

The Pantanal wetlands in Brazil. MARKUS MAUTHE / GREENPEACE

There is not much that has happened in Brazil in the last few years that I would consider good environmental news.

YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

So one more urgency is at risk of getting lost in all the rest (which may be part of a strategy). But making it easier to extract the extracted from the center of the continent is akin to adding fuel to a very big fire:

A Waterway Project in Brazil Imperils a Vast Tropical Wetland

The Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, has been battered in recent years by agricultural development, drought, and fire. Now, a push to turn the region’s key river into a waterway for soybean-laden barges threatens to alter the natural flows of this iconic ecosystem.

It takes 14 hours for Lourenço Pereira Leite to reach his fishing spot.

He and his brother-in-law chug along in a simple one-engine motorboat, towing their traditional fishing canoe behind them. Continue reading

Orchidelirium Anew

Burnt tip orchids. At least 10 vanished from a national nature reserve at Mount Caburn, East Sussex. Photograph: Katewarn Images/Alamy

Susan Orlean brought orchidelirium to our attention in 1999, shining a light on how and why these flowers inspire lots of good, and plenty of bad behavior. Orchids have been abundant in our pages over the years for various reasons, most recently due to a show; today due to criminal enterprise:

Spate of orchid thefts in England puts rare species at risk

Experts believe plants in Sussex and Kent were ‘stolen to order’

Hardy Orchid Society Replying to @HardyOrchidSoc This is what you should have seen. If you have any information that can help in the investigation please contact @kentpolice @BBCNews

A spate of thefts of rare orchids from sites in southern England has concerned scientists, who say endangered species may be at risk.

Orchid experts believe that the plants, from locations including in Sussex and Kent, may have been “stolen to order”.

Conservationists at the Sussex Wildlife Trust were dismayed last week to hear of at least 10 burnt-tip orchids missing from a national nature reserve at Mount Caburn, while in Kent the Hardy Orchid Society reported that 30 late spider orchids had been taken from a site in Folkestone.

Neil Evans, of the Hardy Orchid Society, said: “The theft represents a major loss to the population. They are only found in this country in a few sites in Kent.” Continue reading

Technology Put To Good Use

A Wounaan forest technician inspects an illegal clearcut in Indigenous territory. CULLEN HEATER

Jim O’Donnell and Cullen Heater tell an essentially hopeful story from our neighbor to the south:

Panama’s Indigenous Groups Wage High-Tech Fight for Their Lands

With help from U.S. organizations, Panama’s Indigenous people are using satellite images and other technologies to identify illegal logging and incursions by ranchers on their territory. But spotting the violations is the easy part — getting the government to act is far harder.

On a blazing February morning, the Indigenous Wounaan territorial monitoring coordinator, two forest technicians, and a local farmer climbed into the mountains outside the fishing and farming community of Majé, near Panama’s Pacific coast. Continue reading

When Diplomats Must Be Undiplomatic

Yesterday I posted about one of the easier topics among the many options I have to post about every day. Today, a topic increasingly frequent in my posts, but definitely not an easy one. So I look to one person to summarize our week-to-week progress or lack of it. As always, I recommend signing up for his newsletter:

The World’s Top Diplomat Has Had It Up to Here

The Secretary General of the UN models how to think about climate change

I can remember when some of us organized what may have been the planet’s first truly huge climate march, with 400,000 people descending on New York in 2014. Then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to walk with us for a few blocks, and it was considered remarkable: the world’s top diplomat had previously been too diplomatic to join in protests challenging the policies of his member nations. Continue reading

McKibben’s Longform Power Pitch

The market for electrons is predictable, meaning that solar panels installed on farmland can provide a fairly stable income for farmers. Photograph by George Rose / Getty

Illustration by Álvaro Bernis

If you have not been reading Bill McKibben regularly, or at all, here is as good a place to start as you will find. It is a long, powerful pitch:

In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things

The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.

In 2020, fossil-fuel pollution killed three times as many people as COVID-19 did. Photograph by Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Getty

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Continue reading

Subsidizing Environmental Degradation Must End

An electoral poster objecting to a proposed ban on subsidies for Swiss farms. A 2021 report found almost 90% of global farming subsidies are harmful. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

We missed this when it was first published a couple weeks ago, but it is still fresh and important:

World spends $1.8tn a year on subsidies that harm environment, study finds

Research prompts warnings humanity is ‘financing its own extinction’ through subsidies damaging to the climate and wildlife

The world is spending at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a new study, prompting warnings that humanity is financing its own extinction. Continue reading

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Asks For Your Help

If you have been following the pipeline news stories and you care, but not yet found a way to get involved, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe offers you a simple first step to help them end the DAPL. Click on the DAPL EIS Countdown Alert signup image below to show support, by asking to be alerted when public comments open:

The Next Step to End DAPL

The fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline isn’t over, and you can help right now! This month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take public comment on DAPL’s fatally flawed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Sign up to be first in line to tell the Corps to conduct a proper environmental review — without interference from the fossil fuel industry. We’ll let you know how to make your voice heard as soon as the comment period opens! Thank you for standing with Standing Rock.

