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Tuesday, May 07, 2013 3:04 PM
After a modified, anti-fracking Smokey
the Bear went viral, the U.S.
Forest Service threatened legal action against
the activist who created it. The case now revolves around fair use, culture
jamming, and just whose side the Forest
Service is really on.
This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
Smokey the Bear thought he smelled a fire in the woods. But as he approached
the clearing and saw a giant derrick jutting out into the sky, he realized that
what his nose had picked up was the scent of hydrocarbons. It was another piece
of evidence that the increasingly widespread method of oil and gas extraction
known as fracking was poisoning the environment that he and his human friends
depend on. He decided something must be done.
At least that’s the way that artist, Occupy Wall Street veteran and
environmental activist Lopi LaRoe
sees it. But last week she received a letter threatening her with jail time and
thousands of dollars in fines for enlisting Smokey to the anti-fracking cause.
In the fall, LaRoe created an image of Smokey that altered his famous
invective “Only you can prevent forest fires” to “Only you can prevent faucet
fires” — a reference to the phenomenon of flaming taps
that occasionally occur near where fracking takes place. The adjustment seemed
to her in line with the message of conservation Smokey has come to embody.
“This is the radicalization of Smokey the Bear,” said LaRoe. “This is Smokey
waking up and saying, ‘Oh you didn’t do that to my environment.’ Smokey wants
to fight the corporations and protect the air and the water and the plants and
the animals and the people.”
Her parody went viral. She began printing T-shirts at the insistence of
friends on Facebook, but demand quickly surpassed those in her immediate circle
of contacts. Soon she was packing Smokey in FedEx envelopes and sending him off
and other far-flung terrains. There are also tote bags and patches with the
Smokey meme available at LaRoe’s website.
(The tote bags, she advertises, are “great for dumpster diving.”) LaRoe says
she’s not out to become rich and the money she charges customers goes toward
covering her costs so that she can keep spreading the message of faucet-fire
prevention far and wide.
“It spread like wildfire,” she said, grinning ear to ear.
Not everyone is amused. LaRoe received a cease-and-desist letter from the
Metis Group, which serves as legal counsel for the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Forest Service division. The letter informs LaRoe that Smokey,
his character and his slogan are property of the U.S. government and warns that she
has until May 2 to halt the use of Smokey on her “products” and to stop
distributing electronic copies of the meme. Otherwise, she faces up to six
months in prison and a penalty as high as $150,000.
“Any time anybody uses Smokey’s image for anything other than wildfire
prevention,” said Helene Cleveland, fire prevention program manager for the
Forest Service, “it confuses the public. What we’re trying to do is keep Smokey
on message.” Cleveland
added that the 1952 Smokey
the Bear Act takes the character out of the public domain and “any change
in that would have to go through Congress.”
Two other entities besides the Forest Service claim joint rights to Smokey.
The National Association of State Foresters — a non-profit organization
consisting of directors of U.S.
forestry agencies — and the Ad Council.
Remember “This is your brain on drugs”? Or the Indian
weeping over pollution? They were the Ad Council’s handiwork. A non-profit,
it describes itself as a promoter of “public service campaigns on behalf of
non-profit organizations and government agencies” with a focus on “improving
the quality of life for children, preventive health, education, community well
being and strengthening families.” Smokey the Bear was born at the Ad Council,
on the desk of abstract
expressionist and Marx-influenced art critic Harold Rosenberg, who had a
part time job there in the mid-1940s.
Council’s board of directors is a conflagration of representatives of the
world’s wealthiest corporations, including representatives of such companies as
General Electric, which announced
plans last month to spend $110 million on a research lab devoted to the
study of fracking, and finance giants such as Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. On
Citibank advertises an “extensive array of deposit, cash management and credit
products” for oil and gas drillers, while
a JPMorgan Chase subsidiary boasts its “Oil & Gas Investment Banking
group covers the complete oil and gas value chain, which includes exploration
and production, natural gas processing and transmission, refining and
marketing, and oilfield services.”
LaRoe believes that those who claim to own Smokey “don’t care that I’m
selling a few T-shirts. They’re out to crush the meme.”
Both the Ad Council and the Metis Group declined to comment for this story.
Despite the warnings in the cease-and-desist letter she received, the May 2
deadline to shut down her site and retire her anti-fracking Smokey came and
went; LaRoe has not ceased or desisted. Instead, she enlisted the help of her
own legal counsel, who fired back with a letter to the Metis Group on Friday.
In it, attorney Evan Sarzin argues that LaRoe ‘s culture-jam
appropriation of Smokey is permissible under the fair-use exemption to
exclusive copyright ownership and chides the the Forest Service for attempting
to infringe on LaRoe’s First Amendment rights.
Sarzin also points out that this is not the first time the Forest Service
has sought to silence environmentalists for appropriating Smokey’s image. In
the early 1990s, the Forest Service demanded reparations from the Sante
Fe-based conservation group LightHawk after it used Smokey’s likeness in ads
critical of the agency’s practice of auctioning off land to timber companies.
(The Forest Service, as part of the Department of Agriculture, makes its land
available for commercial use.) Unlike LaRoe’s Smokey, LightHawk’s black bear
appeared angry and wielded a chainsaw. “Say it ain’t so, Smokey,” read the ads.
With legal funds provided by the Sierra Club, LightHawk sued
the Forest Service in 1992 for infringing on its freedom of speech. The court
eventually sided with the plaintiffs, noting that “the satirical use of Smokey
the Bear to criticize Forest Service management techniques is unlikely to cause
confusion or to dilute the value of Smokey the Bear to help prevent forest
fires. Thus the Forest Service cannot have a compelling interest in prohibiting
Sarzin also calls attention to the fact the Forest Service’s own research
points to environmental degradation caused by fracking. A 2011 study
published in the Journal of Environmental Quality by Forest Service
frack fluid to the death of 150 trees in West Virginia’s
Monongahela National Forest. Despite their findings,
the Forest Service is considering approving fracking leases in the nearby George Washington
National Forest. The
Southern Environmental Law Center, which opposes the plan, says
it represents a threat to local wildlife — including the black bear.
released last month by the the National Parks Conservation Association warns
that fracking for oil is decimating the ecosystem surrounding Theodore
Roosevelt National Park, named after the Republican president who founded the
Forest Service. “Unless we take quick action,” the report warns “air, water and
wildlife will experience permanent harm in other national parks as well.” Thus,
Sarzin writes, LaRoe’s Smokey meme “is a message that the Forest Service should
LaRoe hopes that by gaining publicity she can force the Forest Service to
take a stand against fracking. In order to continue the fight, however, she
says she needs the support of groups whose mission it is to defend civil
liberties or protect the environment to provide legal defense funds — just as
the Sierra Club did for LightHawk.
