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Original author: 
Edgar Su

Last Monday was different, I woke up to a slightly smokey smell in the air and the view outside my apartment was more hazy than usual.

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Original author: 
Tim Heffernan

For the past few months I’ve been reporting a big story on the copper industry for Pacific Standard. It takes a broad look at how the global economic boom of the past decade, led by China and India, is pushing copper mining into new regions and new enormities of investment and excavation. (It’ll be out in June.) But a few days ago a very local event shook the copper industry, and I thought it would be neat to look at how a crisis at a single mine can ripple through space and time, ultimately affecting just about everyone around the globe.

Above is a picture, from local news channel KSL, of a massive landslide at Bingham Canyon Mine, about 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Bingham is an open-pit mine—a gigantic hole in the ground. The landslide, in effect, was the collapse of one of the pit walls. (For scale, the pit is a bit less than three miles wide and a bit more than three-quarters of a mile deep, and as you can see, the collapse stretches halfway across it and all the way from top to bottom.) KSL has more pictures here, and Kennecott Utah Copper, the subsidiary of the mining giant Rio Tinto which runs Bingham Canyon, has a spectacular Flickr set here. Check ’em out.

The landslide went off at about 9:30 in the evening on Wednesday, April 11. It was expected: like most modern mines, Bingham has redundant sensor systems (radar, laser, seismic, GPS) that measure ground movement down to the millimeter and give plenty of warning when a collapse is imminent. The mine was evacuated about 12 hours before the landslide, and nobody was hurt.

But the scale of the landslide was a surprise. Approximately 165 million tons of rock shifted, causing a highly localized earthquake measuring 5.1 Richter. It damaged or destroyed roads, power lines, and other infrastructure, and a number of the giant shovels and dump trucks that move ore and waste rock out of the pit. (For gearheads, the shovels are P&H 4100s and the trucks are Komatsu 930Es. Bingham’s fleet includes 13 of the former and 100 or so of the latter. Here’s a fun picture showing the scale of a 4100’s scoop, and here is a picture—not from the Bingham landslide—of a 930E that has taken a stumble.)

The lost equipment was worth tens of millions of dollars, but much more significant is the fact that the landslide has shut Bingham Canyon down for an as-yet undetermined length of time. Much more significant because Bingham Canyon is not just another copper mine. Physically, it is the largest in the world, and it is among the most productive. Each year it supplies about 17 percent of U.S. copper consumption and 1 percent of the world’s. When a cog that big loses its teeth, the whole global economic machine goes clunk.

First to feel the effect (other than the workers at Bingham Canyon, of course, who have been asked to take unpaid leave) was Rio Tinto, Bingham’s owner. Its stock opened lower the morning after the landslide, and its analysts projected that the company’s profits would drop 7 percent for this year, with ripple effects for some years after. Bad for investors, sure. But those losses, in turn, will mean less capital for Rio’s investments in its numerous other ventures, and since Rio is the third-largest mining firm in the world—if you live in anything like an industrialized economy, you use its products every day—the ripple effects spread far beyond Rio’s shareholders. A pinch in Rio’s supply lines will push up metal prices for everyone. (And in fact last Thursday, copper prices jumped up a bit, although the landslide was not the only factor.)

After the landslide, Rio quickly invoked the force majeure protections in its insurance policies, which would allow it to cancel its futures contracts on Bingham copper and have its insurers cover the losses instead. But however those claims are resolved, there is no doubt that the insurers will soon be recalculating their actuarial tables. Landslides are a feature of pit mining (above is a picture I took from the bottom of the Bingham pit last October, looking up at one that happened a few years ago). But now it is clear that even the most advanced sensor systems can’t predict how big a slide will be. That uncertainty means insurers will have to raise their premiums. Again, the price effects will ripple through the mining (and the insurance) industry, and eventually spread out to affect all customers.

And there’s a third dimension to the ripple effects of the landslide: time. Big mines like Bingham run on schedules that extend decades into the future. I was at Bingham to report on a huge development in the operations: a shift from open-pit to underground mining. The prep work, which involves digging more than a hundred kilometers of tunnel beneath the pit, began in 2011 and was expected to continue until 2023. Meantime, a big expansion of the open pit had gotten underway, timed to expose a big batch of new ore in 2017, just as the existing exposed ore ran out. And that new ore would have run out in—you guessed it—2023, just in time for the underground mine to start up. Now all that planning is scrambled. The pit expansion is on hold until the mine reopens. And as for the move underground, Rio Tinto hasn’t released an official statement yet, but all the prep work got buried by the landslide.

The work is mostly invisible, being subterranean, but you can see the aboveground equipment at the bottom of the pit in a picture I took last year (above). Then match the distinctive, pale-grey trapezoid of rock on the pit wall above the equipment to the same trapezoid, visible center-right, in this picture from KSL. As you can see, the bowl-shaped depression where the underground work is based was completely filled in by rubble.

In short, the events of a few seconds on an April evening in 2013 are beginning to move through the economy, and will reverberate for at least a decade. And who will feel the vibrations, if they know what to feel for? Everyone who uses electricity, telecommunicates, gets their water from a tap, or eats food raised by Big Agriculture. Wires, pipes, and fertilizer: that’s what copper is used for.

I think we get too accustomed to abstract things, like changes in the federal interest rate or the pace of Chinese growth, shifting global markets. It’s good to be reminded that sometimes it's still the earth itself that shakes the world.

    

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Original author: 
Richard Lacayo

There’s a line from Henry David Thoreau that’s an old favorite of environmentalists: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Not many people have taken that idea so much to heart as the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who spent much of the past nine years trekking to the last wild places on earth to take the pictures collected in his new photography book, Genesis (Taschen; 520 pages), a window into the primordial corners of creation.

The Genesis project grew out of two dilemmas in Salgado’s personal life. In the late 1990s, his father gave him and his wife Lélia the Brazilian cattle ranch where Salgado, now 69, spent his childhood. He remembers the place in those days as “a complete paradise, more than 50% of it covered with rain forest,” he told Time on the phone from his home in Paris. “We had incredible birds, jaguars, crocodiles.” But after decades of deforestation, the property had become an ecological disaster: “Not only my farm, the entire region. Erosion, no water—it was a dead land.”

By 1999, Salgado was also completing Migrations, a six-year photographic chronicle of the human flood tides set loose around the world by wars, famines or just people searching for work. The project took him to refugee camps and war zones and left him wrung out physically and emotionally. “I had seen so much brutality. I didn’t trust anymore in anything,” he says. “I didn’t trust in the survival of our species.”

So as a kind of dual restoration project—for himself and his Brazilian paradise lost—Salgado and his wife began reforesting his family property. There are now more than 2 million new trees there. Birds and other wildlife have returned in such numbers that the land has become a designated nature reserve. As his personal world regenerated, Salgado got an idea: For his next project, why not travel to unspoiled locales—places that double as environmental memory banks, holding recollections of earth’s primordial glories? His purpose, Salgado decided, “would not be to photograph what is destroyed but what is still pristine, to show what we must hold and protect.” He likes to quote a hopeful statistic: “45% of our planet is still what it was at the beginning.”

As part of the Genesis project, Salgado has made 32 trips since 2004, visiting the Kalahari Desert, the jungles of Indonesia and biodiversity hot spots such as the Galápagos Islands and Madagascar. He hovered in balloons over herds of water buffalo in Africa (“If you come in planes or helicopters you scatter them”). He traveled across Siberia with the nomadic Nenets, people who move their reindeer hundreds of miles each year to seasonal pasture. “I learned from them the concept of the essential,” he says. “If you give them something they can’t carry, they won’t accept it.”

