How honey is helping to save the spectacled bear?

A bear cub with distinctive yellow circling about the eyes is caught on camera, deep in the dry forests of the Andes mountain range in Bolivia. Beside it, a glimpse of the shaggy black fur of its mother, CNN reports.

For six months, researchers had laid camera traps across a 600-square-kilometer area, trying to catch sight of the rare spectacled bear. But besides the occasional photo of an indistinguishable hairy figure with its head out of shot, the elusive species had avoided the lens. 

The photo was a breakthrough for Bolivian conservationist Ximena Velez-Liendo and her team. “We were over the moon, because it wasn’t just a bear, it was a breeding population,” she says. “That was one of the happiest moments in my life.”

This candid photo of a bear cub, taken by camera trap on 9 February 2017, marked significant progress for Velez-Liendo and her team.

Five years later, Velez-Liendo has gathered essential details on the enigmatic creatures and devised a strategy for protecting them. 

As South America’s only bear species, the spectacled or Andean bear is renowned worldwide thanks largely to Paddington Bear, the fictional character who hails from “deepest, darkest Peru.” But in reality, populations across the continent are dwindling. 

Fewer than 10,000 spectacled bears remain, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which lists the species as vulnerable. In Bolivia, the southernmost country in the world where spectacled bears are found and where Velez-Liendo’s work is focused, there are believed to be around 3,000 individuals.

Severe drought, as a result of climate change, has led local farmers to replace agricultural production with cattle ranches, says Velez-Liendo. The bears, struggling to find food in their own shrinking habitat, encroach on this land and sometimes kill livestock, which leads to farmers killing the bears in retaliation. Deforestation and exploiting the land for oil and mining contributes to habitat loss, while drought unbalances the ecosystem, pushing the species closer to extinction. 

Velez-Liendo wants to conserve the “majestic” and “charismatic” creatures to which she has devoted the last 20 years of her life. But her recipe for conservation involves an unusual ingredient: honey.

A spectacled bear is caught on camera bathing in a watering hole in northern Peru.

Bears and beekeepers

Based in the inter-Andean dry forest of southern Bolivia and funded by Chester Zoo and Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the project not only monitors the region’s bear population, but trains local people as beekeepers. The idea is that by generating a healthy income from honey, it offers an economic alternative to cattle ranching.

“The main threat (to bears) is definitely people,” says Velez-Liendo, and “cattle are the main reason for people killing bears.” But cattle ranching is not well suited to high elevations and produces small returns at a significant environmental cost, requiring 20 times more land, water and resources than it does in the lowlands, she adds.

So the team set up community apiaries, where local people could learn and practice beekeeping. After the first honey harvest, people started building their own private hives. The honey – branded “Valle de Osos,” meaning “Valley of the Bears” – went on sale, and money started to trickle in.

The honey’s label references the bears, as they are at the root of the project, says Velez-Liendo.

There have been three harvests since the beekeeping project began in 2018, producing 2,750 kilograms of honey and almost $20,000 in revenue, says Velez-Liendo – more than double that generated by cattle. 

Circle of life

At the same time, the process is teaching locals about the ecosystem and the bear’s crucial role in maintaining it: by spreading seeds, the bears help to restore forests, which in turn helps to secure water supplies. “People need to see the benefit of protecting the bears,” says Velez-Liendo, and through beekeeping, “we show them that by protecting the bear, they are protecting the forest, and by protecting the forest, they are protecting the bees.”

Velez-Liendo (left) works closely with local communities on the project.

The project has been widely recognized as crucial in preserving the species, winning the 2017 Whitley Award for grassroots wildlife conservationists. Last month, the Whitley Fund for Nature announced it would fund Velez-Liendo for the next two years, as she works to create a “productive protected landscape” – a management framework that respects traditional land-use while combining restoration and nature-positive economic activity.

She hopes that by presenting a viable framework, other countries with spectacled bear populations will follow suit. Conservation efforts are already underway across South America, including in Ecuador, where a bear corridor has been created north of the capital, Quito, and in Peru, where the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC) works with indigenous communities to create private protected areas, as well as offering alternative livelihood programs.

Community engagement is essential in long-lasting population change, agrees Canadian biologist Robyn Appleton, who founded the SBC in 2009. “If you don’t have communities onside, you will not be doing any conservation,” she says. “You could have the last bear in Peru, and it wouldn’t matter.”

By building relationships with local communities, Appleton says they have successfully reduced the use of slash and burn – the clearance of land by burning all the trees and plants on it.

The important message to get across is that protecting the bear protects people, too. “We love the bears and we care about wildlife, but we also care about humans,” says Appleton. “For us, it’s about protecting a place – protecting the humans, protecting the wildlife, protecting the ecosystem. They all work together.”

A group of spectacled bears are spotted clambering through the forest in search of food.

Gardeners of the Andes 

Spectacled bears play a vital role in the survival of the whole ecosystem, of which there is not much left. The dry forests of Bolivia, which flank the eastern Andes with shrubs and dense thicket, are critically endangered. According to research from the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation, only 6% remains intact.

Primarily vegetarian, spectacled bears feed on fruit, berries and cacti, and move up to five miles a day, dispersing seeds within the area as they defecate and generating new growth and biodiversity. 

“Bears are the gardeners of the Andes,” says Velez-Liendo. “In areas where bears have been exterminated, the quality of the forest is extremely poor.”

Thanks to Velez-Liendo’s bear program, scientists are now more aware than ever of what other life exists within the ecosystem. Eight species of wild cats have been spotted on the site, including jaguars and pumas, and there have also been sightings of the critically endangered chinchilla rat. 

“Because of all our efforts to protect just one species, we’re protecting 31 species of mammals, about 50 species of birds, and 20 species of other amphibians,” says Velez-Liendo. “By protecting bears we’re protecting an entire ecosystem.”

Read more

Snow covers Saudi Arabian desert

For most people, thinking about the Saudi Arabian desert probably conjures up images of sand dunes backed by relentless sunshine. More recently, however, those sands have been covered in snow, CNN reports.

Several recent snow and hailstorms in the region have transformed landscapes in and around Saudi Arabia, stirring excitement among locals and causing a sensation on social media. 

Earlier this month, Saudi photographer Osama Al-Habri captured aerial images of Badr Governorate, southwest of the Islamic pilgrimage city of Medina, dressed in white as locals gathered to enjoy the unusual sight. 