“This about more than me as an artist,” LaRoe said. “This is about
everybody’s right to freedom of speech and a healthy environment.”
Her childhood memories of Smokey, she explains, are compelling her to keep
raising faucet-fire prevention awareness despite the threat of jail time. “When
we were little kids we were taught that there is this bear out there that wants
to protect our forests. Smokey is our bear. He belongs to the people.”
Images of Smokey the Bear meme and
T-shirt by Lopi LaRoe/WePay.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 4:10 PM
As in 2004
and 2008, Rebecca Solnit and her blue-state henchwomen and men will probably
invade northern Nevada
on election week to swing with one of the most swinging states in the union.
She is, however, much more excited about 350.org’s
ten thousand faces of Occupy
now changing the world.
Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, including two due out next year, and a regular contributor to
She lives in San Francisco, is from kindergarten to graduate school a
product of the once-robust California public educational system, and her
A Paradise Built in Hell
is the One City/One Book choice of the San Francisco Public Library this fall. She was named an Utne Visionary in 2010
As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the
season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional
version of Paradise. You know, the place where
nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already
been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you
asked for, and I wish it were otherwise -- but to do good work, to be
necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least
there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.
Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the
battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or
lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the
reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern
Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial
For millions of years, this world has been a great gift
to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air,
water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us -- the big
us, including forests and oceans, species large and small -- to flourish. (Or
rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.)
And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit
of a few members of a single species.
The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something
more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to
adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable,
sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now -- from sea snails
whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors
facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has
pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys
have largely melted.
This is not just an issue for environmentalists who love
rare species and remote places: if you care about children, health, poverty,
the economy, you really have no choice but to care about
The reasons for acting may be somber, but the fight is a
gift and an honor. What it will give you in return is meaning, purpose, hope,
your best self, some really good company, and the satisfaction of being part of
victories also to come. But what victory means needs to be imagined on a whole
new scale as the news worsens.
Unwrapping the Victories
“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero,” Galileo famously
says in Bertold Brecht’s play about that renegade scientist, but at least, the
hero has the possibility of doing something about that unhappiness, as, for
instance, the Sierra Club has. It’s led the fight against big coal,
helping prevent 168 coal-powered plants from opening and retiring 125 dirty
coal plants. The aim of its Beyond Coal campaign is to retire all 522 such
plants in the United States,
which would be a colossal triumph.
Its victories also capture what a lot of our greenest
gifts look like: nothing. The regions that weren’t fracked, the coal plants that didn’t open, the mountaintops that weren’t
blasted by mining corporations, the children who didn’t get asthma
or mercury poisoning from coal emissions, the carbon that stayed
in the Earth and never made it into the atmosphere. The Keystone XL tar sands
pipeline bringing the dirtiest of dirty energy from Canada to the Gulf Coast might have
already opened without the activists who ringed the White House and committed themselves across the continent.
In eastern Texas,
for instance, extraordinary acts of civil disobedience have been going on
continuously since August, including three blockaders who this month crawled inside
a length of the three-foot-in-diameter pipeline and refused to leave. People
have been using their bodies, getting in the way of heavy equipment, and going
to jail in an effort to prevent the pipeline from being built. A lot of them
are the same kind of robust young people who kept the Occupy encampments going
earlier in 2012, but great-grandmothers, old men, and middle-aged
people like me have been crucial players, too.
Meanwhile in British
Columbia, where pipeline profiteers were looking into
alternate routes to transport their climate-destroying products abroad, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation evicted surveyors and politely declared war on them. In Ohio and New
York, the fight against fracking is going strong.
Across the Atlantic, France
has banned fracking, while Germany has made astounding progress toward using carbon-neutral energy
sources. If solar works there, we have no excuse. And as Ellen Cantarow wrote at TomDispatch of the anti-fracking movement in New
York State, “Caroline, a small hamlet in Tompkins County (population 3,282), is
the second town in the state to get 100% of its electricity through wind power
and one of the most recent to pass a fracking ban.”
Everywhere people are at work to build a better world in
which we -- and some of the beauty of this world -- will be guaranteed to
survive. Everywhere they are at war with the forces threatening us and the
planet. I usually avoid war metaphors, but this time it’s barely a metaphor.
Our side isn’t violent, but it is engaged in a battle, and people are putting
their bodies on the line and their lives behind the cause. The other side is
intent on maximizing its profit at the cost of nearly everything.
My father, a high-school student during the Second World
War, followed the campaigns closely with pins on a wall map to represent troops
and battles. You could map North America that way now and see, when you added
up the struggles against drilling in the Arctic, fracking, mountaintop removal, and
the various other depredations of big coal and big oil, that remarkable things
are already being done. In this war, resistance has been going on for a long
time, so overlooked by the mainstream media it might as well be as underground
as the French Resistance back then.
A lot of it is on a small scale, but if you connect the
pieces you get a big picture of the possible, the hopeful, and the powerful.
Think of each of those small acts of defending the Earth as a gift to you. And
think of your own power, a gift always latent within you that demands you give
If you’re reading this, you’re already in the
conversation. No matter who you are, or where, there is something for you to
do: educate yourself and others, write letters, organize or join local groups,
participate in blockades and demonstrations, work on divestment from oil
corporations (if you’re connected to a university), and make this issue central
to the conversations and politics of our time.