Traveling to the Antarctic and nearby regions, Salgado found vast flocks of giant albatrosses off the Falkland Islands and “the paradise of the penguins” on the South Sandwich Islands. “Islands at the end of the world,” Salgado calls them. “Or as we say in Brazil, ‘where the wind goes to come back.’” And where Salgado went too and came back with glimpses of paradise in peril—but not lost, not yet.

Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian documentary photographer living in Paris. He has produced several books, and his work has been exhibited extensively around the world. His latest work, Genesis, premieres at The Natural History Museum in London on April 11, on view through Sept. 8, 2013. The exhibition will have its North American premier at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada from May 1 through Sept 2.

Richard Lacayo is an art critic and editor-at-large at TIME.

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Original author: 
Paul Moakley

“[In nature] we may even glimpse the means with which to accept ourselves. Before nature, what I see does not truly belong to anyone; I know that I cannot have it, in fact, I’m not sure what I’m seeing.” —Emmet Gowin

The allure of the American West has captivated photographers since the earliest days of the medium. Photography was used as a tool to decipher the vastness of the new and unknown frontier. One can see a rich photographic form of manifest destiny stemming from pioneering documentarians like Timothy O’Sullivan in the 1800s to preservationists like Ansel Adams in the 1960s. Although the intentions of these photographers have shifted over time, the landscape has provided consistent inspiration for our deepest desires. In more recent history, our concerns about our footprint on the environment have led photographers to investigate deeper than what’s easily accessible.

David Maisel is a photographer of the current wave of contemporary artists concerned with hidden land — remote sites of industrial waste, mining, and military testing that are not yet indexed on Google Maps. His latest book, Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime (Steidl), observes the land from a god-like perspective of the sky and with an obsession with environmental destruction.

“The original impetus for the work was informed by looking really closely at 19th-century exploratory photography,” explains Maisel, “and then, an arc through the New Topographics work of the 70s.” He cites the work of iconic black-and-white image makers like Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams — photographers who focused on man-altered landscapes — but felt inspired to “push it further.”

This epic project began almost thirty years ago in a plane over Mount St. Helens. Maisel, a 22-year-old photography student, was accompanying his college professor, Emmet Gowin, with his work. “That experience of being at Mt. St. Helen’s was really formative,” says Maisel. “I don’t even know if I’d be a photographer. It was an essential moment for me.”

Flying in to view the crater of the volcano formed by the extreme force of Mother Nature, he photographed a large swath of deforestation, something the young photographer had never seen growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, N.Y.

“As a kid at that point who had grown up in the suburbs of New York, I just never had seen a landscape put to work in that way by industry. Especially on that scale,” says Maisel. The phenomenal destruction revealed a conflict in modern life that he’s been fixated on since.

Courtesy of David Maisel

Courtesy of David Maisel

In the 1980’s, talking about the environment through art seemed out of step with the dialogue that was happening around Maisel as a young art student. Looking back, his formative work now stands somewhere between classic documentary and abstract expressionism. “Just bringing up Robert Smithson (the pioneering land artist) makes me remember. When I first got interested in him in the early 80′s, that’s not where the art world was at all. And it’s not where this society was at all. This idea of looking at the environment and changes to the environment, was like, ‘oh, that’s ecology, that died in the 60s, we’re done with that.’”

In no way did that attitude derail his fascination in the environment — instead, he began creating an artistic dialogue in nature as the inspiration. But it’s Maisel’s distinct intentions and conceptualization that separates the photographer from your average eco-activist, who’s motivation to shoot may be based in a desire to preserve natural spaces or reveal the evils of industry.

The work in Black Maps, unlike more polemic natural disaster photography, relies on abstraction. He creates full-frame surrealist visions of toxic lakes and captures the maddening designs of man-altered landscapes. In the abstract series The Lake Project (slide 15), viewers are overwhelmed by alien colors, allured by frame after frame of man-made destruction. The repetitive nature of viewing this destruction from a distance creates a sublime beauty in a classical sense. In less abstract work such as Oblivion (slide 7), which looks at the cityscapes of Los Angeles, the images become scorched black and white metaphors for the complete obliteration of a natural state.

