A Giant Hole Is Swallowing a Town in Peru
When we arrived in Cerro de Pasco, a medium-size city in the high Peruvian sierra, it was night. We inched through the crowded, twisting streets past a large statue of Daniel Carrión, a legendary medical student who stands there with a syringe in his hand, injecting himself with the disease that’s named in his honor. In the colonial quarter, we abruptly came to a wall, painted alternately with graffiti and the words private property. I could sense a great emptiness on the other side, like when you’re by the ocean but cannot quite see it.
I climbed a rock and peeked over. All around in the distance the city was aglow. Plunging out before me was the hole, void of light but for the tiny headlights of trucks crawling around its sides. This is El Tajo: the Pit.
In Andean cosmology, Earth is Pachamama—Mother Earth—and this massive polymetal mine is the locus of a literal penetration. It is 1.2 miles wide and as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. All day and all night, the rock-grinding machinery produces a low mechanical groan, which is amplified tremendously by the pit’s speaker-like shape. It is the sound of the city being eaten alive.
Photo by the author.
Cerro de Pasco is an environmental and urban catastrophe. The pit, which opened in 1956, is in the middle of the city—not beside it but in it. As it grows, thousands of families have had to move into unplanned urban developments, most of which lack basic sanitation. Now the city is running out of space. In 2008, Peru’s congress passed Law No. 29293, calling for the resettlement of the entire population of 67,000. But the law has gone unheeded.
"I’m in the process of divesting. I took the pledge," Ruffalo told me, "between 3-5 years, to completely divest in any fossil fuels or anything climate change related and put it into renewable or clean tech." Ruffalo had just been a guest on Al Gore’s fourth annual 24 Hours of Climate Reality program, and he was enthused.
I really enjoyed speaking to Motherboard about 24 Hours of Climate Reality, divesting from fossil fuels and why I’m so passionate about fighting climate change. If you’re interested, you can read the whole interview HERE.
Hell Will Freeze Over Before Chevron Pays for Pollution
When 30,000 Ecuadorian villagers sued Chevron in 1993 for devastating the Amazon with 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, the US-based oil giant’s reply was simple: “We will fight [the lawsuit] until hell freezes over,” said a representative. “And then fight it out on the ice.”
After investigators documented what they call a “Rainforest Chernobyl”—17 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than 1,000 open waste pits full of toxic waste polluting the drinking water, and thousands of victims of cancer and birth defects—it seemed justice was served for the villagers. In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ruled against Chevron and demanded the company pay $19 billion in restitution. Ecuador’s Supreme Court later reduced the damages to $9.5 billion but upheld that ruling.
But on Tuesday, a U.S. court effectively overturned the ruling, which means Chevron has won the fight and hell, apparently, has frozen over. They’ve won using what activists say are dirty tactics, including filing a countersuit against the Ecuadorian villagers, claiming they had lied all along about the pollution caused to their properties as part of a shakedown scheme.
Chevron hired a legal team of more than 60 law firms and 2,000 legal professionals to argue that it’s not the villagers who are the victims here—it’s the corporation.
The Smog of War: China Battles Pollution
China’s environmental problems have become such an embarrassment to its leadership that the country suddenly finds itself on a war footing. On Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang, the second-ranked political leader and head of economic policy, formally declared a “war on pollution” in a speech before the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress. The reform is welcome news, but overdue — and the outlook of the strategy Li outlined is about as clear as the morning sky on your run-of-the-mill, suffocating Beijing day.
Li called for the closure of 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces, the removal of 6 million old, emissions-belching vehicles from the streets, and new guidelines for air quality improvement in seriously affected northern Chinese cities. He described the state of Beijing’s air as “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”
Chemical Valley, Part 1
Forty percent of Canada’s petrochemical industry is packed into a 15-square-mile area in Sarnia, Ontario, called the Chemical Valley. More than 60 chemical plants and oil refineries operate there 24/7. As a result of the Chemical Valley’s emissions, in 2011 the World Health Organization gave Sarnia the title of the “worst air” in all of Canada.
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Romania’s Fish Aren’t Being Asphyxiated (Just Poisoned)
Remember that time thousands of dead birds fell out of the sky above Arkansas? Well, nature is back on the warparth. In May, reports emerged of thousands of dead fish floating along the Arieş River in Romania. The explanation the local administration came up with was that the fish had died from asphyxiation, caused by the mud brought in by heavy rains in the area. However, local NGOs have good reason to suspect that it was humans who caused the calamity, not a bit of rain churning up mud at the bottom of the river.
This isn’t the first time the Arieş has suffered. There is an artificial lake in the nearby town of Valea Șesii, and many say that it is often to blame for the Arieş’s problems. Or rather, the Cuprumin Company, owner of the nearby Roşia Poieni copper mine, is to blame, as it seems to be dumping all of its waste into said lake.
In 1999, several thousand cubic meters of water and sludge containing cyanide and heavy metals were released from the Baia de Aries gold mine into the Arieș River. All the fish died and the drinking-water supply for the nearby city of Turda was disrupted. In 2004, all plant and animal life in the Arieş River mystically perished.
In 2008, millions of dead fish floated along the river for three days because Cuprumin had forgotten to charge the electric pumps that protected the area from biohazards. In 2011, a pipe broke and 100 tons of waste poured into the Curmătura River before making its way into the Arieș River. Finally, last year a few mineshafts were flooded, which caused the red water to spill into the Arieș. However, no dead fish were reported. Every year, Cuprumin receives fines from the local authorities, yet these are obviously minor compared to the damage and don’t seem to be having much, if any, effect whatsoever.
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