I’ve started working directly on various projects with 350.org, whose global impact and
reinvention of activist tactics I’ve long admired. Its creator Bill McKibben has evolved from a merely great writer to a
pivotal climate organizer and a gift to all of us.
The world you live in is not a given; much of what is
best in it has been built through the struggles of passionate activists over
the last centuries. They won us many freedoms and protected many beauties.
Count those gifts among your growing heap.
Drawing the Line
Here’s another gift you’ve already received: the lines in
the battle to come are being ever more clearly drawn. Clarity is a huge asset.
It helps when you know where you stand, who stands with you -- and who against
We have returned to class war in conflicts around the
world -- including the Chicago Teacher’s Strike of 2012 and the Walmart protests in this country (which led to 1,197
actions nationwide in support of that company’s underpaid workers on Black Friday), as well as the great student uprisings in Quebec and Mexico City.
There has, of course, been a war against working people
and the poor for decades, only we didn’t call it “class war” when just the rich
were fighting hard. We called it corporate globalization, the race to the
bottom, tax cuts and social-service cuts, privatization, neoliberalism, and a
hundred other things. Now that the poor are fighting back, we can call it by
its old name. Perhaps what the conservatives have forgotten is that if you
return us to the grim divides and dire poverty of the nineteenth century, you
might also be returning us to the revolutionary spirit of that century.
This time, though, it’s not only about work and money.
The twenty-first century class war is engulfing the natural world on which
everything rests. We can see how clearly the great environmental battle of our
time is about money, about who benefits from climate destruction (the very few)
and who loses (everyone else for all time to come and nearly every living
thing). This year, Hurricane Sandy and a crop-destroying, Mississippi-River-withering drought that had more than 60% of the nation in its grip made it clear that
climate change is here and it’s now and it hurts.
In 2012, many have come to see that climate change is an
economic issue, and that economics is a moral and ecological issue. Why so
little has been done about the state of the climate in the past three decades
has everything to do with who profits. Not long ago, too many Americans were on
the fence, swayed by the oil companypropaganda war about whether climate change even exists.
However, this month, according to the Associated Press, “Four out of every five
Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States
if nothing is done about it.” That widespread belief suggests that potentially
broad support now exists and may be growing for a movement that makes climate
change -- the broiling of the Earth -- central, urgent, and everybody’s
Ten years ago too, many people thought the issue could be
addressed, if at all, through renunciatory personal virtue in private life:
buying Priuses, compact fluorescents, and the like. Now most people who care at
all know that the necessary changes won’t happen through consumer choice alone.
What’s required are pitched battles against the most powerful (and profitable)
entities on Earth, the oil and energy companies and the politicians who serve
them instead of us.
That clarity matters and those conflicts are already
underway but need to grow. That’s our world right now, clear as a cold winter
day, sharp as broken glass.
Putting Aside Paradise
When I remember the world I grew up in, I see the parts
of it that were Paradise -- and I also see all
the little hells. I was a kid in California
when it had the best public education system in the world and universities
were nearly free and the economy was not so hard on people and the rich paid a
lot of taxes. The weather was predictable and we weren’t thinking about it
changing any time before the next ice age.
That was, however, the same California where domestic
violence was not something the law took an interest in, where gays and lesbians
were openly discriminated against, where almost all elected officials were
white men, where people hadn’t even learned to ask questions about exclusion
Which is to say, paradises are always partial and, when
you look backward, it’s worth trying to see the whole picture. The rights
gained over the past 35 years were fought for, hard, while so much of what was
neglected -- including public education, tuition, wages, banking regulation,
corporate power, and working hours -- slid into hell.
When you fight, you sometimes win; when you don’t, you
Here’s another gift we have right now: the young. There
are quite a lot of heroes among them, including the Dreamers or Dream Act
activists standing up for immigrants; the occupiers who challenged Wall Street in its home and
elsewhere around the country, became the unofficial first responders who aided the
victims of Hurricane Sandy, and have camped out on the doorstep
of Goldman Sachs’s CEO these last few months; the young who blockaded that
tar-sands pipeline, supplied the tremendous vitality of 350.org globally, and
have just begun to organize to pressure universities to divest from fossil fuel companies on 192 campuses across
In 2012, they rose up from Egypt
and Russia to Canada and Chile. They are fighting for
themselves and their future, but for us, too. They have remarkably few
delusions about how little our world is prepared to offer most of them. They
know that the only gifts they’ll get are the ones they can wrestle free from
the powers that be.
overrated. We dream of the cessation of misery, but who really wants a world
without difficulty? We learn through mistakes and suffering. These are the
minerals that harden our bones and the milestones on the roads we travel. And
we are made to travel, not to sit still.
Take pleasure in the route. There is terrible suffering
of many kinds in many places, but solidarity consists of doing something about
it, not being miserable. In this heroic age, survival is also going to require
seeing what fragments of paradise are still around us, what still blooms,
what’s still unimaginably beautiful about rivers, oceans, and evening skies,
what exhilaration there is in witnessing the stubbornness of small children and
their discovery of a world we think we know. All these are gifts as well.
Ice Breaking Up
As you gear up for 2013, don’t forget that 2012 has been
an extraordinary year. Who ever thought we’d see Aung San Suu Kyi elected to
office in her native Burma
and free to travel after so many years of house arrest? Who expected that the
United Nations would suddenly vote to give Palestine observer state status? Who foresaw
that the silly misinterpretations of Mayan prophesy would be overtaken by the
Mayan Zapatistas, who rose once again last Friday? (Meanwhile, Canada's Native people started a dynamic movement
around indigenous rights and the environment that has led to everything from flash-mob dances in an Edmonton Mall to demonstrations in Ottawa.)
Who thought that Occupy Wall Street, roundly dismissed by
the mainstream on its one-year anniversary, would spawn two superhero projects,
Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt? (Who among the police officers clubbing and
tear-gassing the young Occupiers in 2011 thought that a year later these would
be the people with the power and the generosity to come to their aid when a
climate-fed storm wrecked their homes?) Keep it in mind: the future is not
predictable. Sometimes, the world changes suddenly and in profound ways.
Sometimes we make it do so.
Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln is a reminder about what it
means to fight for what matters most. Permanently freeing five million slaves
and abolishing slavery forever meant renouncing a cheap power source in use for
more than 200 years. Doing so was initially inconceivable and then a matter of
indifference except to the slaves themselves and small groups of abolitionists.
Next, it was daringly radical, then partisan, with the whole nation taking
sides, the fuel for a terrible war. Finally, it was the law of the land. Today,
we need to give up on, or at least radically reduce our reliance on, another
set of power sources: oil, coal, and natural gas.
This is, among other things, a war of the imagination:
the carbon profiteers and their politicians are hoping you don’t connect the
dots, or imagine the various futures we could make or they could destroy, or
grasp the remarkably beautiful and complex ways the natural world has worked to
our benefit and is now being sabotaged, or discover your conscience and voice,
or ever picture how different it could all be, how different it will need to
They are already at war against the wellbeing of our
Earth. Their greed has no limits, their imagination nothing but limits. Fight
back. You have the power. It’s one of your gifts.
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Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy
Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2012 Rebecca Solnit
Image by Nattu,
licensed under Creative
Friday, October 05, 2012 4:41 PM
fossil-fuel enthusiasts began trumpeting the dawn of a new “golden age of oil”
that would kick-start the American economy, generate millions of new jobs, and
free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum. Ed Morse, head
commodities analyst at Citibank, was typical. In the Wall Street Journal
he crowed, “The United States has become the fastest-growing
oil and gas producer in the world, and is likely to remain so for the rest of this
decade and into the 2020s.”
Once this surge
in U.S. energy production
was linked to a predicted boom in energy from Canada’s tar sands reserves, the
results seemed obvious and uncontestable. “North America,” he announced, “is
becoming the new Middle East.” Many other
analysts have elaborated similarly on this rosy scenario, which now provides
the foundation for Mitt Romney’s plan to achieve “energy independence” by 2020.
By employing impressive new technologies -- notably deepwater drilling and
hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) -- energy companies were said to be on
the verge of unlocking vast new stores of oil in Alaska,
the Gulf of Mexico, and shale formations across the United States. “A ‘Great Revival’
oil production is taking shape -- a major break from the near 40-year trend of
falling output,” James Burkhard of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates
(CERA) told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
in January 2012.
output was also predicted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada and Brazil. “The outline of a new world
oil map is emerging, and it is centered not on the Middle East but on the Western Hemisphere,” Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, wrote in the Washington Post. “The new energy axis
runs from Alberta, Canada,
down through North Dakota and South Texas...
to huge offshore oil deposits found near Brazil.”
It turns out,
however, that the future may prove far more recalcitrant than these prophets of
an American energy cornucopia imagine. To reach their ambitious targets, energy
firms will have to overcome severe geological and environmental barriers -- and
recent developments suggest that they are going to have a tough time doing so.
while many analysts and pundits joined in the premature celebration of the new
“golden age,” few emphasized that it would rest almost entirely on the
exploitation of “unconventional” petroleum resources -- shale oil, oil shale,
Arctic oil, deep offshore oil, and tar sands (bitumen). As for conventional oil
(petroleum substances that emerge from the ground in liquid form and can be
extracted using familiar, standardized technology), no one doubts that it will
continue its historic decline in North America.
“unconventional” oil that is to liberate the U.S. and its neighbors from the
unreliable producers of the Middle East involves substances too hard or viscous
to be extracted using standard technology or embedded in forbidding locations
that require highly specialized equipment for extraction. Think of it as “tough oil.”
Shale oil, for
instance, is oil trapped in shale rock. It can only be liberated through the
application of concentrated force in a process known as hydraulic
fracturing that requires millions of gallons of chemically laced water per
“frack,” plus the subsequent disposal of vast quantities of toxic wastewater
once the fracking has been completed. Oil
shale, or kerogen, is a primitive form of petroleum that must be melted to
be useful, a process that itself consumes vast amounts of energy. Tar
sands (or “oil sands,” as the industry prefers to call them) must be gouged
from the earth using open-pit mining technology or pumped up after first being
melted in place by underground steam jets, then treated with various chemicals.
Only then can the material be transported to refineries via, for example, the
highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Similarly, deepwater and Arctic
drilling requires the deployment of specialized multimillion-dollar rigs along
with enormously costly backup safety systems under the most dangerous of
All these processes have at least one thing in common: each
pushes the envelope of what is technically possible in extracting oil (or
natural gas) from geologically and geographically forbidding environments. They
are all, that is, versions of “extreme energy.” To produce them, energy companies will
have to drill in extreme temperatures or extreme weather, or use extreme
pressures, or operate under extreme danger -- or some combination of all of
these. In each, accidents, mishaps, and setbacks are guaranteed to be more
frequent and their consequences more serious than in conventional drilling
operations. The apocalyptic poster child for these processes already played out
in 2010 with BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf
of Mexico, and this summer we saw intimations of how it will
happen again as a range of major unconventional drilling initiatives -- all
promising that “golden age” -- ran into serious trouble.
most notable example of this was Shell Oil’s costly failure to commence test
drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. After investing $4.5 billion and years of preparation, Shell was
poised to drill five test wells this summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas
northern and northwestern coasts. However, on September 17th, a series of
accidents and mishaps forced the company to announce that it would suspend operations until next summer
-- the only time when those waters are largely free of pack ice and so it is
safer to drill.
problems began early and picked up pace as the summer wore on. On September
10th, its Noble Discoverer drill ship was forced to abandon operations at the Burger Prospect, about 70 miles
offshore in the Chukchi
Sea, when floating sea
ice threatened the safety of the ship. A more serious setback occurred later in
the month when a containment dome designed to cover any leak that developed at
an undersea well malfunctioned during tests in Puget Sound in Washington State.
