Logging in Brazil
When the chief of one Amazonian tribe counseled his people to fight back against illegal logging of their land, the loggers wasted no time in retaliating: they put a $100,000 bounty on his head.
Natural resources are growing scarcer and more valuable, and murders of people attempting to protect them are growing. According to a report by Global Witness, an organization that investigates and counters resource-related conflict and human rights abuses, killings motivated by forests and land have more than doubled over the past three years. In the last decade, 711 people—among them journalists, activists, and locals—have been killed, totaling more than one person per week. Most of the killers are not prosecuted, and information about such murders is hard to come by, but most of the killings are reported to be in Brazil, Colombia, the Phillipines, and Peru.
When you’re trudging through the pouring rain to the office, it seems like the Earth possesses an infinite amount of water, a not-insignificant amount of which is dripping down your collar. But when you see an image like this one, produced by the USGS, it hammers home the reality of the situation: the water’s all spread out in a very thin layer, like a millimeter of frosting on a cake. If you gathered all the world’s water—from oceans, lakes, groundwater, water vapor, everything—into a sphere, it would have a diameter of 860 miles. That’s the distance between Salt Lake City and Topeka, Kansas.
We’ve known this for a while. We started stockpiling the stuff near Amarillo, Texas in 1925, in part for dirigible use, and stepped up reserves in the 1960s as a Cold War asset. In 1996, Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act mandating that the United States sell the gas at artificially low prices to get rid of the stockpile by 2015. This February, the National Research Council published a report estimating that, given increasing consumption, the world may run out of helium in 40 years. That’s bad news given helium’s current applications in science, technology, and party decorations–and possible future applications in fusion energy.
Now physicist Robert Richardson, who won a 1996 Nobel Prize for work using helium-3 to make superfluids, has come forward to stress the folly of underselling our supply of the natural resource. He suggested in several interviews that the gas’s price should mirror its actual demand and scarcity. He estimates that typical party balloons should cost $100 a pop.
“They couldn’t sell it fast enough and the world price for helium gas is ridiculously cheap,” Professor Richardson told a summer meeting of Nobel laureates…. “Once helium is released into the atmosphere in the form of party balloons or boiling helium it is lost to the Earth forever, lost to the Earth forever,” he emphasised. [The Independent]
If we don’t heed Richardson’s warning, here are some sources the United States might have to tap when we run out: