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Venezuela collapse: looting, hunger, blackouts

Venezuela collapse: looting, hunger, blackouts

Looted grocery store in San Cristobal, Venezuela

Preface. Venezuela is experiencing a double whammy of drought and low oil prices, which has lead to blackouts and inability to import food, ultimately due to their oil production peaking in 1997.  The same fate awaits the U.S. someday when oil declines.

Related posts:

And Mexico may be the next to collapse, as you can read here.

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2019. Venezuela’s Water System is Collapsing. New York Times.

In Venezuela, a crumbling economy and the collapse of even basic state infrastructure means water comes irregularly — and drinking it is an increasingly risky gamble. Scientists found that about a million residents were exposed to contaminated supplies. This puts them at risk of contracting waterborne viruses that could sicken them and threatens the lives of children and the most vulnerable.

The risks posed by poor water quality are particularly threatening for a population weakened by food and medication shortages. 

Electrical breakdowns and lack of maintenance have gradually stripped the city’s complex water system to a minimum. Water pumps, treatment plants, chlorine injection stations and entire reservoirs have been abandoned as the state ran out of money and skilled workers

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Peak Sand

Peak Sand

Preface.  Sand Primer:

  • Without sand, there would be no concrete, ceramics, computer chips, glass, plastics, abrasives, paint and so on
  • We can’t use desert sand because it’s too round, polished by the wind, and doesn’t stick together. You need rough edges, so desert sand is worthless
  • Good sand  is getting so rare there’s an enormous amount of illegal mining in over 70 countries.  In India the Sand Mafia is one of the most powerful, will kill for sand. It’s easy to steal sand and sell there.
  • This has led to between 75%-90% of beaches in the world receding and a huge amount of environmental damage.
  • By 2100 all beaches will be gone
  • Australia is selling sand to nations that don’t have any more (like the United Arab Emirates, who used all of their ocean sand to make artificial islands)
  • Sand is a big business, sales are $70 Billion a year
  • concrete is 40% sand

How Much Sand is needed?

  • 200 tons  Average house
  • 3,000 tons  Hospital or other large building
  • 30,000 tons per kilometer of highway
  • 12,000,000 tons  Nuclear Power Plant (that’s equal to nearly 250 miles of highway)

Half of all sand is trapped behind the 845,000 dams in the world.

***

Fountain, H., et al 2019. Melting Greenland Is Awash in Sand. New York Times.

Glaciers grind rocks into silt, sand and gravel.  Greenland hopes that there’s enough sand for them to become a sand exporter, if the environmental damage isn’t too high.

That won’t be easy.  Nearly all sand is mined within 50 miles of its destination because it costs too much to move it more than that.  So Greenland would have to find a way to make moving sand profitable.

A way to find the sand is required as well, since much of what the glacier produces is a fine silt that isn’t suitable for concrete.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Boston Globe: the false promise of nuclear power

Boston Globe: the false promise of nuclear power

Preface. This article raises many objections to nuclear power. Theoretically it could be cheaper, but the exact opposite has happened, it keeps getting more expensive. For example the only new reactors being built in the U.S. now are at Georgia Power’s Vogtle plant. Costs were initially estimated at $14 billion; the latest estimate is $21 billion. The first reactors at the plant, built in the 1970s, took a decade longer to build than planned, and cost 10 times more than expected. The two under construction now were expected to be running 2016, but it’s now unlikely that they’ll be ready in 2022. 

The authors also point out that reactors are vulnerable to catastrophes from extreme weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis; from technical failure; and unavoidable human error. Climate change has led to severe droughts that shut down reactors as the surrounding waters become too warm to provide the vital cooling function. 

And much more.

***

Jay Lifton, Naomi Oreskes. 2019. The false promise of nuclear power. Boston Globe.

Commentators from Greenpeace to the World Bank agree that climate change is an emergency, threatening civilization and life on our planet. Any solution must involve the control of greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil fuels and switching to alternative technologies that do not impair the human habitat while providing the energy we require to function as a species.

This sobering reality has led some prominent observers to re-embrace nuclear energy. Advocates declare it clean, efficient, economical, and safe. In actuality it is none of these. It is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being. According to the US Energy Information Agency,the average nuclear power generating cost is about $100 per megawatt-hour. Compare this with $50 per megawatt-hour for solar and $30 to $40 per megawatt-hour for onshore wind. The financial group Lazard recently said that renewable energy costs are now “at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation” — that is, fossil fuels — and much lower than nuclear.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nuclear waste disposal drilled deep into earth’s crust

Nuclear waste disposal drilled deep into earth’s crust

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is frack-hole-drilling.jpg

Preface. I suspect one the greatest tragedies of the decline of oil will be all the nuclear waste left for thousands of low-tech generations in the future. We owe it to them to clean up our mess while we still have excess oil energy to do it.  But far more likely nuclear wastewill sit at nuclear reactors, military sites, and wherever nuclear warheads are kept, shortening the lives of anyone who lives near them.