As Clifford Krauss noted in the New York Times, “Shell’s inability to
control its containment equipment in calm waters under predictable test
conditions suggested that the company would not be able to effectively stop a
sudden leak in treacherous Arctic waters, where powerful ice floes and gusty
winds would complicate any spill response.”
was also impeded by persistent opposition from environmentalists and native
groups. They have repeatedly brought suit to block its operations on the
grounds that Arctic drilling will threaten the survival of marine life
essential to native livelihoods and culture. Only after promising to take
immensely costly protective measures and winning the support of the Obama administration -- fearful of appearing
to block “job creation” or “energy independence” during a presidential campaign
-- did the company obtain the necessary permits to proceed. But some lawsuits
remain in play and, with this latest delay, Shell’s opponents will have added
time and ammunition.
Shell insist that the company will overcome all these hurdles and be ready to
drill next summer. But many observers view its experience as a deterrent to
future drilling in the Arctic. “As long as
Shell has not been able to show that they can get the permits and start to
drill, we’re a bit skeptical about moving forward,” said Tim Dodson of Norway’s Statoil. That company also
owns licenses for drilling in the Chukchi
Sea, but has now decided
to postpone operations until 2015 at the earliest.
unexpected impediment to the arrival of energy’s next “golden age” in North
America emerged even more unexpectedly from this summer’s record-breaking
drought, which still has 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land in its grip. The energy angle
on all this was, however, a surprise.
Any increase in
hydrocarbon output will require greater extraction of oil and gas from shale
rock, which can only be accomplished via hydro-fracking. More fracking, in
turn, means more water consumption. With the planet warming thanks to climate
change, such intensive droughts are expected to intensify in many regions, which means rising agricultural
demand for less water, including potentially in prime fracking locations like
the Bakken formation of North Dakota, the
Eagle Ford area of West Texas, and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania.
impact on hydro-fracking became strikingly evident when, in June and July,
wells and streams started drying up in many drought-stricken areas and drillers
suddenly found themselves competing with hard-pressed food-producers for whatever
water was available. “The amount of water needed for drilling is a double
whammy,” Chris Faulkner, the president and chief executive officer of Breitling Oil &
Gas, told Oil & Gas Journal in July. “We’re getting pushback
from farmers, and my fear is that it’s going to get worse.” In July, in fact,
the situation became so dire in Pennsylvania
that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission suspended permits for water withdrawals from the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, forcing some
drillers to suspend operations.
If this year’s
“endless summer” of unrelenting drought were just a fluke,
and we could expect abundant water in the future, the golden age scenario might
still be viable. But most climate scientists suggest that severe drought is
likely to become the “new normal” in many parts of the United States, putting the fracking
boom very much into question. “Bakken and Eagle Ford are our big keys to energy
independence,” Faulkner noted. “Without water, drilling shale gas and oil wells
is not possible. A continuing drought could cause our domestic production to
decline and derail our road to energy independence in a hurry.”
And then there
are those Canadian tar sands. Turning them into “oil” also requires vast amounts
of water, and climate-change-related shortages of that vital commodity are also
likely in Alberta, Canada, their heartland. In
addition, tar sands production releases far more greenhouse gas emissions than
conventional oil production, which has sparked its own fiercely determined
opposition in Canada, the United States, and Europe.
In the U.S.,
opposition to tar sands has until now largely focused on the construction of
XL pipeline, a $7 billion, 2,000-mile conduit that would carry diluted tar
sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast,
thousands of miles away. Parts of the Keystone system are already in place. If
completed, the pipeline is designed to carry 1.1 million barrels a day of
unrefined liquid across the United
opponents charge that the project will contribute to the acceleration
of climate change. It also exposes crucial underground water supplies in the Midwest to severe risk of contamination by the highly
corrosive tar-sands fluid (and pipeline leaks are commonplace). Citing the
closeness of its proposed route to the critical Ogallala
Aquifer, President Obama denied permission for its construction last January.
(Because it will cross an international boundary, the president gets to make
the call.) He is, however, expected to grant post-election approval to a new,
less aquifer-threatening route; Mitt Romney has vowed to give it his approval
on his first day in office.
Keystone XL were in place, the golden age of Canada’s tar sands won’t be in
sight -- not without yet more pipelines as the bitumen producers face mounting
opposition to their extreme operations. As a result of fierce resistance to
Keystone XL, led in large part by Bill McKibben, -- the public has become far more aware of
the perils of tar sands production. Resistance to it, for example, could stymie
plans to deliver tar sands oil to Portland, Maine (for transshipment by ship to refineries
elsewhere), via an existing pipeline that runs from Montreal
through Vermont and New
Hampshire to the Maine
coast. Environmentalists in New England are
already gearing up to oppose the plan.
If the U.S. proves too tough a nut to crack, Alberta has a backup plan: construction of the Northern
Gateway, a proposed pipeline through British Columbia
for the export of tar sands oil to Asia.
However, it, too, is running into trouble. Environmentalists and native
communities in that province are implacably opposed and have threatened civil disobedience to prevent its construction (with major
protests already set for October 22nd outside the Parliament
Building in Victoria).
sands oil across the Atlantic is likely to
have its own set of problems. The European Union is considering adopting rules that would label it a dirtier
form of energy, subjecting it to various penalties when imported into the European
Union. All of this is, in turn, has forced Albertan authorities to consider tough new environmental regulations that would make it more
difficult and costly to extract bitumen, potentially dampening the enthusiasm
of investors and so diminishing the future output of tar sands.
In a sense,
while the dreams of the boosters of these new forms of energy may thrill
journalists and pundits, their reality could be expressed this way: extreme
energy = extreme methods = extreme disasters = extreme opposition.
already many indications that the new “golden age” of North American oil is
unlikely to materialize as publicized, including an unusually rapid decline in oil output at existing shale oil drilling
operations in Montana.
is not a major producer, the decline there is significant because it is
occurring in part of the Bakken field, widely considered a major source of new
oil.) As for the rest of the Western Hemisphere,
there is little room for optimism there either when it comes to the “promise”
of extreme energy. Typically, for instance, a Brazilian court has ordered Chevron to cease production at its multibillion-dollar
Frade field in the Campos basin of Brazil’s
deep and dangerous Atlantic waters because of
repeated oil leaks. Doubts have meanwhile arisen over the ability of Petrobras, Brazil’s
state-controlled oil company, to develop the immensely challenging Atlantic
“pre-salt” fields on its own.
from unconventional oil operations in the U.S.
is likely to show some growth in the years ahead, there is no “golden age” on
the horizon, only various kinds of potentially disastrous scenarios. Those like
Mitt Romney who claim that the United
States can achieve energy “independence” by
2020 or any other near-term date are only fooling themselves, and perhaps some
elements of the American public. They may indeed employ such claims to gain
support for the rollback of what environmental protections exist against the
exploitation of extreme energy, but the United States will remain dependent
on Middle Eastern and African oil for the foreseeable future.