Al-Harbi told CNN that winter weather of such intensity in the Badr desert area was a rare phenomenon that had not occurred for years. He described it as a “historic hailstorm.”

The Saudi photographer, who documented the scenes on January 11, said the site was teeming with visitors, many of who had traveled miles for a glimpse of the frozen landscape.

At the time of Al-Harbi’s visit, Saudi Arabia’s National Center of Meteorology had forecast moderate to heavy rain in the Medina region, along with winds, low visibility and hail, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Wintry conditions were experienced again this week, when snow fell in northwestern Saudi Arabia, covering the city of Tabuk, near the border with Jordan, and nearby mountains on February 16, according to Reuters.

Read more

The world should reduce its appetite for electricity to stop a climate disaster

The world needs more electricity. That will mean severe climate damage unless something changes soon, CNN reports.

A report published Friday by the International Energy Agency found that global demand for electricity surged 6% in 2021, fueled by a colder winter and the dramatic economic rebound from the pandemic. That drove both prices and carbon emissions to new records.

The growth in demand was particularly intense in China, where it jumped by about 10%.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the report contained a stark warning for the future. 

Electricity has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change as countries ditch fossil fuels and more battery-powered cars hit the road. But so far, renewable sources of electricity — as opposed to power stations that burn coal or natural gas — haven’t kept up.

Electricity generated by renewables grew by 6% globally last year, while coal-fired generation leaped 9% due to high demand and skyrocketing natural gas prices, which made it look like a more attractive option.

Carbon dioxide emissions from power generation rose 7% as a result, reaching an all-time high after declining the previous two years.

“Not only does this highlight how far off track we currently are from a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, but it also underscores the massive changes needed for the electricity sector to fulfill its critical role in decarbonizing the broader energy system,” Birol said in a statement.

In the United States, coal-fired electricity generation spiked by 19% in 2021. The increase is likely to be temporary, though, with output from coal expected to decline by about 6% a year between 2022 and 2024, according to the IEA.

There’s some good news: Rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity should be enough to cover the vast majority of the growth in global electricity demand through 2024. 

Still, emissions will remain high. The IEA found that emissions from the power sector will “remain around the same level from 2021 to 2024,” even though they need to decline “sharply” for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Read more

Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani donated $80 billion into green energy

Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani is going big on green energy. His conglomerate, Reliance Industries, announced Thursday that it would allocate a whopping 6 trillion rupees (approximately $80.6 billion) to renewable power projects in the western Indian state of Gujarat, where it hopes to help generate a million new jobs, CNN reports.

The bulk of that money — about $67.7 billion — will go toward a new power plant and hydrogen system, the company said in a stock exchange filing. Reliance plans to make the massive investment over a 10-to-15-year period and has already begun scouting for land for the 100-gigawatt capacity site. 

The company also plans to create a new manufacturing hub that will be dedicated to the production of solar panels, fuel cell technology and other renewable energy sources. 

Reliance said the new initiatives stem “from the vision” of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The company’s 1 million jobs projection includes both direct and indirect new opportunities in Modi’s home state.

Renewable energy is starting to take off in India. Last year, new installations of such projects were projected to double across the country, compared with those from 2015 to 2020.

The trend comes at a critical time. As of late last year, coal still accounted for almost 70% of the country’s electricity generation. 

That placed the world’s second most populous country in a vulnerable spot recently as it faced risks of a coal crunch last October, with stocks of the commodity at most Indian power plants dropping to critically low levels.

Reliance is one of India’s most valuable and recognizable companies. The powerhouse conglomerate — which spans petrochemicals, telecommunications and retail — has long been trying to reduce its reliance on oil.

It has also been undergoing a shift in focus recently as Ambani, its chairman, seeks to transform it into a global tech giant.In its statement Thursday, Reliance said it would use the remaining funds to invest “. In existing projects and new ventures over next three to five years.” 

Over that period, the company wants to direct $1 billion to upgrade its mobile network to 5G, and spend about $406 million on its retail arm.

Read more

A toxic gas leak killed 6 persons in India

Six workers at a dyeing and printing mill in India were killed and more than 20 were taken to hospital on Thursday after inhaling toxic gas caused by an illegal dump of waste chemicals, CNN reports.

The disaster took place in the industrial city of Surat in Gujarat state at about 4 a.m. The workers were in the mill when some chemicals were dumped nearby, police and a fire officer said.

“Chemicals were being illegally discharged from a tanker into a rivulet close to the mill, which possibly reacted with another chemical in the water and created toxic gas,” the chief fire officer of Surat Municipal Corporation, Basant Pareek, told Reuters.

“The workers inhaled the gas and started feeling suffocation. When we reached the scene, the workers were found collapsed on the road in their attempt to escape.”

Six workers died while 23 people were hospitalized, seven in critical condition and on ventilators, Pareek said. Senior police official Sharad Singhal said officers were investigating but had yet to make any arrests. “This was not an accidental gas leakage. Hazardous chemicals were being discharged when the incident took place,” he said.

India suffered the world’s worst industrial disaster in 1984 when methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide factory owned by American Union Carbide Corporation in the city of Bhopal, killing more than 5,000 people.

Read more

Nuclear energy scares people. The climate crisis is giving it another chance

Growing up in Finland, Iida Ruishalme had a deep affinity for nature — particularly the forest, where she loved to go trekking with her dogs. Now, she’s worried that her daughters won’t experience such idyllic days as the climate crisis accelerates. So last month, she boarded a night train from Switzerland to join protests in the German capital Berlin.

Ruishalme agrees the world needs more wind farms and solar panels. But what she and her fellow demonstrators really want is a commitment to something else: nuclear energy, CNN reports.

“We have to give this technology a chance,” the Mothers for Nuclear member said, joining dozens of others who stood with signs outside the city’s famous Brandenburg Gate.

Nuclear power is one of the most reliable low-carbon sources of energy available, but memories of accidents at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island still loom large, fueling skepticism and fear and deterring investors from funding new projects. 

Nuclear plants are also notoriously expensive to build. Construction tends to run over budget and time, and wind and solar energy has typically come out cheaper. How to safely store the radioactive waste it produces is another headache.

Germany began winding down its nuclear industry following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown of three reactors in one of the worst nuclear incidents of all time. All six reactors still operating in Germany should be shut by the end of next year.

Demonstrators in support of nuclear power outside Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on Saturday, November 13.
Demonstrators in support of nuclear power outside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Saturday, November 13.

Yet the scale of the climate crisis is encouraging other governments and investors to give the nuclear industry another look.