Big Agriculture, Anti-Regulation & Antisocial Behavior

Click any image here to go to an op-ed video that takes just over 14 minutes to watch. You’ll get an inside look into what has happened to food production in the USA, and how, and why.

Summed up, it is all about the power of big-ag lobbying. They want no regulations. They want to decide on their own how to produce food. And it is making a big mess. This anti-regulatory ideology, which has the hallmark of antisocial behavior, is not unique to agricultural lobbyists, but is quite well illustrated by them.

Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet

American agriculture is ravaging the air, soil and water. But a powerful lobby has cleverly concealed its damage.

“We’re Cooked” is an Opinion Video series about our broken food system and the three chances you get to help fix it — and save the planet — every day.


The global food system is a wonder of technological and logistical brilliance. It feeds more people than ever, supplying a greater variety of food more cheaply and faster than ever.

It is also causing irreparable harm to the planet. Continue reading

Too Much Hype About Too Much Stuff

The Economist recently promoted a notion:

Rags to riches – fashion as an asset class HOW DID second-hand clothes become fashion’s hottest buy? Online resale and rental firms are changing the calculus on what it means to buy fashion “as an investment”

Hype? We will see. The “trapped” value of fashion items in our homes might get liberated as discussed, but what about the fundamental trap of fashion?

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Kenneth P. Pucker shares an important lesson from his time in industry, and kudos to Harvard Business Review for giving him the platform to explain The Myth of Sustainable Fashion:

Few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry. Products ranging from swimsuits to wedding dresses are marketed as carbon positive, organic, or vegan while yoga mats made from mushrooms and sneakers from sugar cane dot retail shelves. New business models including recycling, resale, rental, reuse, and repair are sold as environmental life savers. Continue reading

Juliet Eilperin’s Sprawling, Soaring Sitka Story

The trunk of the Sitka spruce marked to be cut down.

The soaring, centuries-old Sitka spruce with its blue spray-paint blaze is spared, for now.

A story about a tree, its history intertwined with five centuries of human history, this article earns your time. And it earns respect for the Washington Post, which assigned a star reporter to oversee its climate change coverage.

Juliet Eilperin features this tree’s significance from multiple angles, and accompanied by the stunning photography and video of Salwan Georges, her words are leveraged artfully with images and dramatic arc into a question you want the answer to: This tree has stood here for 500 years. Will it be sold for $17,500? Definitely worth reading on a large monitor rather than a phone screen. It may get you thinking about graduate school:

The Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, Alaska — The Sitka spruce soaring more than 180 feet skyward has stood on this spot on Prince of Wales Island for centuries. While fierce winds have contorted the towering trunks of its neighbors, the spruce’s trunk is ramrod straight. Standing apart from the rest of the canopy, it ascends to the height of a 17-story building.

This tree’s erect bearing — a 1917 publication called the Sitka species “the autocrat of timbers” — is what helps give it such extraordinary commercial value. Musical instrument makers covet its fine grain, as do builders whose clients want old-growth wood that’s increasingly scarce. In a world whose ancient forests have largely disappeared, this grove holds a sliver of what remains. Continue reading

Civic Responsibility, Palm Oil & Change

Forest clearance in Indonesia. Palm oil production in the country, which is one of the world’s largest producers, has been linked to deforestation. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace

Smouldering peatland following a suspected land clearance fire in Kampar, Sumatra, in 2019. Photograph: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Palm oil has a dirty history. It causes havoc, to put it politely. May we all do our part to elect civic leaders with a keen sense of responsibility for devastation in other parts of the world, and get them to take action to reduce it. We thank Patrick Greenfield for his reporting in this article titled The UK city taking a stand on palm oil in the fight against deforestation:

A growing number of towns and villages are following Chester’s lead in helping local businesses to eradicate deforestation-linked oil from their supply chains

Orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species are affected by habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict that stems from palm oil plantations. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rhoi/REX/Shutterstock

From mince pies and biscuits to lipstick and soap, palm oil grown on deforested land in south-east Asia will have been hard to avoid this Christmas. The vegetable oil is found in almost half of all packaged products in UK supermarkets, according to WWF.

But a growing number of towns and cities are trying to use only sustainable palm oil, helping orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species. Continue reading