Chasing Mirages

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Back in Chongzuo

by on Jul.22, 2014, under Posts

Back in Chongzuo for my first pilot study.  The day after I arrived, Typhoon Rammasun, the strongest typhoon to strike southern China in over four decades, was hot on my heels, but because Chongzuo is inland, we avoided the worst.  All I can complain about is losing three days of field time to the rain.

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Greenwashing O’Hare

by on Jan.02, 2014, under Posts

I was in O’Hare airport for a layover a couple of days ago and a sign for “O’Hare Urban Garden” caught my eye.  On a mezzanine, sandwiched between a USO Lounge and a Yoga Room, was the “Urban Garden” – a blatant greenwashing failure.

Not only was this garden located in a non-urban setting,  it could hardly be called a “garden.”  Its vegetables were completely dependent on high consumption artificial lights as well as barrels (blue, visible in the background of the picture below) of agricultural chemicals pumped through plastic planter columns.

The designers of this monstrosity, out of ignorance or a twisted sense of irony, chose to eviscerate the most important benefits of urban gardening.  Efficient use of resources?  The exact opposite.  Minimizing chemical inputs?  No.  Increasing healthy food access, leisure activity and social interaction for inner city communities?  Not even remotely possible.

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Dongjiang Expedition Part 5: Rare earth hell, continued

by on Dec.01, 2013, under Posts

Ganzhou (贛州) in southern Jiangxi (江西) is known as “The Kingdom of Rare Earth“.  It is also a place where the government has tried to cut production and curb illegal mining in recent years.  A useful rule in China is that you can tell what the most pressing issues are in any locality by looking at Communist party slogans.  The one in the picture above reads (approximately) “Illegal rare earth miners are destroyers of our children’s future”.  Another one, of which I was unable to take a picture, read “Illegal rare earth mining will result in immediate torching of all excavation equipment.”

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Dongjiang Expedition Part 5: Rare earth hell

by on Nov.17, 2013, under Posts

China’s rare earth metal production is a complex issue with implications at every scale of governance, from tiny villages to international treaty organizations.  This recent NYTimes article provides a summary of the issue over the last few years.

Our journey into rare earth territory in northern Guangdong and southern Jiangxi provinces reminded me of the wild wild west I had read about as a kid – clandestine mining operations, gun battles between outlaw gangs struggling for territory and even violent clashes between artisanal miners and authorities trying to shut down illegal mines.

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Surprise! The Economist gets it wrong

by on Sep.24, 2013, under Posts

Eucalyptus monoculture "forest" in Guangxi, China

All of you capitalist pigs out there may have noticed The Economist‘s issue on biodiversity last week.  While I appreciate the attempt to present biodiversity conservation in a generally positive light to an audience that rarely prioritizes the issue, I think it is important to point out that The Economist misses its mark – by a wide margin.

Thanks to the leadership of one of my classmates (also a long-lost cousin), our grad student cohort recently submitted a collective Letter to the Editor.  I’ll let you know if that gets printed.  In the meantime, here’s my own initial, personal response.

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