Whether the world invests heavily into nuclear will depend on what people have the stomach for. Ruishalme, for one, hopes they’ll put their anxieties aside.

“Our gut feelings don’t produce ready-made solutions,” she said, adding that she too once considered it “too risky,” but changed her mind after researching the pros and cons.

Europe’s big decision

Nuclear energy currently accounts for about 10% of the world’s electricity production. In some countries, the share is even larger. The United States and the United Kingdom generate roughly 20% of their electricity from nuclear energy. In France, it’s 70%, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The world is now at a nuclear crossroads: It could scale up nuclear as a sturdy energy source to keep emissions down, or throw all its money behind renewables, which are quicker to build and more profitable — but sometimes patchy.

Advocates emphasize that nuclear power flows even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. 

“We need renewables to be complemented by a reliable, 24/7 energy source,” said James Hansen, a climate scientist at Columbia University who also took part in the Berlin demonstration.

The UK government agrees. It supports the construction of the country’s first nuclear power station in more than two decades in southwestern England. US President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, meanwhile, includes $6 billion in grants to keep older plants running. And President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France would begin building new plants for the first time in nearly 20 years.

That puts France and Germany at odds with each other ahead of a crucial decision by the European Union on whether to classify nuclear as “green” or “transitional” on a controversial list of sustainable energy sources set to be unveiled Wednesday. The outcome could unleash a wave of fresh funding, or leave nuclear on the outside.

The Grohnde nuclear power station in Lower Saxony, Germany. It will be decommissioned later this month.
The Grohnde nuclear power station in Lower Saxony, Germany. It will be decommissioned later this month.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans recently indicated that both nuclear and natural gas — which is made up mostly of the greenhouse gas methane — could qualify for green financing.

“I think we need to find a way of recognizing that these two energy sources play a role in the energy transition,” he said at an event hosted by Politico. “That does not make them green, but it does acknowledge the fact that nuclear being zero emissions are very important to reduce emissions, and that natural gas will be very important in transiting away from coal into renewable energy.”

While nuclear power produces zero emissions when generated, the uranium required to make it needs to be mined, and that process emits greenhouse gases. Nonetheless, an analysis by the European Commission concluded that emissions from nuclear are around the same as wind energy and less than solar when the full cycle of production is taken into account.

Hansen, a longtime advocate for nuclear power, said it’s crucial in global efforts to decarbonize, and that Germany shouldn’t use its political clout to stand in the way of fresh investment.

“The consequence of treating it as not sustainable is we’re not going to have a pathway to limit climate change to the level that young people are now demanding,” he said. “It’s really important that Germany not be able to impose this policy on the rest of Europe and on the world.” 

But German politicians and experts argue that high costs and the time it takes to build new plants — no fewer than five years, and often much longer — mean money would be better spent elsewhere. 

The latest UN-backed climate science shows the world should nearly halve emissions over this decade to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a vital cap to avoid worsening climate impacts. The world must also shoot for net-zero by mid-century. That means emissions must be reduced as much as possible, and the rest captured or offset. 

Current pledges, including those made at the recent COP26 climate summit in Scotland, only get the world around one-quarter of the way there, according to Climate Action Tracker.

The International Energy Agency says that nuclear power generation should more than double between 2020 and 2050 in the pursuit of net-zero. Its share in the electricity mix will drop, but that’s because demand for power will soar as the world electrifies as many machines as possible, including cars and other vehicles.

Yet Ben Wealer, who researches nuclear power economics at the Technical University of Berlin, argues that the world can’t wait for new nuclear plants, especially since the next eight years are so crucial to decarbonizing. 

“Looking at the time frames, it cannot be a huge help in combating climate change,” he said. “It blocks the cash we need for renewables.

“Even if the world did have more time, delays are a problem. The Hinkley Point C plant in the United Kingdom, for example, is now to be completed in mid-2026, six months later than planned, and its costs are rising. The latest price tag was as much as £23 billion ($30 billion), about £5 billion ($6.6 billion) more than when the project was launched in 2016. 

German officials also argue that the lack of a global plan for storing toxic waste should disqualify nuclear as a “sustainable” energy source.

Christoph Hamann, an official at Germany’s federal office for nuclear waste management, emphasized that government efforts to construct sites below ground where waste can be stored indefinitely remain a work-in-progress.

“We’re talking about a very toxic, high radioactive waste, which is producing problems for the next tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. And we’re directing this problem, when using nuclear power, to future generations,” Hamann said.

Wave of funding

It’s not just Europe that’s mulling more nuclear. The most energetic push is in China, where there are 18 reactors under construction as the world’s biggest emitter tries to pivot away from coal. That’s more than 30% of the reactors being built globally, according to the World Nuclear Association.

And the debate is becoming more complex as new nuclear technologies are developed and show signs they could generate better financial returns.

The US government has backed TerraPower, the startup chaired by Bill Gates. The company, which wants to stand up a next-generation nuclear project at a former coal hub in Wyoming, utilizes molten salt to transfer heat from the reactor and use it to generate electricity, which it claims will simplify construction and allow it to adjust output to meet changing demand.

Meanwhile, Britain is supporting a push by engineering firm Rolls-Royce to build smaller nuclear reactors, which have lower upfront costs. That pitch could help draw in private investors.

Iida Ruishalme, the European director of Mothers for Nuclear, traveled to Berlin to show her support of nuclear power.
Iida Ruishalme, the European director of Mothers for Nuclear, traveled to Berlin to show her support of nuclear power.

“It’s very, very difficult for any country to achieve net-zero ambitions without nuclear,” said Tom Samson, the CEO of the new Rolls-Royce venture.

The parts of a Rolls-Royce reactor are designed so almost all of it can be built and assembled in a factory. That limits the amount of time that’s required to piece its components together on an expensive construction site. Initially, production is estimated at £2.2 billion ($2.9 billion) per unit.

“If you look back in history, you can find lots of examples of big nuclear projects that have struggled,” Samson said. “We’ve designed ours to be different.”

About £210 million ($278 million) in funding from the UK government will allow the company to begin applying for regulatory approvals. It hopes to set up three factories in Britain and start churning out about two units per year, which would power 2 million homes. The first unit is expected to go into service in the United Kingdom in 2031. 

For comparison, the Hinkley power station is expected to provide electricity for 6 million homes.

Samson also emphasizes that smaller reactors produce little waste. The spent fuel from a small modular reactor operating for 60 years would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, he said.