Of course, were
such a publicized golden age to come about, we would be burning vast quantities
of the dirtiest energy on the planet with truly disastrous consequences. The
truth is this: there is just one possible golden age for U.S. (or any other
kind of) energy and it would be based on a major push to produce breakthroughs
in climate-friendly renewables, especially wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and
only “golden” sight around is likely to be the sun on an ever hotter, ever
dirtier, ever more extreme planet.
Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College,
, and the author, most
The Race for What’s Left
. A movie based on one of his
earlier books, Blood and Oil, can be ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com.
Klare’s other books and articles are described at his website.
You can follow Klare’s work on Facebook.
Michael T. Klare
Image by Ray Bodden,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 10:25 AM
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
If the world can be seen in a
grain of sand, watch out. As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and
misery) in sand -- and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be
at your doorstep.
March in Wisconsin used to mean
snow on the ground, temperatures so cold that farmers worried about their cows
freezing to death. But as I traveled around rural townships and villages in
early March to interview people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin
of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” daytime temperatures soared to nearly 80
degrees -- bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.
In this troubling spring, Wisconsin’s prairies and
farmland fanned out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people.
Within their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds,
bald eagles wheeled in the sky, and deer leaped in the brush. And for the first
time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.
Yet this peaceful rural
landscape is swiftly becoming part of a vast assembly line in the corporate
race for the last fossil fuels on
the planet. The target: the sand in the land of the cranes.
Five hundred million years
ago, an ocean surged here, shaping a unique wealth of hills and bluffs that,
under mantles of greenery and trees, are sandstone. That sandstone contains a
particularly pure form of crystalline silica. Its grains, perfectly rounded,
are strong enough to resist the extreme pressures of the technology called
hydraulic fracturing, which pumps vast quantities of that sand, as well as
water and chemicals, into ancient shale formations to force out methane and
other forms of “natural gas.”
That sand, which props open
fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking
industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are
descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will
later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to
produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is
now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global
“The valleys will be
filled… the mountains and hills made level"
Boom times for hydraulic
fracturing began in 2008 when new horizontal-drilling methods transformed an
industry formerly dependent on strictly vertical boring. Frac-sand mining took
off in tandem with this development.
“It's huge,” said a U.S. Geological Survey
mineral commodity specialist in 2009. “I've never seen anything like it, the
growth. It makes my head spin." That year, from all U.S. sources,
frac-sand producers used or sold over 6.5 million metric tons of sand -- about
what the Great Pyramid of Giza weighs. Last month, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) Senior Manager and Special Projects Coordinator Tom Woletz said
corporations were hauling at least 15 million metric tons a year from the
By July 2011, between 22 and
36 frac-sand facilities in Wisconsin
were either operating or approved. Seven months later, said Woletz, there were
over 60 mines and 45 processing (refinement) plants in operation. “By the time
your article appears, these figures will be obsolete,” claims Pat Popple, who
in 2008 founded the first group to oppose frac-sand mining, Concerned Chippewa
Citizens (now part of The Save the Hills Alliance).
Jerry Lausted, a retired teacher
and also a farmer, showed me the tawny ridges of sand that delineated a strip
mine near the town of Menomonie
where he lives. “If we were looking from the air,” he added, “you’d see ponds
in the bottom of the mine where they dump the industrial waste water. If you
scan to the left, you’ll see the hills that are going to disappear.”
Those hills are gigantic
sponges, absorbing water, filtering it, and providing the region’s aquifer with
the purest water imaginable. According to Lausted, sand mining takes its
toll on “air quality, water quality and quantity. Recreational aspects of the
community are damaged. Property values [are lowered.] But the big thing is,
you’re removing the hills that you can’t replace. They’re a huge water
manufacturing factory that Mother Nature gave us, and they’re gone.”
It’s impossible to grasp the
scope of the devastation from the road, but aerial videos and photographs reveal
vast, bleak sandy wastelands punctuated with waste ponds and industrial
installations where Wisconsin hills once
When corporations apply to
counties for mining permits, they must file “reclamation” plans. But Larry
Schneider, a retired metallurgist and industrial consultant with a specialized
knowledge of mining, calls the reclamation process “an absolute farce.”
Reclamation projects by
mining corporations since the 1970s may have made mined areas “look a little
less than an absolute wasteland,” he observes. “But did they reintroduce the biodiversity?
Did they reintroduce the beauty and the ecology? No.”
Studies bear out his
verdict. “Every year,” wrote Mrinal Ghose in the Journal
of Scientific and Industrial Research, “large areas are continually
becoming unfertile in spite of efforts to grow vegetation on the degraded mined
Awash in promises of
corporate jobs and easy money, those who lease and sell their land just shrug.
“The landscape is gonna change when it’s all said and done,” says dairy farmer
Bobby Schindler, who in 2008 leased his land in Chippewa County to a frac-sand
company called Canadian Sand and Proppant. (EOG, the former Enron, has since
taken over the lease.) “Instead of being a hill it’s gonna be a valley, but all
seeded down, and you’d never know there’s a mine there unless you were familiar
with the area.”
Of the mining he adds, “It’s
really put a boost to the area. It’s impressive the amount of money that’s
exchanging hands.” Eighty-four-year-old Letha Webster, who sold her land 100
miles south of Schindler’s to another mining corporation, Unimin, says that
leaving her home of 56 years is “just the price of progress.”