There are two articles below about possible ways to dispose of nuclear waste into deep holes that sound good to me.

Related: Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste by William M. Alley & Rosemarie Alley. 2013. Cambridge University Press to understand how serious the problem is.

***

Vidal, J. 2019. What should we do with nuclear waste? Ensia.

Richard Muller, professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley and his daughter, co-founder of company  Deep Isolation gave a demonstration in January 2019 of how nuclear waste could be buried permanently using oil-fracking technology. A 140 pound steel canister (with no radioactive waste) was placed in a previously drilled borehole deep into the ground.

With this technique, there’s no need to excavate expensive tunnels. The Mullers think with larger canisters pushed through 300 boreholes up to two miles deep under a billion tons of rock where radiation can’t possibly leak out.  This method could store most of the US’s highest level nuclear waste permanently  for a third of what storage methods cost now.

Many ideas have been investigated, but most have been rejected as impractical, too expensive or ecologically unacceptable. They include shooting it into spaceisolating it in synthetic rockburying it in ice sheetsdumping it on the world’s most isolated islands; and dropping it to the bottom of the world’s deepest oceanic trenches.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Carbon capture could require 25% of all global energy

Carbon capture could require 25% of all global energy

Preface.  This is clearly a pipedream. Surely the authors know this, since they say that the energy needed to run direct air capture machines in 2100 is up to 300 exajoules each year. That’s more than half of global energy consumption today.  It’s equivalent to the current annual energy demand of China, the US, the EU and Japan combined.  It is equal to the global supply of energy from coal and gas in 2018.

That’s a showstopper. This CO2 chomper isn’t going anywhere.  It simply requires too much energy, raw materials, and an astounding, impossibly large-scale rapid deployment of 30% a year to be of any use.

Reaching 30 Gt CO2/yr of CO2 capture – a similar scale to current global emissions – would mean building some 30,000 large-scale DAC factories. For comparison, there are fewer than 10,000 coal-fired power stations in the world today.  

The cement and steel used in DACCS facilities would require a great deal of energy and CO2 emissions that need to be subtracted from whatever is sequestered.

Nor can the CO2 be stored in carbon capture sorbents – these are between the research and demonstration levels, far from being commercial, and are subject to degradation which would lead to high operational and maintenance costs.  Their manufacture also releases chemical pollutants that need to be managed, adding to the energy used even more. Plus sorbents can require a great deal of high heat and fossil fuel inputs, possibly pushing up the “quarter of global energy” beyond that.

As far as I can tell the idea of sorbents, which are far from being commercial and very expensive to produce, is only being proposed because there’s not enough geological storage to put CO2.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Scientists on where to be in the 21st century based on sustainability

Scientists on where to be in the 21st century based on sustainability

Preface. The article below is based on Hall & Day’s book “America’s Most Sustainable Cities and Regions: Surviving the 21st Century Megatrends”. Related articles:

Day, J. W., et al. Oct 2013. Sustainability and place: How emerging mega-trends of the 21st century will affect humans and nature at the landscape level.  Ecological Engineering.

Five scientists have written a peer-reviewed article about where the best and worst places will be in the future in America based on how sustainable a region is when you take into account climate change, energy reserves, population, sea-level rise, increasingly strong hurricanes, and other factors.  Three of the scientists, John W. Day, David Pimentel, and Charles Hall, are “rock stars” in  ecology. Below are some excerpts from this 16 page paper that I found of interest (select the title above to see the full original paper).

Best places to be

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global oil discoveries far from breaking even with consumption

Global oil discoveries far from breaking even with consumption

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is oil-discoveries-rystad-2013-2018.jpg

Preface.  According to Bloomberg (2016), oil discoveries in 2015 were the lowest since 1947, with just 2.7 billion barrels of conventional oil found globally (though Rystad calculated this differently at 5.6, nearly twice as much). Since the world burns 36.5 billion barrels of oil a year in 2019, we’re not even close to breaking even.

Rystad Energy (2019) in “Global discoveries on the rise as majors take a bigger bite” estimates barrels of oil equivalent, which includes both conventional oil and gas. Since oil is the master resource that makes gas, transportation, and all other goods and activities possible, I’ve taken the second number as the percent of oil in the BOE to come up with how much conventional oil was found. It falls way short of the 36.5 billion barrels we’re consuming. The pantry is emptying out, perhaps pushing the peak oil date forward in time as we continue to grow at 1% a year in oil consumption and put nothing at all back on the shelves.  Peak Demand? Ha!  Not until we’re forced to cut back from oil shortages.

2013 50:50 17.4 billion BOE  8.7 billion BOE oil  shortfall: 27.8 billion BOE
2014 54:46 16.0 billion BOE  7.4 billion BOE oil shortfall: 29.1 billion BOE
2015 61:39 14.4 billion BOE  5.6 billion BOE oil shortfall: 30.9 billion BOE
2016 57:43 8.4 billion BOE  3.6 billion BOE oil  shortfall: 32.9 billion BOE
2017 40:60 10.3 billion BOE 6.2 billion BOE oil shortfall: 30.3 billion BOE
2018 46:54 9.1 billion BOE 4.9 billion BOE oil  shortfall: 31.6 billion BOE

This doesn’t include fracked oil, but the IEA expects that to peak somewhere from now to 2023.

What it means is enjoy life while it’s still good, and stock your pantry while you’re at it.

***

Mikael, H. August 29, 2016. Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low Signal Supply Shortfall Ahead. Bloomberg.

2016 figure only shows exploration results to August. Discoveries were just 230 million barrels in 1947 but skyrocketed the next year when Ghawar was discovered in Saudi Arabia, and is till the world's largest oil field.  Source: Wood Mackenzie
2016 figure only shows exploration results to August. Discoveries were just 230 million barrels in 1947 but skyrocketed the next year when Ghawar was discovered in Saudi Arabia, and it is still the world’s largest oil field, though recently it was learned that Ghawar is in decline at 3.5% a year. Source: Wood Mackenzie
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How safe are utility-scale energy storage batteries?

How safe are utility-scale energy storage batteries?

Preface.  Airplanes can be forced to make an emergency landing if even a small external battery pack, like the kind used to charge cell phones, catches on fire (Mogg 2019).

If a small battery pack can force an airplane to land, imagine the conflagration of a utility scale storage battery might cause.

A lithium-ion battery designed to store just one day of U.S. electricity generation (11 TWh) to balance solar and wind power would be huge.  Using data from the Department of Energy (DOE/EPRI 2013) energy storage handbook, I calculated that the cost of a utility-scale lithium ion battery capable of storing 24 hours of electricity generation in the United States would cost $11.9 trillion dollars, take up 345 square miles, and weigh 74 million tons.

And at least 6 weeks of energy storage is needed to keep the grid up during times when there’s no sun or wind.  This storage has to come mainly from batteries, because there’s very few places to put Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), Pumped Hydro energy storage(PHS) (and also because it has a very low energy density), or Concentrated Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage.  Currently natural gas is the main energy storage, always available to quickly step in when the wind dies and sun goes down, as well as provide power around the clock with help from coal, nuclear, and hydropower.

Storing large amounts of energy, whether it’s in larger rechargeable batteries, or smaller disposable batteries, can be inherently dangerous. The causes of lithium battery failure can include puncture, overcharge, overheating, short circuit, internal cell failure and manufacturing deficiencies.  Nearly all of the utility-scale batteries now on the grid or in development are massive versions the same lithium ion technology that powers cellphones and laptops.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2MW-AZ-battery-that-exploded.jpg

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Microbes a key factor in climate change

Microbes a key factor in climate change

Preface. The IPCC, like economists, assumes our economy and burning of fossil fuels will grow exponentially until 2100 and beyond, with no limits to growth. But conventional oil peaked and has stayed on a plateau since 2005, so clearly peak global oil production is in sight. As is peak soil, aquifer depletion, biodiversity destruction, and deforestation to name just a few existential threats besides climate change.

The lack of attention to microbes in the IPCC model further weakens their predictions about the trajectory of climate change. As this article notes, diatoms are our friends, they “perform 25–45% of total primary production in the oceans, owing to their prevalence in open-ocean regions when total phytoplankton biomass is maximal. Diatoms have relatively high sinking speeds compared with other phytoplankton groups, and they account for ~40% of particulate carbon export to depth”.

Diatoms didn’t appear until 40 million years ago, and sequester so much carbon that they caused the poles to form ice caps. So certainly scientists should study whether their numbers are decreasing or increasing. But also the IPCC needs to include diatoms and other microbes in their models. It’s a big deal that they haven’t, since microorganisms support the existence of all higher life forms.

* * *

University of New South Wales. 2019. Leaving microbes out of climate change conversation has major consequences, experts warn. Science Daily.

Original article: Cavicchioli, R., et al. 2019. Scientists’ warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change. Nature Reviews Microbiology.

More than 30 microbiologists from 9 countries have issued a warning to humanity — they are calling for the world to stop ignoring an ‘unseen majority’ in Earth’s biodiversity and ecosystem when addressing climate change.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

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Ever since the writing of Thomas Malthus in the early 1800s, and especially since Paul Ehrlich’s publication of “The Population Bomb”  in 1968, there has been a lot of learned skull-scratching over what the sustainable human population of Planet Earth might “really” be over the long haul.

This question is intrinsically tied to the issue of ecological overshoot so ably described by William R. Catton Jr. in his 1980 book “Overshoot:The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change”.  How much have we already pushed our population and consumption levels above the long-term carrying capacity of the planet?

In this article I outline my current thoughts on carrying capacity and overshoot, and present five estimates for the size of a sustainable human population.

Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity” is a well-known ecological term that has an obvious and fairly intuitive meaning: “The maximum population size of a species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment.” 

Unfortunately that definition becomes more nebulous and controversial the closer you look at it, especially when we are talking about the planetary carrying capacity for human beings. Ecologists will claim that our numbers have already well surpassed the planet’s carrying capacity, while others (notably economists and politicians…) claim we are nowhere near it yet!
 
This confusion may arise because we tend to confuse two very different understandings of the phrase “carrying capacity”.  For this discussion I will call these the “subjective” view and the “objective” views of carrying capacity.

The subjective view is carrying capacity as seen by a member of the species in question. Rather than coming from a rational, analytical assessment of the overall situation, it is an experiential judgement. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Peak Stainless Steel

Peak Stainless Steel

This study shows that there is a significant risk that stainless steel production will reach its maximum capacity around 2055 because of declining nickel production, though recycling, and use of other alloys on a very small scale can compensate somewhat.

The model in this study assumes business as usual for metal production and fossil fuel supplies (though the authors note that energy limitations are likely in the future, which will limit mining). If oil begins to decline within 10 years, as many think, shortages of stainless steel and everything else will happen before 2055.

There are two kinds of steel. Stainless which resists corrosion and is more ductile and tough than regular steel, also known as mild or carbon steel. 

By weight, stainless steel is the fourth largest metal produced, after carbon steel, cast iron, and aluminum. 

But stainless steel is limited by the alloying metals manganese (Mn), chromium (Cr) and nickel (Ni), which have limited reserves. 

There are over 150 grades of stainless steel which is used for cutlery, cookware, zippers, construction, autos, handrails, counters, shipping containers, medical instruments and equipment, transportation of chemicals, liquids, and food products, harsh environments with high heat and toxic substances, off-shore oil rigs, wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, battleships, tanks, submarines, and too many other products to name.

***

Sverdrup, H. U., et al. 2019. Assessing the long-term global sustainability of the production and supply for stainless steel. Biophysical economics and resource quality.

The extractable amounts of nickel are modest, and this puts a limit on how much stainless steel of different qualities can be produced. Nickel is the most key element for stainless steel production. 

This study shows that there is a significant risk that the stainless steel production will reach its maximum capacity around 2055 and slowly decline after that. The model indicates that stainless steel of the type containing Mn–Cr–Ni will have a production peak in about 2040, and the production will decline after 2045 because of nickel supply limitations.  

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Many signs of peak oil and decline

Many signs of peak oil and decline

Preface.  Recently the IEA 2018 World Energy Outlook predicted an oil crunch could happen as soon as 2023.  Oil supermajors are expected to have 10 years of reserve life or more, Shell is down to just 8 years.

Political shortages are as big a problem as geological depletion. At least 90% of remaining global oil is in government hands, especially Saudi Arabia and other countries in the middle east that vulnerable to war, drought, and political instability.

And in 2018, the U.S. accounted for 98% of global oil production growth and since 2008, the U.S. accounted for 73.2% of the global increase in production (see Rapier below).   What really matters is peak diesel, which I explained in “When trucks stop running”, and fracked oil has very little diesel, much of it is only good for plastics, and yet America may well be the last gasp of the oil age if production isn’t going up elsewhere.

Related articles:

2019-6-10 World crude production outside US and Iraq is flat since 2005

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Rapier, R. 2019. The U.S. accounted for 98% of global oil production growth in 2018. Forbes.