Fission or fusion?

According to data from PitchBook, nuclear energy startups raised $676 million in venture capital funding globally in the first nine months of 2021. That’s more than the total amount raised over the past five years combined. 

That figure includes funding for startups that explore nuclear fusion, which has been attracting more attention. The nuclear power generators currently operating use fission technology, which involves splitting the nucleus of an atom. Fusion is the process of combining two nuclei to create energy — often referred to as the energy of the sun or the stars.

Scientists are still working out how to successfully manage a fusion reaction and turn it into a commercially viable project. But investors are increasingly excited about its potential since it doesn’t produce lingering radioactive waste and comes with no risk of a Fukushima-style meltdown, nor does it rely on uranium.

Helion, a US-based fusion startup, announced last month that it had raised $500 million in a round led by Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator.

As the world weighs which way to turn on nuclear, it could be years until it’s clear which was the right road to take. A look at Germany and France in 10 or 20 years from now may provide the answer.

Ultimately, arguments around emissions, reliability and economics may be cast aside. The real future of nuclear could come down to public opinion.

“If there is a nuclear accident, a new major one, that could kill the entire industry,” said Henning Gloystein, director of energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group.

Read more

Christmas typhoon at Philipines left thousands of families homeless and hungry

Usually, Jay Lacia wakes at midnight on Christmas Day to start the festivities – but this year, all he wished for was enough food to eat. “We always celebrated Christmas, but for now, it’s too hard,” the 27-year-old father of one said, as he sat among rubble in the typhoon-hit city of Surigao, at the northeastern tip of Mindanao in the Philippines, CNN reports.

Broken wood, scraps of metal, and plastic waste line the shore, where an exhausted stray dog sleeps. The stench of waste and dead fish engulf the air.

More than a week after Super Typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – slammed into the Philippines, Lacia has given up trying to salvage whatever is left of his home. Not a single house stands anymore in his village on nearby Dinagat Island. 

“Everything was gone, including my house,” Lacia said. “The roof, and any wood that we built with, was gone.” 

Jay Lacia sits among crumbled homes, fallen trees and broken power cables. He lost everything when Super Typhoon Rai hit the Philippines on December 16.
Jay Lacia sits among crumbled homes, fallen trees and broken power cables. He lost everything when Super Typhoon Rai hit the Philippines on December 16. 

Nobody expected the wrath Rai would unleash when it struck the archipelago on December 16. It was the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, killing nearly 400 people, while displacing hundreds of thousands more. 

The Philippines experiences several typhoons a year, but the climate crisis has caused storms to become more unpredictable and extreme – while leaving the nation’s poorest most vulnerable.

Families like Lacia’s lost everything. And now, they face the nearly impossible task of rebuilding their homes without enough food to eat or water to drink. 

“We thought we were safe because we tied up our house. We thought that was enough to keep it from collapsing,” he said. “We put a weight on our roof to keep it from being blown away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.” 

Homeless at Christmas 

Nearly 4 million people across more than 400 cities were affected by Typhoon Rai, according to the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

More than half a million remained displaced during Christmas – one of the most important holidays in the Catholic-majority nation. 

“Families have nothing,” Jerome Balinton, humanitarian manager for Save the Children said. “Bright lights and Christmas music is replaced with dirty, humid evacuation centers. Their only wish this Christmas is to survive.” 

Jovelyn Paloma Sayson, 35, from Surigao City evacuated to her community’s parish church before Rai struck. Her fragile hut made from wood, plastic and metal, did not withstand the storm’s powerful gusts of wind. 

“The roofs of every house were flying everywhere,” the mother of seven said as she sat amid the ruins of her home. “Our house was the first one to collapse. First, the roof flew off. Then the foundation crumbled. After my house was destroyed, my mother’s house collapsed.” 

All of the family’s food was destroyed by floods. Their stock of rice — a staple for the Southeast Asian country — was floating in muddy water next to broken pieces of wood. Sayson’s children’s clothes are ruined from the rain, and her furniture reduced to fragments. 

Sayson’s kitchen appliances were stolen in the aftermath. She cannot afford to rebuild from scratch, she said.

“We need money to rebuild our house,” she said. “We are not dreaming of having a mansion. All we want is to have our own house to live in so that our children are safe.” 

Despite the trauma, her family still gathered to celebrate the holiday. 

“We had nothing to eat,” Sayson said. “Someone gave us sliced bread and canned goods. Even though we are poor, we have a party every Christmas.” 

Residents salvage what's left of their damaged homes following Typhoon Rai in Cebu, central Philippines on December 17, 2021.
Residents salvage what’s left of their damaged homes following Typhoon Rai in Cebu, central Philippines on December 17, 2021.

Prolonged displacement and suffering

More than 1,000 temporary shelters have been set up to house those whose homes have crumbled, according to the NDRRMC. 

For many of the displaced families, the trauma and suffering are unbearable. 

Alvin Dumduma, Philippines project manager for aid group Humanity and Inclusion, said it’s “exhausting” for families to try and rebuild their homes “while starving and thirsty.” 

Cramped inside unsanitary evacuation centers with no running water, he is concerned about the potential spread of diseases, including Covid-19. 

“The conditions in the evacuation centers are far from ideal. It’s unhygienic. Thousands are sleeping under one roof with no clean water,” he added. “Children aren’t going to school. There is no electricity either. They will be stuck like this for a long time.” 

Dumduma said the disaster has also devastated these families’ livelihoods.

Toppled electrical posts line a street in Cebu, central Philippines, after Typhoon Rai on December 17, 2021.
Toppled electrical posts line a street in Cebu, central Philippines, after Typhoon Rai on December 17, 2021.

“Many are from fishing or farming communities whose boats and land have been destroyed,” he said. “They will struggle a lot to build back their business.” 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the government will raise money for the rehabilitation and recovery of typhoon-ravaged areas. The United Nations has also promised more than $100 million in aid. 

But Dumduma said much more needs to change at the government level to avoid such devastation from future storms. 

“Chaos unfolded because the government was not prepared. They must strengthen their disaster and response program,” he said. “We need more training, more preparation and early action.” 

CNN has reached out to the NDRRMC for comment but did not hear back before publication.

Motorists speed past fallen coconut trees at the height of Super Typhoon Rai along a highway in Del Carmen town, Siargao island on December 20, 2021.
Motorists speed past fallen coconut trees at the height of Super Typhoon Rai along a highway in Del Carmen town, Siargao island on December 20, 2021.

