There is only one town, Lanai City, where virtually all of the island’s 3,200 residents live. Ellison now owned a third of all their houses and apartments; the island’s two Four Seasons-run hotels; the central commons at the heart of Lanai City, called Dole Park, and all the buildings around it; the town swimming pool; the community center; the theater; a grocery store; two golf courses; a wastewater treatment plant; the water company; and a cemetery. In a single sweeping real estate deal, reported to cost $300 million, he had acquired 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres. And he would subsequently buy an airline that connects Lanai to Honolulu as well. On all of Lanai, I heard of only a handful of businesses — the gas station, the rental-car company, two banks, a credit union and a cafe called Coffee Works — that are neither owned by Ellison nor pay him rent. ... For Ellison, it seemed, Lanai was less like an investment than like a classic car, up on blocks in the middle of the Pacific, that he had become obsessed with restoring. He wants to transform it into a premier tourist destination and what he has called “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community”: an innovative, self-sufficient dreamscape of renewable energy, electric cars and sustainable agriculture. ... Ellison has explained that Lanai feels to him like “this really cool 21st-century engineering project” — and so far, his approach, which seems steeped in the ethos of Silicon Valley, has boiled down to rooting out the many inefficiencies of daily life on Lanai and replacing them with a single, elegantly designed system. It’s the sort of sweeping challenge that engineering types get giddy over: a full-scale model.
China is bafflingly silent about strange, record-breaking changes that have been wreaking havoc on the mighty Mekong River in recent months ... The dams China has built hundreds of miles upstream from Kroolong’s home are what brought me to the Mekong, one of the world’s mightiest waterways. The river is so long that if it were in the US, it would stretch all the way from Los Angeles across to New York. It starts off high in the snowy peaks of the Tibetan plateau before plunging down through the mountains of China’s southern Yunnan province towards Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and finally Vietnam, where it pours into the South China Sea. Just under half the river’s length is in China, which first started damming it in Yunnan more than 20 years ago. ... The early dams were large but nothing like two enormous, newer ones. The Xiaowan, completed nearly four years ago, is one of China’s biggest hydropower projects after Three Gorges on the Yangtze River, with a wall almost as high as the Eiffel Tower and a reservoir that can hold 15 billion cubic metres of water. It is dwarfed in volume, though not quite height, by the newer Nuozhadu dam, which can store 22.7 billion cubic metres of water. Together, the pair can hold enough to drown an area the size of London in water 24 metres deep. ... There have long been odd stories about the impact these two dams might be having on the countries further south, where people have blamed them for everything from drought to a drop-off in fish catches. But what emerged from my visit to the Mekong, as I followed the story of the floods that took Den Kroolong’s boat, was even stranger – a cautionary tale about the world’s newest superpower, and about water, a resource under mounting pressure.
A handful of landowners—about 500 farms in all—control the rights to 3.1 million acre-feet a year from the Colorado River. That’s equal to about a third of the water used by California’s cities, with 37 million people, where a four-year drought means neighbors report you if your lawn is green. Or, to measure another way, it’s half again as much water as Governor Jerry Brown aims to save under his April executive order, which set a February 2016 deadline for a 25 percent reduction in urban use. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons (1.2 million liters) and can supply the household needs of about 10 people for a year, though actual water use rates vary widely. ... Imperial Valley farmers know their water is precious and understand that to preserve a way of life that runs back a century they have to grapple with the needs of a drought-stricken state. Politicians, regulators, and lawyers have squeezed the valley before to get at its water. In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District, under pressure from Senator Dianne Feinstein and other federal and state officials, controversially agreed to sell as much as 280,000 acre-feet a year to San Diego. Farmers here still discuss that episode at length, and emotions are still raw, because they believe similar water transfers are likely in the valley’s future. ... “People think transferring water out of the valley is a great sin,” he says. “Wasting water can be an even greater sin.” The neatly prepared field he’s inspecting is perfectly level—he uses lasers to make sure—and slightly lower than adjacent sections so water moves by gravity at an optimal speed. ... The most basic principle governing water use in the western U.S. is this: first in time, first in right. That’s why Imperial Valley farmers have so much water. They arrived early, building the first canal to withdraw Colorado River water and ship it to the valley in 1901. ... More than half the people who own land in the valley today live elsewhere.
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country. It’s home to the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, where billions of gallons of oil and dangerous chemicals are stored. And it’s a sitting duck for the next big hurricane. Why isn’t Texas ready? ... Such a storm would devastate the Houston Ship Channel, shuttering one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Flanked by 10 major refineries — including the nation’s largest — and dozens of chemical manufacturing plants, the Ship Channel is a crucial transportation route for crude oil and other key products, such as plastics and pesticides. A shutdown could lead to a spike in gasoline prices and many consumer goods — everything from car tires to cell phone parts to prescription pills. ... After decades of inaction, they hoped that a plan to build a storm surge protection system could finally move forward. ... Several proposals have been discussed. One, dubbed the “Ike Dike,” calls for massive floodgates at the entrance to Galveston Bay to block storm surge from entering the region. That has since evolved into a more expansive concept called the “coastal spine.” Another proposal, called the “mid-bay” gate, would place a floodgate closer to Houston’s industrial complex. ... The 10 refineries that line the Ship Channel produce about 27 percent of the nation’s gasoline and about 60 percent of its aviation fuel ... Flooding is the most disruptive type of damage an industrial plant can experience from a hurricane. Salty ocean water swiftly corrodes critical metal and electrical components and contaminates nearby freshwater sources used for operations.