Over the years, Maisel published a few of these projects as separate volumes, but in Black Maps, the intention is to see their power as part of a dialogue with each other. “I think the feeling of being kind of overwhelmed is almost part of the aesthetic of the work,” he says.

“There are just certain real conundrums on how we are developing the planet and changing the planet, and I think that’s what I still want to pursue,” says the photographer. But where Maisel could accuse, he instead becomes reflective on these issues,  providing evidence of what he’s seeing and crafting in his printing process.

“I was also really conscious that these sites were American,” says Maisel. I was making a book about the country that I live in and that I know the best.”

He’s also keenly aware of the ethical contradictions of making photographic work in this way — with chemicals, computers and papers. “On that first excursion out West, I came back and I processed all my film and made my contact sheets and then I thought, ‘what the hell am I doing? How can I? — I can’t,’ I was paralyzed. And it took me a while to work through that, to realize that I’m embedded in this. At that moment in my life, I was living on the coast of Maine in this renovated barn that we heated with a wood stove, and it was about as far off the grid that I have ever gotten. I just realized I can’t remove myself from the society I live in and from my own way of wanting to communicate. But yes, I’m as guilty as the next person and I am complicit and I think that we all are complicit. This work isn’t meant to be a diatribe against a specific industry or industries.”

With that understanding of the interconnectedness of man and industry, and the conundrums involved in being a human in this era, Maisel’s work becomes a meditation on ourselves and what we’ve done to the planet. He say’s, “I think that these kind of sites correspond to something within our own psyches.”

“I think that … maybe these are all self-portraits. There’s something — we collectively as a society have made these places, that’s my take on it. And so, they really do reflect us. And so, it’s not ‘them’ making these places, it’s us.”

David Maisel is a photographer living near San Francisco and is represented by Institute.

Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime is published this month by Steidl. The work is on view at the CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder, February 1 – May 11, 2013, and will travel to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona, June 1 – September 1, 2013.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulmoakley.

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Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Ice sculptures constructed for the celebration of Orthodox Epiphany stand on the Lena river, outside Yakutsk in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 17. The coldest temperatures in the northern hemisphere have been recorded in Sakha, in the Oymyakon valley, where, according to the United Kingdom Met Office, a temperature of -90 degrees Fahrenheit was registered in 1933 - the coldest on record in the northern hemisphere since the beginning of the 20th century. Yet despite the harsh climate, people live in the valley, and the area is equipped with schools, a post office, a bank and even an airport runway.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Ruslan, 35, loads blocks of ice onto a truck outside Yakutsk in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 17.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

A man takes a drink in the cabin of his truck in the village of Ytyk-Kyuyol in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia on Jan. 19.

By Maxim Shemetov, Reuters

One loses all bearings when faced with the shroud of white that obscures all things mid January in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Only the traffic lights and gas pipelines overhanging the roads help you to find your way. Wrapped in frosty fog, the city life seems frozen in a sleepy half-light. It is -54 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

A man takes a dip in the icy waters of the Lena River inside a tent to celebrate Orthodox Epiphany outside Yakutsk, in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 18.

The Oymyakon valley, the Pole of the Cold, is the coldest known place in the Northern hemisphere. Thermometers registered a record chill of -88 degrees Fahrenheit in 1933, shortly after weather monitoring began here in the end of the 1920s.

And yet, here are schools, a post office, a bank, even an airport runway (albeit one that is open only in the summer) – all the trappings of a civilized life in the valley’s center at Tomtor. I could not help asking local people how they carried on a normal semblance of life in such extreme conditions. Sergey Zverev, a smiling villager in his 40s, said class was cancelled once when he was a school boy because the air temperatures had dropped to -85F. To celebrate he and his classmates got together to play football on the icy streets.