Effects of the climate crisis

Located along the typhoon belt in the western Pacific Ocean, the Philippines regularly experiences big storms — but the climate crisis has caused these events to become more extreme and unpredictable.

As the climate crisis worsens, cyclones are becoming more intense and destructive. Rai evolved rapidly from the equivalent of a Category 1 to a Category 5 storm in just 24 hours, packing winds of up to 260 kilometers (160 miles) per hour. 

And the country was not prepared for a disaster of this scale. 

Kairos Dela Cruz, deputy head of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said developing countries are reaching their limit of being able to handle natural disasters on their own and those that live in low-lying, coastal areas will soon lose their homes to rising sea levels. 

A study published in November by researchers at the Shenzhen Institute of Meteorological Innovation and the Chinese University of Hong Kong found typhoons in Asia could have double their destructive power by the end of the century. They already last between two and nine hours longer and travel an average of 100 kilometers (62 miles) further inland than they did four decades ago.

Rescuers help residents over floodwaters caused by Typhoon Rai as they are evacuated to higher ground in Cagayan de Oro City, southern Philippines on December 16, 2021.
Rescuers help residents over floodwaters caused by Typhoon Rai as they are evacuated to higher ground in Cagayan de Oro City, southern Philippines on December 16, 2021. 

The climate crisis also exposes systemic problems in the Philippines, Dela Cruz said.

“We need more resources to help us and (we should) play a stronger role internationally to push for more climate finance,” he said. 

According to Dela Cruz, a storm of Rai’s scale in December is unusual for the Philippines, which usually experiences typhoons from June to September. 

For Alita Sapid, 64, the effects of the climate crisis are clearly visible. 

“We have had typhoons before, but this was extremely strong,” she said of Rai. Sapid stayed at home in Surigao with her husband, daughter, and four grandchildren when the typhoon hit, but as the water seeped in, they decided it was time to evacuate.

Alita Sapid's roof blew off her family's home during Typhoon Rai.
Alita Sapid’s roof blew off her family’s home during Typhoon Rai. 

“I told my husband to get out of here because we might die here,” she said. “My grandchildren had to crawl on the roads because the wind was so strong.”

The roof of Sapid’s home is completely destroyed. With nowhere to go and no money for now, the family has no choice but to sleep in their exposed home – whatever is left of it. 

“Aside from thinking about what we were going to prioritize in the repair, we are also thinking about how we can get our food,” she said. 

“We have not received any help yet. We are just waiting for someone to help us.” 

A long road to recovery

Lacia, from Dinagat Island, will relocate with his wife and child to Surigao. It is safer there, he said.

“My neighbors are no longer (in Dinagat). Most of them have left because there is nothing left in our neighborhood,” he said. 

All he has left to his name are some matchsticks, a box of rice, dried fish, and canned goods. 

“In my family, we really need help so we can rise again and return to our livelihood,” Lacia said. 

“Odette really was a Super Typhoon,” he said. “We lost our home, damaged by the force of the wind brought by the storm. We did everything, but it still was not enough.” 

Read more

The flood barriers that might save Venice

The first thing it resembles – this private, manmade island, straddling the Adriatic Sea and the Venetian lagoon – is a Bond villain’s lair. The second – as you dock at the private pontoon, walk past the Brutalist concrete façade, and into a “control room” where staff watch monitors tracking the waters around the island 24/7 – is something out of “Squid Game”, CNN reports.

In fact, as sinister as it sounds, this 144,000 square meter (35.6 acres) island which keeps a silent tab on Venice around the clock isn’t a malign force – it’s there to protect one of the world’s most fragile cities. 

The nameless island – situated between the peninsula of Cavallino-Treporti (which curls out from the Italian mainland, putting a protective arm around the Venetian lagoon) and the Lido island, a giant sandbar that blocks off most of the historical center of Venice from the Adriatic Sea – is the beating heart of the MOSE: the system of flood barriers that have, after 1,200 years, allowed the floating city to stand up to rising sea levels. 

It has taken its time. The MOSE – Italian for Moses, and short for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or Experimental Electromechanical Model – has been in the works since 1984. But it took nearly four decades to build, being beset by delays and corruption to such an extent – a former mayor went on trial for embezzling money from the project – that many Venetians believed it would never work.

Their fears were proved groundless on October 3, 2020, however, when, as regularly happens in winter, Venice was hit by an exceptionally high tide.

A tide that was 135 centimeters (53 inches) above normal levels hit Venice. Usually, that would have put around half the city underwater, but this time, the city remained dry. It was the first time the MOSE had been raised in adverse weather conditions. It was, as one Venetian told at the time, “historic… like the first step of Armstrong on the moon.” 

Fourteen months later, the MOSE has been raised 33 times: 13 in 2020, and 20 so far in 2021. (The flooding period typically runs from October to March.) The naysayers appear to have been proven wrong – not once has it failed to protect the city when raised.

The yellowfins poking ever so slightly out of the sea tend to look fragile against the raging Adriatic, in footage taken when they’re raised – normally during storms whipped up by rough sirocco winds, which blast the city from the south. 

But get up close, and you realize appearances can be deceptive. Each of these enormous barriers is 20-30 meters (66-98 feet) long, and 20 meters wide. They are embedded in the seabed in concrete chests, 40 meters wide, 60 meters long, and 10 meters high. 

Oh, and there are 78 of them, spread in four lines, at the three entry points to the Venetian lagoon.

As a piece of infrastructure, the MOSE is a behemoth.

And yet, when the barriers are not in use, you don’t see a thing. Unlike flood barriers in northern Europe – and at a much greater expense – the MOSE was designed to be invisible when the barriers are not needed. 

A Bond-style island in no man’s land

The barriers at the Treporti inlet are split in two by an artificial island HQ.

The hub of the project is the specially constructed island floating in the middle of the northernmost entry point to the lagoon.

Overlooking the bucolic island of Sant’Erasmo, with the snow-tufted Dolomites on the horizon, it’s a “no man’s land between the sea and lagoon” where the lagoon and Adriatic waters converge, according to engineer and site director Alessandro Soru.

The “bocca di Treporti,” or Treporti inlet (“bocca” is Italian for mouth) is an almost mile-wide channel between Punta Sabbioni (the tip of Cavallino-Treporti) and the northernmost point of the Lido island. 

There are two more entry points to the lagoon: at Malamocco, on the southern tip of the Lido, and another one at Chioggia, a fishing town at the southernmost point of the lagoon.

