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environment

A water-taxi driver crosses the Tonle Sap lake, heading toward the mainland from the floating  village of Akol. (Luc Forsyth/Ruom)

The Giving Flood

Lake Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s “beating heart,” is threatened by the competing needs of a rapidly developing nation. Can a new kind of conservation save it?

Sunrise over the Loup River, one of Nebraska’s major waterways that locals believe is threatened by Keystone XL.

Line in the Sand

Now that Senate Democrats have defeated legislation that would have approved construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Republicans are promising to push the project through when they take control of the Senate next year. But this fight isn't always along predictable party lines. Reporting from Nebraska, a state at the heart of the pipeline's path, Elliott D. Woods explains why.

Edward Sawicki on his ancestral farm in the hamlet of Ogonki, Poland.

Unlikely Dissidents

Shale gas has unlocked what may be the biggest fossil-fuel rush of the early twenty-first century. It has been called a path to energy independence and industrial revival, less polluting than coal. No other energy topic has garnered so much media attention in the last few years.

Grunts, as seen from Aquarius Undersea Laboratory, near Key Largo, Florida, 2006.

The Sweet Spot in Time

This month Glamour magazine named scientist and aquanaut Sylvia Earle a Woman of the Year for her lifetime of work advocating for the ocean. Her essay on breaking gender barriers as an ocean explorer appeared in our Fall 2012 magazine. "I took pleasure in turning questions such as 'Did you wear lipstick? Did you use a hair­dryer?' into a discourse on the importance of the ocean as our primary source of oxygen," she writes, "the value of coral reefs, mangroves, and marshes as vital buffers against storms, and the delightful nature of fish, shrimp, lobsters, and crabs alive, swimming in the ocean."

The approach to La Rinconada, a gold-mining town nestled under a glacier in the Peruvian Andes.

Dreaming of El Dorado

Senna has pounded rock; she has ground it to gravel with her feet, she has teetered under heavy bags of crushed stone. But she was never lucky as a child miner; she never found even the faintest glimmer of gold. Today, with her father dead and her mother bordering on desperation, she makes fancy gelatins and sells them to men as they come and go from the mine shafts that pock the unforgiving face of Mount Ananea. When she is asked why she slogs through mud and snow for a few hours of school every day, as few children do, she says she wants to be a poet. She is fourteen years old.

The Hunters

July 10, 2010

[caption id="attachment_6152" align="aligncenter" width="525" caption="A controlled burn of oil from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill sends towers of fire hundreds of feet into the air over the Gulf of Mexico June 9. (Credit: US Coast Guard/Petty Officer First Class John Masson)"][/caption]

I’m not writing to offer an apologia, but I have to say, life in the oilfield was wonderful. How much of that wonder was due to my youth—as well as the specific joy of youthfulness in the 1980s—and how much of the wonder was due to the nature of the work—the joy of the hunt—I cannot be sure. I think it must have been mostly the joy of the hunt, for there were old guys (there were almost never any women) who pursued the oil and gas with just as much fervor as the younger geologists.

We never called it crude, or black gold, or Texas tea. There were no clever nicknames, there was only the pure thing itself—oil if in the liquid state, or gas, if gaseous—that, and our pure and steady fever, our burning. If we ever referred to it as anything other than oil or gas, we called it pay. Four feet of pay, twenty feet of pay, thirty feet of pay. Sixty feet of pay was a lot, enough to change your life.

I worked for a small independent oil and gas company, which was owned by a wealthy individual who drilled his wells with the aid of a group of a dozen or so investors, rich people who believed in him and in us, but who were also entirely willing to stop believing if we one day ceased to be successful.

Speaking only for myself, I didn’t ever worry about that. I never mapped a prospect, never drilled a well that I didn’t believe was going to find pay. Success rates were somewhere in the neighborhood of baseball batting averages—between ten and thirty percent—but the baseball metaphor does not carry much further than that, other than perhaps the ability to salvage a game—or a career—with one certain swing, a key strike at the most critical time.

 

Eduardo Romero Martín grips a desiccated stalk in his cornfield in Pocoboch, Mexico.

Inheritance of Dust

After his two years of schooling, Eduardo took up the destiny ordained to the people of Pocoboch: growing yucca, squash, tomatoes, chiles, beans, and corn on small plots carved into the jungle. There may not have been much money, but for most of Eduardo’s lifetime, the corn made the town run. And then, simply, it did not.

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