NBC’s Olympic Geographic Failure

Andrew Shears – NBC’s Geographic Imagination, as Reflected in the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Did you watch the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony on cable?  Do you know what you missed?  Read Andrew’s post to find out.

Thank You, Industrialization

Genghis Khan Would Not Be Pleased


Inner Mongolia: Little Hu and the mining of the grasslands | The Economist.

LOCAL legend has it that the beauty of the grasslands in Xilin Gol, a prefecture in eastern Inner Mongolia, so captivated the 13th-century warrior Genghis Khan that he planned to settle down there once his battles were over.

But the grasslands are disappearing into the maw of giant machines that scrape coal from the ground.  Ethnic Mongolians, who make up about 20% of the province’s population, are upset with what they see as land grabs by corrupt officials and giant corporations.

Hu Chunhua, the provincial communist Party chief, is working hard to quell the unrest.  Mr. Hu is believed to be a favorite of China’s current leader Hu Jintao, who is said to be preparing the young Mr. Hu for higher office.  But what seemed to be an easy job in booming Inner Mongolia has proved to be more difficult than expected.

The mining is ripping up the delicate grasslands for both coal and rare earths such as germanium, used in making solar cells and wind turbines.  This mining also depletes the scarce water supply.

Land disputes between miners and Mongol herders became commonplace. In a typical incident, in May 2011, a group of Mongol herders was trying to stop mining lorries crossing and churning up grassland near their homes about 110km (70 miles) north-east of Xilinhot. During the night, a lorry driven by an ethnic Han Chinese driver hit one of the herders, called Mergen (single-named, like many Mongols). It dragged him over the grassland for 150 metres, killing him.

Protests erupted, leading to a march on the provincial capitol.  They spread as far south as Shangdu, the site of Kubla Khan’s “pleasure domes.”

Mr. Hu responded with force, calling out paramilitary police to patrol the areas.

In the provincial capital, Hohhot, university students were temporarily barred from leaving campuses and the central square was sealed off by security forces.

How will China’s leaders manage both the country’s need for energy and the ethnic minority’s need to maintain their heritage?  How will his response affect Mr. Hu’s chances of rising within the ranks of the Communist Party?

…grievances over the environment and land rights are widespread across China, as shown last week by large-scale and violent protests against the building of a copper-alloy factory in the south-western city of Shifang. Even if most Mongols are not yearning for independence, Mr Hu cannot relax.

Destroy Nature, Destroy Ourselves


Destroying Nature Unleashes Infectious Diseases - NYTimes.com

Destroying Nature Unleashes Infectious Diseases – NYTimes.com.

THERE’S a term biologists and economists use these days — ecosystem services — which refers to the many ways nature supports the human endeavor. Forests filter the water we drink, for example, and birds and bees pollinate crops, both of which have substantial economic as well as biological value.

These are positive benefits of working with nature to the betterment of humankind.  but more often than not, we manage to work against nature, and it usually backfires.

A critical example is a developing model of infectious disease that shows that most epidemics — AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades — don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.

Turns out over 60% of emerging diseases originate in animals, then jump to humans as a result of close contact.  Usually the contact has to do with people encroaching on or disturbing animal habitats.

Teams of veterinarians and conservation biologists are in the midst of a global effort with medical doctors and epidemiologists to understand the “ecology of disease.”

If researchers can pinpoint likely hotspots, they may be able to prevent or at least control epidemics before they become pandemics.

It isn’t only a public health issue, but an economic one. The World Bank has estimated that a severe influenza pandemic, for example, could cost the world economy $3 trillion.

The article discusses problems with the new highway that cuts across South America from Brazil to the Pacific:

… one study showed an increase in deforestation by some 4 percent increased the incidence of malaria by nearly 50 percent, because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas. Developing the forest in the wrong way can be like opening Pandora’s box. These are the kinds of connections the new teams are unraveling.

Lyme disease is a result of human caused changes in the environment.  We fragmented forests, reduced their range, and killed off predators.  This lead to a five-fold increase in white-footed mice, the number one incubator for infected tick nymphs.

The best way to prevent the next outbreak [of new diseases] in humans, specialists say, is with what they call the One Health Initiative — a worldwide program, involving more than 600 scientists and other professionals, that advances the idea that human, animal and ecological health are inextricably linked and need to be studied and managed holistically.

Really interesting article.  Will scientists be able to convince the public and policy-makers that we need to focus on this?  Maybe, because the costs of not doing so could be enormous.

Is Texas Really Bigger than France?

OverlapMaps – Instantly compare any two places on Earth!

Really neat – how big is it?  Is it bigger or smaller than Texas?  These and more questions answered instantly!

Plastic: It’s What’s for Breakfast

Seabirds study shows plastic pollution reaching surprising levels off coast of Pacific Northwest.

The study, published online in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, examined stomach contents of  beached northern fulmars on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon, U.S.A.

Because this type of research has been ongoing over the last four decades, there is a known baseline for comparison.  And its not pretty.  These birds ingest and retain plastics as they forage for food at sea.  The plastics remain in their stomachs for a long time.

The research group performed necropsies on 67 beached northern fulmars and found that 92.5 per cent had plastics — such as twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers — in their stomach. An average of 36.8 pieces per bird were found. The average total weight of plastic was 0.385 grams per bird. One bird was found with 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

What effect does our trash have on the life of the sea?  How are we hurting both nature and our food production by dumping toxic waste into our rivers?  How much of this trash is littering by humans, how much comes from ships?

And can we clean it up?

Where Does Your Coffee Come From?

Asia Times Online :: Coffee colonialism in Laos.

Asia Times Online :: Coffee colonialism in Laos

VIENTIANE – It is an increasingly familiar tale in Laos: poor farmers are pushed off their ancestral lands by corrupt local officials to make way for capital-rich, foreign-invested plantation agriculture.

But some of the local farmers are beginning to fight back.  When the governor of The area around Paksong granted land concessions to  Asian coffee giant Outspan Boloven, local farmers began to organize.

The farmers have staged rare protests in communist-run Laos, bringing national attention to their grass roots plight and perceived high level corruption in the land deal. Puan, a thin, angular-faced man involved in the fight, said during a recent trip to the national capital to air grievances, “We will die for our land.”

Organic coffee from the Boloven Plateau is famous around the world, and brings a steady income for the smallholder farmers in the area.  After the communist government outlawed shifting agriculture, the farmers planted commercial trees, coffee, and other subsistence crops.  The income from the land enabled them to pay their taxes and make a living for their families.

But after the coffee company gained the land,

Outspan Boloven brought in tractors and leveled the ground without any local consultations. “They worked day and night. The noise and light did not allow us to sleep,” Puan grumbled. “We went out and tried to stop them, but they told us we had no rights anymore as the land had been granted by the governor.”

Drawing a parallel to what is happening in Indonesian palm oil plantations, filmmaker Serge Marti says  “Companies often destroy graveyards and shrines to eradicate claims of ancestral ownership and demoralize communities.”

Video shot in the contested area in Paksong a week before the delegation arrived in Vientiane showed piles of burnt and smoking timber and bamboo clumps. Bare earth exposed by company bulldozers is ringed by openly distraught villagers.

Land-grabbing is on the rise in Asia and other parts of the world without clear land titles.  This is fueling unrest among the smallholders, who have little recourse against giant corporations and their own government.  Many farmers are turning to the outside world, trying to expose the corruption and injustice:

“This is our dignity and our lives” he said. “We are not afraid to die.”

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