Jamie and Kevin Gregar --
both 30-something native Wisconsinites and military veterans -- lived in a
trailer and saved their money so that they could settle down in a pastoral
paradise once Kevin returned from Iraq. In January 2011, they found a
dream home near tiny Tunnel
City. (The village takes
its name from a nearby rail tunnel). “It’s just gorgeous -- the hills, the
trees, the woodland, the animals,” says Jamie. “It’s perfect.”
Five months after they moved
in, she learned that neighbors had leased their land to “a sand mine” company.
“What’s a sand mine?” she asked.
Less than a year later, they
know all too well. The Gregars’ land is now surrounded on three sides by an
unsightly panorama of mining preparations. Unimin is uprooting trees, gouging
out topsoil, and tearing down the nearby hills. “It looks like a disaster zone,
like a bomb went off,” Jamie tells me.
When I mention her service to
her country, her voice breaks. “I am devastated. We’ve done everything right.
We’ve done everything we were supposed to. We just wanted to raise our family
in a good location and have good neighbors and to have it taken away from us
for something we don’t support…” Her voice trails off in tears.
Unimin, the village of Tunnel City in Greenfield
township was a perfect target. Not only did the land contain the coveted
crystalline silica; it was close to a rail spur. No need for the hundreds of
diesel trucks that other corporations use to haul sand from mine sites to
processing plants. No need, either, for transport from processing plants to
rail junctions where hundreds of trains haul frac-sand by the millions of tons
each year to fracture other once-rural landscapes. Here, instead, the entire
assembly line operates in one industrial zone.
There was also no need for
jumping the hurdles zoning laws sometimes erect. Like many Wisconsin towns
where a culture of diehard individualism sees zoning as an assault on personal
freedom, Greenfield and all its municipalities,
including Tunnel City, are unzoned. This allowed the
corporation to make deals with individual landowners. For the 8.5 acres where
Letha Webster and her husband Gene lived for 56 years, assessed in 2010 at
$147,500, Unimin paid $330,000. Overall, between late May and July 2011, it
paid $5.3 million for 436 acres with a market value of about $1.1 million.
There was no time for public
education about the potential negative possibilities of frac-sand mining: the
destruction of the hills, the decline in property values, the danger of
silicosis (once considered a strictly occupational lung disease) from blowing
silica dust, contamination of ground water from the chemicals used in the
processing plants, the blaze of lights all night long, noise from hundreds of
train cars, houses shaken by blasting. Ron Koshoshek, a leading
environmentalist who works with Wisconsin’s
powerful Towns Association to educate townships about the industry, says that
“frac-sand mining will virtually end all residential development in rural
townships.” The result will be “a large-scale net loss of tax dollars to towns,
increasing taxes for those who remain.”
Frac-sand corporations count
on a combination of naïveté, trust, and incomprehension in rural hamlets that
previously dealt with companies no larger than Wisconsin’s local sand and gravel
industries. Before 2008, town boards had never handled anything beyond road
maintenance and other basic municipal issues. Today, multinational corporations
use their considerable resources to steamroll local councils and win sweetheart
deals. That’s how the residents of Tunnel
City got taken to the
On July 6, 2011, a Unimin
representative ran the first public forum about frac-sand mining in the
village. Other heavily attended and often heated community meetings followed,
but given the cascades of cash, the town board chairman’s failure to take a
stand against the mining corporation, and Unimin’s aggressiveness, tiny Tunnel City
was a David without a slingshot.
Local citizens did manage to
get the corporation to agree to give the town $250,000 for the first two
million tons mined annually, $50,000 more than its original offer. In exchange,
the township agreed that any ordinance it might pass in the future to restrict
mining wouldn’t apply to Unimin. Multiply the two million tons of frac-sand
tonnage Unimin expects to mine annually starting in 2013 by the $300 a ton the
industry makes and you’ll find that the township only gets .0004% of what the
company will gross.
For the Gregars, it’s been a
nightmare. Unimin has refused five times to buy their land and no one else
wants to live near a sand mine. What weighs most heavily on the couple is the
possibility that their children will get silicosis from long-term exposure to
dust from the mine sites. “We don’t want our kids to be lab rats for frac-sand
mining companies,” says Jamie.
Drew Bradley, Unimin’s senior
vice president of operations, waves such fears aside. “I think [citizens] are
blowing it out of proportion,” he told a local
publication. “There are plenty of silica mines sited close to communities.
There have been no concerns exposed there.”
That’s cold comfort to the
Gregars. Crystalline silica is a known carcinogen and
the cause of silicosis, an irreversible, incurable disease. None of the very
few rules applied to sand mining by the state’s Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) limit how much silica gets into the air outside of mines. That’s the main
concern of those living near the facilities.
So in November 2011, Jamie
Gregar and ten other citizens sent a 35-page petition to the DNR. The
petitioners asked the agency to declare respirable
crystalline silica a hazardous substance and to monitor it, using a public
health protection level set by California’s Office
of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The petition relies on
studies, including one by the DNR
itself, which acknowledge the risk of airborne silica from frac-sand mines for
those who live nearby.
The DNR denied the petition,
claiming among other things that -- contrary to its own study’s findings --
current standards are adequate. One of the petition’s signatories, Ron
Koshoshek, wasn’t surprised. For 16 years he was a member of, and for nine
years chaired, Wisconsin’s
Public Intervenor Citizens Advisory
Committee. Created in 1967, its role was to intercede on behalf of the
environment, should tensions grow between the DNR’s two roles: environmental
protector and corporate licensor. “The DNR,” he says, “is now a permitting
agency for development and exploitation of resources.”
In 2010, Cathy Stepp, a
confirmed anti-environmentalist who had previously railed against the
DNR, belittling it as "anti-development, anti-transportation, and
pro-garter snakes," was appointed to head the agency by now-embattled
Governor Scott Walker who explained: “I wanted someone with a
As for Jamie Gregar, her
dreams have been dashed and she’s determined to leave her home. “At this
point,” she says, “I don’t think there’s a price we wouldn’t accept.”