Treporti is by far the widest channel, though, and the level of the seabed varies from between 20 to 40 feet here. So, rather than create a massive barrier of varying height, the island has been created to divide the inlet into two. It also provides a space for the headquarters of the MOSE, which might otherwise disturb tourists in the campsites and beaches of Punta Sabbioni. 

‘Proper James Bond’

The control room monitors the lagoon from the safety of the artificial island.

Inside, a wall of monitors in the control room streams live CCTV footage of boats passing through the three channels. It also feeds in information on weather and tide levels and monitors the barriers when they are raised.

One screen monitors the level of the lagoon and the sea levels: blue for the former, red for the latter. 

On normal days, both blue and red lines rise and fall together like a heartbeat monitor – spiking at high tide, then hitting a trough at low.

On a recent date, however – December 8, 2021 – the lines spectacularly diverged.

The red line, denoting the Adriatic tide level, spiked high at 130 centimeters (51 inches) above the average, while the blue lagoon line followed it for a while, then plunged, then leveled out far below the red line, before eventually descending together. 

On that date, at 8.58 p.m., the MOSE was raised as the tide hit 80 centimeters. That quick plunge? Physics – more specifically, the fluid dynamics of Bernoulli’s principle, meaning the lagoon level took a quick dip to 50 centimeters, before stabilizing at 80 centimeters for the next 12 hours. The MOSE was lowered at 8.44 a.m. the following day, when the two lines converged again. 

In good weather, there are a couple of people here on day shift, as well as a team of four in the tunnel, 62 feet below, where half-mile tunnels in the concrete cases below the fins connect the island to the Lido and Punta Sabbioni, and the underwater humidity can be felt in your bones. 

The underwater tunnel follows the barrier from Punta Sabbioni to the Lido.

Warrens of pipes carrying the air to fill the barriers run underfoot in the tunnel, while chambers leading off from the side house the valves connecting the fins to the concrete bunkers. Each can be sealed off from the main corridor with the flick of a button, and it can operate even if, in a disaster, water gets in. Soru points to a porthole in the corner of the room: “That’s so you can get in via a sub, if it’s flooded – proper James Bond,” he says. 

But when tides are high, this is the 24/7 hub of the whole operation, with a 100-strong team operating in the control room, in the underwater tunnels, and in the lagoon, as boats zip around to bring workers to the island – since there’s no public transport. There’s even accommodation so workers can sleep here between shifts. 

How the MOSE works

In normal weather, the yellow fin sits flush in its concrete case on the seabed.
In normal weather, the yellowfin sits flush in its concrete case on the seabed.

After decades of initial controversy, the building of the MOSE began in 2009, with the last “fin” installed in June 2019, on the Lido side of the Treporti island.

The Venice lagoon is notoriously shallow – the average depth is just 1 meter (3.3 feet). But the inlets from the Adriatic are much deeper – Malamocco, the entrance to the industrial port is 14 meters (46 feet) deep, for example. Although they didn’t alter the depth of the inlets, engineers excavated the seabed along all three to make room for the concrete “cases,” which fit flush along the seabed.

The 14,000-ton cases were cast in concrete on the mainland, then floated into position and sunk beneath the water, while the debris removed from the seabed was used to build the island at Treporti – the “works citadel,” as Soru calls it. 

Inside the concrete chests sit the metal floodgates, treated every three months with an anti-corrosive – non-toxic, because of the lagoon ecosystem. Each of the 78 barriers is a uniform 20 meters (65 feet) wide, and varies from 20-30 meters in length, depending on the depth of the water. 

They can resist waves of up to 3 meters above normal tide levels – significantly more even than the record 194 centimeters (76 inches) tide that devastated the city in 1966.

venice flood barrier 20
Air is pumped into the fin, which raises it above the water. To lower it, the air is replaced with water.

How they work is down to a surprisingly simple hydraulics method. Lying dormant on the seabed, the hollow barriers are filled with water to weigh them down. 

To raise them, air is pumped into the fins, as the water drains out. They float upwards until they emerge above the water – at which point they form a barrier with the Adriatic surging against them one side, the lagoon relatively calm – and low – on the other.

When the tide subsides, water is pumped back into the fins and air expelled, causing them to sink down again and settle in their cases. It takes just 32 minutes to raise them, and about half that to lower them – that’s down from 91 minutes last year, according to Elisabetta Spitz, the “extraordinary commissioner” responsible for the project, who reports to the Italian government.

An underwater tunnel to maintain the fins sits 140 steps below the water.
An underwater tunnel to maintain the fins sits 140 steps below the water.

The process sounds simple, but has been honed to a precise degree. Between each barrier is an almost 3-inch gap, to release some of the intense pressure on the fins as they withstand the Adriatic. For the same reason, they’re raised four or five at a time, instead of all at once. They can work independently, too – so engineers can choose to raise just some of the barriers, to slow down the flow of water into the lagoon, or lower them temporarily at Malamocco to let an industrial ship go through to Venice’s port – Italy’s second busiest, and the fifth in the Mediterranean.

That also means, says Soru, that if, as people fear, one barrier ever fails to raise, it won’t stop the MOSE working as a whole. Not that that’s happened in the year that it’s been protecting the city. 

Finger on the button

The floods of November 2019 caused over $1 billion damage.
The floods of November 2019 caused over $1 billion damage.

Deciding to raise the barriers is a complicated process. Two establishments study the weather predictions: the Centro Maree di Venezia, which monitors tide levels for the city, and the Sala Operativa Consorzio Venezia Nuova, which is responsible for the MOSE. Both use different modeling and compare their forecasts. 

Spitz calls the process a “series of warnings, from 48 hours before the tide until three hours before.” 

It’s not just the MOSE operatives who receive it. “It informs everyone who operates in the lagoon to get going, because everyone has to do something – from the guy driving the trash-collecting boat who needs to change course, to ships needing to go in and out,” she explains.

Fifteen minutes before that three-hour warning, Spitz and a government representative get an email, “summarizing everything that’s happened in the preceding hours and asking for confirmation to proceed.

“For example, if there’s a ship running late because it’s been caught in bad weather, we can decide to leave a part of the barrier open to let it in. 

“We intervene only if there are exceptional events that mean we need to deviate from the procedure. If not the procedure goes ahead without intervention.”