Earlier this month BP released its Statistical Review of World Energy 2019.   The U.S. extended its lead as the world’s top oil producer to a record 15.3 million BPD (my comment: minus 4.3 million BPD natural gas liquids, which really shouldn’t be included since they aren’t transportation fuels). In addition, the U.S. led all countries in increasing production over the previous year, with a gain of 2.18 million BPD (equal to 98% of the total of global additions),… which helped offset declines from Venezuela (-582,000 BPD), Iran (-308,000 BPD), Mexico (-156,000 BPD), Angola (-143,000 BPD), and Norway (-119,000 BPD).

Peak demand?  Hardly: “the world set a new oil production record of 94.7 million BPD, which is the ninth straight year global oil demand has increased.

Fickling, D. 2019. Sunset for Oil Is No Longer Just Talk. Bloomberg.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Wood, the fuel of preindustrial societies, is half of EU renewable energy

Wood, the fuel of preindustrial societies, is half of EU renewable energy

Source: Ben Adler. Aug 25, 2014. Europe is burning our forests for “renewable” energy. 
Wait, what? grist.org

Preface: By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood. In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption.

Although Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe, with 75% of their land covered in woods, they may not have enough biomass to replace coal when all coal plants are shut down by 2029.  Much of their land has no roads or navigable waterways, so imports would be cheaper than using their own forests (Karagiannopoulos 2019).

Vaclav Smil, in his 2013 book “Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization” states: “Straw continues to be burned even in some affluent countries, most notably in Denmark where about 1.4 Mt of wheat straw (nearly a quarter of the total harvest) is used for house heating or even in centralized district heating and electricity generation.”

There are three articles about wood below. Some other wood energy reports:

2016:  Forests in southern states are disappearing to supply Europe with energy. In the past 60 years, the southern U.S. lost 33 million acres of forests even though biomass is not carbon neutral. Salon

2016: Japan is now turning to burning wood to generate electric power because of fewer nuclear power plants after Fukushima

***

1. The Economist. April 6, 2013. Wood: The fuel of the future. Environmental lunacy in Europe.

Which source of renewable energy is most important to the European Union? Solar power, perhaps? (Europe has three-quarters of the world’s total installed capacity of solar photovoltaic energy.) Or wind? (Germany trebled its wind-power capacity in the past decade.) The answer is neither.

By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can concentrated solar power be used to generate industrial process heat?

Can concentrated solar power be used to generate industrial process heat?

This post is based on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) paper:

Kurup, P., et al. 2015. Initial Investigation into the Potential of CSP Industrial Process Heat for the Southwest United States. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

***

Industries use enormous amounts of fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity to make products like steel, cement, chemicals, glass, and refine petroleum, with nearly three-quarters of energy used in the form of heat. Industry uses 30% of all energy, and 83% of that energy is generated by fossil fuels mainly to create process heat directly, indirectly with steam heat, or to generate electricity at the factory for reliability and to operate machine drive equipment (EI 2010).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is CSP-to-generate-high-heat-needed-by-industry.jpg

It is possible for a Parabolic Trough collector (PTC), which looks like a giant upended cattle trough, to make some of this industrial heat and replace some of the fossil fuels used (mainly natural gas).

But the industrial uses this concentrated solar power collection is most useful for are heat applications from 110 to 220 C (230 – 430 F), especially those processes that use pressurized water or steam.

So that leaves quite a few very important industries out, since they use 2000 F heat or more, such as iron, steel, fabricated metals, transportation equipment (cars, trucks), computers, electronics, aluminum, cement, glass, machinery, and foundries.

Industries where solar industrial process heat (SIPH) might be used are paper, dairy, food, beer, chemicals, and washing/cleaning.   No doubt some processes within other industries like plastics and rubber, textiles, and others also have a need for industrial process heat that’s less than 430 F.

NREL isn’t proposing gigantic, billion dollar concentrated solar power collectors like the ones that take up miles of land in the deserts of California, Nevada, and Arizona.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

One million plant & animal species at risk of extinction

One million plant & animal species at risk of extinction

As usual, no mention of birth control or carrying capacity. 

Plumer, B. 2019. Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace. New York Times.

Extinction rates are tens to hundreds of times higher than they have been in the past 10 million years. 

Over the past 50 years, global biodiversity loss has primarily been driven by activities like the clearing of forests for farmland, the expansion of roads and cities, logging, hunting, overfishing, water pollution and the transport of invasive species around the globe. 

All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people, the report found, and 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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