Read the full story on Reuters' Photographers Blog.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

The roof of a house is covered with snow in the village of Tomtor in the Oymyakon valley in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 24.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

A girl poses in the village of Oymyakon, in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 26.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Sergei Burtsev, 41, a meteorologist, prepares to launch a weather balloon in the village of Tomtor in the Oymyakon valley, in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 30.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

A car drives through the snow at night near Vostochnaya meteorological station in the Republic of Sakha, northeast Russia, on Jan. 20.

Follow @NBCNewsPictures

Previously on PhotoBlog:

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Reuters

A man uses the cover of a hot tub to move a TV set through floodwaters at Cornubia, Queensland. Massive summer floods have killed four people and forced thousands to evacuate their homes across the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales, according to local authorities. -- Reuters

Editor's note: Photo taken on Jan. 29, 2013 and made available to NBC News today.

Related:

Wild weather has broken a lot of hearts: Australia PM

Video: Frothy sea foam spills into Australian town

PhotoBlog: Three killed, dozens rescued in Australia floods


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Tristan from Open Source Ecology sez, "This comprehensive, user friendly video shows you how to assemble the Powercube; Open Source Ecology's modular power unit. This machine can be used to Power any of the 50 Global Village Construction set machines, including the Liberator CEB Press." (See today's earlier post on the CEB Press).

Full instructions are available on the CEB Wiki:

Power Cube VII

(Thanks, Tristan!)

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Brian from Greenpeace sez, "They say you can tell what next season's hottest trend will be by looking at the colour of the rivers in China and Mexico due to the dyes and hazardous chemicals used by the fashion industry.

An animated collaboration between Greenpeace and Free Range studios (creators of such activist classics as Meatrix and Story of Stuff) exposes the trail of hazardous chemicals from factories in the developing world to the clothes the developed world buys. Greenpeace claims some of the chemicals present in trace amounts in those clothes are banned in European and the US, making your washing machine a potential source of illegal hazardous waste."

TOXIC IS SO LAST SEASON

(Thanks, Brian!)

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Stewart Brand sums up Susan Freinkel's Long Now talk: "What Common Objects Used to Be Made Of," a history of the world before plastic:


“Bakelite was invented in 1907 to replace the beetle excretion called shellac (“It took 16,000 beetles six months to make a pound of shellac.”), and was first used to insulate eletrical wiring. Soon there were sturdy Bakelite radios, telephones, ashtrays, and a thousand other things. The technology democratized consumption, because mass production made former luxury items cheap and attractive. The 1920s and ‘30s were a golden age of plastic innovation, with companies like Dow Chemical, DuPont, and I. G. Farben creating hundreds of new varieties of plastic for thrilled consumers. Cellophane became a cult. Nylons became a cult. A plastics trade show in 1946 had 87,000 members of the public lining up to view the wonders. New fabrics came along—Orlon and Dacron—as colorful as the deluge of plastic toys—Barbie, the Frisbee, Hula hoops, and Silly Putty.

“Looking for new markets, the marketers discovered disposability—disposable cups for drink vending machines, disposable diapers (“Said to be responsible for the baby boom“), Bic lighters, soda bottles, medical syringes, and the infinite market of packaging. Americans consume 300 pounds of plastic a year. The variety of plastics we use are a problem for recycling, because they have to be sorted by hand. They all biodegrade eventually, but at varying rates. New bio-based polymers like “corn plastic” and “plant bottles” have less of a carbon footprint, but they biodegrade poorly. Meanwhile, thanks to the efficiencies of fracking, the price of natural gas feedstock is plummeting, and so is the price of plastic manufacture.

What Common Objects Used to Be Made Of

(Image: Plastic Power, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from fxtreme's photostream)

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Jorge Uzon photographed remote towns in Chile's Patagonia region - the controversial site for five proposed dams. Rendered in black and white, his photographs feel quiet and intimate.

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