It’s not just sea level and wind speed that they need to take into account — rainfall raises the water level around the city, as do swollen rivers disgorging into the lagoon. “Even if a tide of 95cm is predicted, we don’t know if the barriers will go up,” says Soru. 

Last year, on December 8, Venice was hit by a 138cm flood, causing extensive damage to the city, just weeks after the MOSE had shown it never need to happen again. The reason? Only 125cm had been predicted, but wind, rain and river water rocketed the sea level up. 

The 2019 floods devastated local businesses including hotels.
The 2019 floods devastated local businesses including hotels.

“I take responsibility for it,” says Spitz. “It was one of the first raisings, we had a procedure that was a bit more complicated and as acqua alta [flooding] wasn’t predicted, we took the decision to not mobilize it.

“But it was one of the first tries, and we understood the process needed to be made more automatic, so we updated the procedure. It was our fault. But today it wouldn’t happen.”

“It was disastrous, but we learn from experience – now we raise the barriers a few centimeters earlier,” says Soru.

When the MOSE is fully operational in 2023, the barriers will be raised when the water level hits 110cm (43in) above the regular level. That won’t help the lowest areas of the city, such as St. Mark’s Square which floods at around 90cm; but it will protect around 86% of Venice, including most residential areas. 

In fact, says Soru, the barriers will be raised when it looks like the tide will hit 100cm, to account for wind and rain raising the water levels. 

For now, though, with the barriers in a final stage of tests, they’re raised when the tide is predicted to hit 130cm. 

The criticism

The barriers raised for the first time in bad weather on October 3, 2020.
The barriers were raised for the first time in bad weather on October 3, 2020.

Of course, projects of this size are rarely without their detractors. One of the main criticisms leveled at the MOSE is that the barriers interfere with the lagoon ecosystem, turning it into a pond rather than a living lagoon.

But, says Spitz, when the barriers were up for 48 hours last year, that was as a trial, to test their resistance. In the future, even in periods when the barriers are up daily, it will only be for a few hours at a time. They have also installed locks at Chioggia and Malamocco to enable some fishing vessels and industrial ships to pass while the barriers are up. 

“When it goes up, it’s three, four hours maximum,” she says. “And then it’s not a given that you have to raise all the barriers. There are many possibilities and much flexibility. We’re trialing all of them to target choices better to the needs that will gradually show up. Every time we do a raise, we prepare dozens of tests to get the answers we need, understand the function and make it better.”

And while St. Mark’s Square floods at a level well below that at which the MOSE kicks in, another project – though delayed – is due to construct a glass barrier around the famous Byzantine basilica. Protection for the businesses in the square, however – like historic café Quadri – is a long way off. Its manager, Roberto Pepe, previously told that the MOSE’s cut-off point of 110 centimeters “changes nothing and leaves a sour taste” for those whose livelihoods rely on the piazza.

Spitz insists that she didn’t choose the cut-off points – a committee of local and national governance did. Access to the port was also taken into consideration.

When raised, the barriers cut off the three main entry points to the lagoon.
When raised, the barriers cut off the three main entry points to the lagoon.

“We need to save Venice, Chioggia, the islands – Murano, Burano, and lots of small islands are even worse off in front of high tides,” she says.

“But above all we need to find a point of mediation between economic needs – of those who operate in the lagoon – and the need to protect. That’s the big question we’ll need to take forward down the line.”

Another criticism of MOSE? The exorbitant overheads. The MOSE cost around $8 billion to build, and accounts from its first year suggest that it costs $328,000 to raise it every time – nearly double the original estimates.

The fins must be treated with anti-corrosive every three months, and their containers must be dredged twice per season, after a buildup of sand inside them meant that six fins could not be lowered during 2020 trials. The containers will need a thorough clean every five years.

Coping with climate change

Tourists typically navigate Venice flooding on raised walkways.
Tourists typically navigate Venice flooding on raised walkways.

The big question, of course, is how the MOSE can hold up to climate change. 

After the flood of December 2020, Claudio Vernier, president of the Associazione Piazza San Marco, which represents business owners in St. Mark’s Square, told that when the MOSE was initially planned, it was estimated that it would hit 110 centimeters only a couple of times a year.

“Now with the worsening climate crisis, the water level is always higher, and we see that kind of tide level 20 times a year – what will happen in 30 years?”, he asked.

Spitz and Soru, however, insist that the barriers will last longer than that.

“A study on corrosion we did a few months ago said that it can last for 100 years, but must be maintained every three months,” says Soru.

“If in 100 years the barriers aren’t enough, and we can’t hold off 3-meter tides, I can tell you the problem won’t be Venice,” adds Spitz.

“The lagoon is closed now. The protection is more than sufficient, the barriers are what they are. But you would need to think about protecting other areas – the problem would be much more in the Po delta [which covers much of northern Italy]. 

“If climate change is dramatic, there will be serious problems elsewhere. You’d need to look elsewhere, not at Venice.”

In the meantime, plans have been mooted to partially power the MOSE through solar panels. Installing them at Malamocco could provide 20% of power – but Spitz hopes to make the project carbon neutral within three years, to stand it in good stead for the future. 

Spitz arrived in 2019, well after the corruption trials of the MOSE. “I know there were scandals, I’ve read about them, and it’s right that they’re stigmatized and the people who did it were punished,” she says.

“But despite everything that happened with the MOSE, I say, long live the MOSE. Because it protects Venice.”

If she’s right, the devastating flood of November 2019 – which killed two and caused $1 billion damage to local businesses which have yet to recover, might be a thing of the past. And La Serenissima can rest a little more, well, serene. 

Read more

Coal miners want Joe Manchin to reverse opposition to Build Back Better

Senator Joe Manchin is facing calls from a powerful group close to his heart to reconsider his opposition to the Build Back Better Act: Coal miners, CNN reports.

A day after the West Virginia Democrat appeared to kill Build Back Better, America’s largest coal mining union put out a statement lauding the legislation’s provisions and pushing Manchin to take a do-over. 

“We are disappointed that the bill will not pass,” Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said in the statement on Monday. “We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families and their communities.” 

The 131-year-old UMWA called out several items that it believes are crucial to its members and communities, including extending the fee paid by coal companies to fund benefits received by victims of black lung. 

“But now that fee will be cut in half, further shifting the burden of paying these benefits away from the coal companies and on to taxpayers,” Roberts said. 

Another benefit in Build Back Better cited by the UMWA: tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to build facilities in coalfields, employing thousands of coal miners who are out of work.

“Now the potential for those jobs is significantly threatened,” Roberts said. 