Frac-Sand vs. Food
Brian Norberg and his family
in Prairie Farm, 137 miles northwest of Tunnel City,
paid the ultimate price: he died while trying to mobilize the community against
Procore, a subsidiary of the multinational oil and gas corporation Sanjel. The
American flag that flies in front of the Norbergs’ house flanks a placard with
a large, golden NORBERG, over which pheasants fly against a blue sky. It’s
meant to represent the 1,500 acres the family has farmed for a century.
“When you start talking about
industrial mining, to us, you’re violating the land,” Brian’s widow, Lisa, told
me one March afternoon over lunch. She and other members of the family, as well
as a friend, had gathered to describe Prairie Farm’s battle with the
frac-sanders. “The family has had a really hard time accepting the fact that
what we consider a beautiful way to live could be destroyed by big industry.”
Their fight against Procore
started in April 2011: Sandy, a lifelong friend and neighbor, arrived with sand
samples drillers had excavated from her land, and began enthusiastically
describing the benefits of frac-sand mining. “Brian listened for a few
minutes,” Lisa recalls. “Then he told her [that]… she and her sand vials could
get the heck -- that’s a much nicer word than what he used -- off the farm. Sandy was hoping we would
also be excited about jumping on the bandwagon. Brian informed her that our
land would be used for the purpose God intended, farming.”
Brian quickly enlisted family
and neighbors in an organizing effort against the company. In June 2011,
Procore filed a reclamation plan -- the first step in the permitting process --
with the county’s land and water conservation department. Brian rushed to the
county office to request a public hearing, but returned dejected and depressed.
“He felt completely defeated that he could not protect the community from them
moving in and destroying our lives,” recalls Lisa.
He died of a heart attack
less than a day later at the age of 52. The family is convinced his death was a
result of the stress caused by the conflict. That stress is certainly all too
real. The frac-sand companies, says family friend Donna Goodlaxson, echoing
many others I interviewed for this story, “go from community to community. And
one of the things they try to do is pit people in the community against each
Instead of backing off, the
Norbergs and other Prairie Farm residents continued Brian’s efforts. At an
August 2011 public hearing, the town’s residents directly addressed Procore’s
representatives. “What people had to say there was so powerful,” Goodlaxson
remembers. “Those guys were blown out of their chairs. They weren’t prepared
“I think people insinuate
that we’re little farmers in a little community and everyone’s an ignorant
buffoon,” added Sue Glaser, domestic partner of Brian’s brother Wayne. “They
found out in a real short time there was a lot of education behind this.”
“About 80% of the
neighborhood was not happy about the potential change to our area,” Lisa adds.
“But very few of us knew anything about this industry at [that] time.”
To that end, Wisconsin’s Farmers’ Union and its Towns Association organized a day-long
conference in December 2011 to help people “deal with this new industry.”
Meanwhile, other towns,
alarmed by the explosion of frac-sand mining, were beginning to pass licensing ordinances
to regulate the industry. In Wisconsin,
counties can challenge zoning but not licensing ordinances, which fall under
town police powers. These, according to Wisconsin
law, cannot be overruled by counties or the state. Becky Glass, a Prairie Farm
resident and an organizer with Labor Network for Sustainability, calls Wisconsin’s town police
powers “the strongest tools towns have to fight or regulate frac-sand mining.”
Consider them so many slingshots employed against the corporate Goliaths.
In April 2012, Prairie Farm’s
three-man board voted 2 to 1 to pass such an ordinance to regulate any future
mining effort in the town. No, such moves won’t stop frac-sand mining in Wisconsin, but they may
at least mitigate its harm. Procore finally pulled out because of the
resistance, says Glass, adding that the company has since returned with
different personnel to try opening a mine near where she lives.
“It takes 1.2 acres per
person per year to feed every person in this country,” says Lisa Norberg. “And
the little township that I live in, we have 9,000 acres that are for farm use.
So if we just close our eyes and bend over and let the mining companies come
in, we’ll have thousands of people we can’t feed.”
Food or frac-sand: it’s a
decision of vital importance across the country, but one most Americans don’t
even realize is being made -- largely by multinational corporations and
dwindling numbers of yeoman farmers in what some in this country would call
“the real America.” Most of us know nothing about these choices, but if the
mining corporations have their way, we will soon enough -- when we check out
prices at the supermarket or grocery store. We’ll know it too, as global
climate change continues to turn Wisconsin
winters balmy and supercharge wild weather across the country.
While bucolic landscapes
disappear, aquifers are fouled, and countless farms across rural Wisconsin morph into industrial wastelands, Lisa’s sons
continue to work the Norberg’s land, just as their father once did. So does
Brian’s nephew, 32-year-old Matthew, who took me on a jolting ride across his
fields. The next time I’m in town, he assured me, we’ll visit places in the
hills where water feeds into springs. Yes, you can drink the water there. It’s
still the purest imaginable. Under the circumstances, though, no one knows for
Ellen Cantarow’s work on
Israel/Palestine has been widely published for over 30 years. Her long-time
concern with climate change has led her to investigate the global depredations
of oil and gas corporations at
Many thanks to Wisconsin filmmaker Jim Tittle,
, “The Price of Sand,”
will appear in August 2012, and who shared both his interviewees and his time
for this article.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter
@TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Ellen Cantarow
Image by Thatoneguy89, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 4:02 PM
Baghdad’s beautiful, enduring street
Why bachelor pads changed
American culture forever, and why no one actually has one.
The Twitter account that won
a Pulitzer Prize.
How to get a price tag to tell the full story.
A veteran climate activist
in the towel.
Why that shiny new iPad isn’t
as clean as you may think.
Why tax day can be downright
dangerous for drivers.
Was Ben Franklin secretly a serial killer?
Probably not, but his friend liked to rob graves.
How to take a bike from a perfect
stranger (and eventually give it back).
What the Affordable Care
Act looks like as a map.
earthquakes? In the Midwest, a recent
uptick in seismic activity has geologists stumped, but new data from the USGS
suggests that fracking may have something to do with it. The same is true of
underground wastewater disposal, a much more common practice that usually
accompanies the fracking process. Yet another reason why fracking is a totally
awesome and sensible idea.
Image by Tom Murphy
VII, licensed under Creative Commons.
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