This story is more about comfort than you might imagine. It's also about restlessness, and safety, and complacency. Tuna rolls are familiar, but they don't do a lot for the environment. ... Instead of tuna and salmon we'd eat weeds, jellyfish, crisped wax worms—the plants and animals currently demolishing our local ecosystems. After a trip to Louisiana, he even incorporated nutria, a large swamp rodent, into his sashimi repertoire. Early on, customers simply walked out, unable to recognize his inventions as sushi, or even as food.
Smokejumpers would like you to know that they are not the firefighters who bust down your door or save your baby from the flames or rescue your cat from a tree. They are wildland firefighters, which means they deal with burning forests, not burning buildings. They are also not generally the ones battling the big fires like those in California this summer. Instead, a smokejumper’s job is to parachute in to remote wilderness areas to fight smaller wildfires before they encroach upon populated areas and start threatening homes and lives. (In 2015, the most expensive firefighting year on record, wildfires burned 10 million acres and destroyed 4,636 structures, costing $2.6 billion and killing 15.) Smokejumpers are called in to handle the initial attack—that is, jumping in while a wildfire is still small, and ruthlessly extinguishing it as quickly and efficiently as possible. ... There are only 400 smokejumpers in the entire United States, and maybe only half of those are actively jumping fires on a regular basis. ... Last year, 172 people sent in applications to the Missoula Smokejumper Base; only eight were hired. And there are only nine permanent smokejumper bases in the entire country. Even if you’re tough, talented and skilled, you’ll probably still get rejected for three or five or eight years in a row.
Smash an old TV, and you risk spewing lead into the air. Crack open an LCD flatscreen, and you can release mercury vapor. Mobile phones and computers can contain dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and toxic flame retardants. Mexican workplace regulations, like those in the U.S., require e-waste shops to provide such safety equipment as goggles, hard hats, and masks. There’s little of that in Renovación. ... In much of the world, a place like Renovación couldn’t exist, and not only because business owners wouldn’t be allowed to employ people in those conditions. Twenty-five U.S. states and Washington, D.C., home to 210 million Americans, have laws establishing what’s known as extended producer responsibility, or EPR. That means electronics makers must collect, recycle, and dispose of discarded equipment rather than allow it to enter the waste stream. Parts of Europe also have this system. ... Manufacturers don’t do this work themselves. Typically, a state, county, or town establishes an e-waste collection program. Then recycling companies come to haul away the junk. The manufacturers pay some or all of the bill. The e-waste can be of any provenance. ... The lack of a formal, regulated recycling industry is one of many reasons Mexico has become a magnet for spent electronics. ... A ton of mobile phone circuit boards can produce 30 ounces of gold, worth about $39,000 at current prices.
Global Trends and Key Implications Through 2035
- The rich are aging, the poor are not.
- The global economy is shifting.
- Technology is accelerating progress but causing discontinuities.
- Ideas and Identities are driving a wave of exclusion.
- Governing is getting harder.
- The nature of conflict is changing.
- Climate change, environment, and health issues will demand attention.
These trends will converge at an unprecedented pace to make governing and cooperation harder and to change the nature of power—fundamentally altering the global landscape. Economic, technological and security trends, especially, will expand the number of states, organizations, and individuals able to act in consequential ways. Within states, political order will remain elusive and tensions high until societies and governments renegotiate their expectations of one another. Between states, the post-Cold War, unipolar moment has passed and the post-1945 rules based international order may be fading too. Some major powers and regional aggressors will seek to assert interests through force but will find results fleeting as they discover traditional, material forms of power less able to secure and sustain outcomes in a context of proliferating veto players.
Like oil and coal, kitchen scraps can be converted into energy. But unlike oil and coal, which are expensive to dig out of the ground, food waste is something that cities will actually pay someone to haul away. Many innovative municipalities, in an effort to keep organic material out of dumps — where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas — already separate food from garbage and send it to old-fashioned compost facilities. There, workers pile the waste in linear heaps called windrows, mix it with leaves and grass clippings and let oxygen-dependent microbes transform the gunk into lovely dark fertilizer. But the more material you compost, the more space (and gas-guzzling bulldozers and windrow turners) you need to process it. It can get a little smelly, too, which is yet another reason New York City, which generates about one million tons of organic waste a year, will probably never host giant compost farms. ... But anaerobic digestion, in which food is broken down by microbes inside tall, airtight silos, has a real shot at scaling near densely populated areas. The footprint of such plants is relatively small, and their odors are mechanically contained, if they are operated properly. Digesters do cost more to build and run than compost sites, but they more than make up for that by generating two separate revenue streams: fertilizer and biogas, which is chemically similar to natural gas and can be burned to make heat and electricity. ... The nation’s industrialized compost operations bring in roughly $3 billion annually; American farmers bought $21.2 billion of conventional fertilizers in 2016.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles west, on the prairies and farms of central Iowa, a 2-year-old boy named Clair Patterson played. His boyhood would go on to be like something out of Tom Sawyer. There were no cars in town. Only a hundred kids attended his school. A regular weekend entailed gallivanting into the woods with friends, with no adult supervision, to fish, hunt squirrels, and camp along the Skunk River. His adventures stoked a curiosity about the natural world, a curiosity his mother fed by one day buying him a chemistry set. Patterson began mixing chemicals in his basement. He started reading his uncle’s chemistry textbook. By eighth grade, he was schooling his science teachers. ... During these years, Patterson nurtured a passion for science that would ultimately link his fate with the deaths of the five men in New Jersey. Luckily for the world, the child who’d freely roamed the Iowa woods remained equally content to blaze his own path as an adult. Patterson would save our oceans, our air, and our minds from the brink of what is arguably the largest mass poisoning in human history.