Roberts also cited a provision in the legislation that would penalize employers that deny workers their rights to form a union on the job. 

The union said it has a “long and friendly relationship” with Manchin. 

“We remain grateful for his hard work to preserve the pensions and health care of our retirees across the nation, including thousands in West Virginia,” Roberts said. “He has been at our side as we have worked to preserve coal miners’ jobs in a changing energy marketplace and we appreciate that very much.

“Sam Runyon, Manchin’s communications director, said Tuesday that Manchin “has always been a strong advocate for the UMWA and led legislation to address the black lung excise tax expiration.”

“He will of course continue to work to shore up the black lung excise tax in the New Year to address the needs of our brave miners,” Runyon said.

Opposing Build Back Better

Manchin announced on Sunday his opposition to Build Back Better, citing concerns about the pandemic, inflation and geopolitical uncertainty. He also pointed to concerns about the legislation in his home state. 

“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it,'” Manchin said. “Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.” 

The coal miners union is also strongly pressuring Manchin to act on voting rights. 

“I also want to reiterate our support for the passage of voting rights legislation as soon as possible, and strongly encourage Senator Manchin and every other Senator to be prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that,” Roberts, the union president, said in the statement. “Anti-democracy legislators and their allies are working every day to roll back the right to vote in America. Failure by the Senate to stand up to that is unacceptable and a dereliction of their duty to the Constitution.”

Read more

A rush to mine lithium in Nevada is pitting climate advocates and environmental groups against each other

In an ancient and now extinct supervolcano sitting in northern Nevada lies a treasure that its seekers call “white gold”, CNN reports.

This metal isn’t to trade or to make jewelry out of – it’s lithium, and its value lies in its role in potentially slashing the world’s carbon emissions.

President Joe Biden’s plan to transform the US to clean, low-carbon economy energy depends on switching to electric vehicles, and that means replacing gas with batteries, which are made from critical minerals like lithium. 

But in the US, doing so is not without controversy. 

Lithium is a key ingredient for the big, rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines — keeping that energy in use even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. 

Obtaining these minerals, which some call the new “white gold,” is part of the latest worldwide rush to produce clean energy. Earlier this year, the Biden administration released a strategic plan from several federal agencies detailing how it planned to improve the entire supply chain for critical minerals like lithium — from extracting it from US mines to putting it in batteries, to recycling and reusing these batteries. 

“America has a clear opportunity to build back our domestic supply chain and manufacturing sectors, so we can capture the full benefits of an emerging $23 trillion global clean energy economy,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in June. 

In the US, the major lithium prospect is a large deposit in Thacker Pass, Nevada, and another lithium deposit sits in North Carolina. The Thacker Pass lithium deposit is one of the world’s largest, sitting in an ancient, and now-extinct, supervolcano. 

A proposal to start mining lithium by Lithium Nevada Corporation – a subsidiary of Lithium Americas Corp. – was approved by the US Bureau of Land Management in January. 

“It’s the largest-known lithium deposit in North America, so given where we’re going globally and as a country, it’s a unique opportunity,” Jonathan Evans, president and CEO at Lithium Americas Corp. 

Evans told that currently, the bulk of lithium chemicals used in the US are imported from other countries. Lithium-rich countries including Chile and Bolivia are heavy exporters. Evans said that with lithium deposits in the US and Canada, “it’s not lost on state governments and the federal that everyone wants to play in that and we have the resources to do it.” 

Lithium and cobalt mining for electric cars has been controversial globally for years, in part because of its environmental destruction, the short lifespan of batteries and in some countries, because child labor has been used in the process.

And as a “white gold” rush comes to the US, not everyone is thrilled about the rush to mine it. 

Not everyone is on board 

Lithium Americas hopes to break ground on its mining project in early 2022. CNN traveled to Nevada and found the rush to procure critical minerals in the United States has pitted environmental advocates against each other. 

Some climate advocates say the rush to mine lithium is critical for a larger transition away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Other local environmental groups and tribal nations oppose the project, concerned about disturbing sacred tribal burial grounds as well as potential environmental impacts. Three tribal groups tried to stop it through lawsuits — which were dismissed by a judge in September. 

“A lot of us understand blowing up a mountain for coal mining is wrong; I think blowing up a mountain for lithium mining is just as wrong,” said Max Wilbert, an environmental organizer who is camping out at Thacker Pass to protest the mine’s development. 

Wilbert cited several reasons he is against the lithium mine: environmental impacts to sage grouse and antelope, potential water pollution for surrounding communities and cultural issues for the local indigenous community, which considers the land on and around Thacker Pass sacred burial grounds. 

Wilbert is currently camping out in frigid Nevada desert winter conditions in a tribal ceremonial camp, and he and other advocates say they’re willing to stand in front of mining machinery to try to stop the project from going forward. 

“Our laws haven’t caught up to the reality of what’s happening to our planet, and so people might have to break the law in order to change what’s happening,” he said. “Electric cars won’t actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions that much; they will reduce emissions but not by a sizable amount.” 

Driving gas-powered vehicles in the US comes at a cost to the climate. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation account for nearly 30% of total US emissions; more than any other sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Glenn Miller, a retired professor of environmental science at the University of Nevada Reno, disagreed – tellin the Thacker Pass project is a “relatively benign mine for its size.” 

Miller said he thinks the clean energy benefits of mining lithium in Nevada outweigh environmental concerns – especially when it comes to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions worsening global climate change. 

“Those who say it isn’t going to make any difference, they’re simply wrong,” Miller said. “Radical environmentalists are going to argue that the only way to solve the climate change problem is to drive a whole lot less and to not burn gasoline or coal. Well, that’s not going to happen – the demands of society are set so we’re going to have to have an active transportation industry.” 

Miller told that lithium is the key ingredient that will power the transition to electric vehicles. 

“There’s no other metal that can work as well as lithium,” Miller said. “We’re going to need a lot of batteries to run the cars that we’re going to have on the road. It’s going to be a very positive contribution to mitigating climate change.” 

Evans told that his company is engaging community stakeholders, and local and state governments about the mine’s plans.

“It’s very important that this transition is done as sustainable as possible,” Evans said, stressing his company is committed to mitigating the environmental impacts of the mining as much as it can, by conserving water use and trying to lessen carbon emissions as it extracts the mineral. 

“It’s not the cheapest, but it’s essential as we move to this phase to ensure we do things as responsibly as possible.”

Read more