Skip to content


Ghost Bikes: Memento Mori of the Automobile Age

On the Internet a picture is worth a thousand words and at least a couple of links:

Source: http://ghostbikes.org/new-york-city/james-langergaard.

Source: http://ghostbikes.org/new-york-city/james-langergaard.

This is a ghost bike. It marks the spot where a bicyclist was killed, most likely by a motorist. It’s a vivid reminder that one of our favorite and healthiest recreation activities is deadly. In 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 741 bicyclists died in collisions with motor vehicles. This represents a significant decline since statistics were first tabulated in 1975, when over 1,000 bicyclists were killed. That’s good news, but not good enough. Ghost bikes are a visceral reminder that when cars and bikes collide, the bicyclist pays the biggest, and often the ultimate, price.

These somber memorials have sprung up around the world since 2003, placed by fellow bicyclists and the victims’ loved ones as both a tribute to those who lost their lives and as a caution to motorists to be more careful. Unlike the typical roadside memorials of crosses and teddy bears, a ghost bike provides stark information about how a person died, imbued with additional symbolism of white paint, representing purity and innocence. Bicyclists are vulnerable; as victims they are innocent. We have all seen reckless bicyclists, perhaps, but none has ever deserved to die.

Wearing a helmet drastically reduces the risk of head injury. In 2013, 63 percent of bicyclists who were killed were not wearing a helmet. Source: http://floridacyclinglaw.com/blog/archives/bicycle-helmet-statistics.

Wearing a helmet drastically reduces the risk of head injury. In 2013, 63 percent of bicyclists who were killed were not wearing a helmet. Source: http://floridacyclinglaw.com/blog/archives/bicycle-helmet-statistics.

Cars kill so many people in so many different ways, but almost always because of driver error. We should all be excited for the arrival of driverless cars to our streets. Will they be foolproof? Of course not. Will they raise new problems? Undoubtedly. Will they save lives? Certainly. After nearly 1.7 million miles driven collectively, driverless cars have been involved in only 12 minor traffic accidents, but none of them were the fault of the driverless car.

Google is introducing its driverless car to California roads this summer. This is the company’s own car design—not their modified Priuses and Lexuses that they’ve used in developing their light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) technology. It features a removable steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator. Finally—nothing to obstruct your extravehicular activities.

You can mosey down to a dealership (presumably) in 2017 and buy one of these cutie pies yourself. Those of us who witnessed the Internet revolution first hand should be excited about this. Sure, driving is fun. Except when it’s not. The vehicle of the future will see bicyclists in all our blind spots—even when the furiously pulsating late afternoon sun is searing our retinas. I hope the Google car will save the lives of those 700 bicyclists each year, not to mention the 33,000 others who perish on our roads.

Source: Google.

Source: Google.

I saw my first ghost bike a few months ago, turning right onto a busy road from another busy road. Its spectral form stood in sharp contrast to the surrounding deep-green foliage; a placard above it read “Ghost Bike.” The tableau caught my eye in a “woah—what’s that?” sort of way. I dashed straight for Google when I got home for more information. Up popped the details:

Source: https://plus.google.com/+LeonShaner/posts/fhimMMb8pxt.

Source: https://plus.google.com/+LeonShaner/posts/fhimMMb8pxt.

A woman—a 26-year-old mother of three—was crossing the road on foot with her bike when she was hit by the driver of a Jeep. She had just gotten off a nearby bike trail that I myself have frequently enjoyed. The ghost bike was placed by the Michigan Mountain Biking Association, an organization that had no connection to the victim.

Let’s honor those we’ve lost and create safer roads by embracing autonomous driving technology. We owe it to those whose lives have been cut short and to future generations, which if they’re lucky will never suffer the effects of distracted driving or road rage.

Source: http://bostonbiker.org/2012/10/03/ghost-bike-project/.

Source: http://bostonbiker.org/2012/10/03/ghost-bike-project/.

Kathy Wilson Peacock is a writer, editor, nature lover, and flaneur of the zeitgeist. She favors science over superstition and believes that knowledge is the best super power. Favorite secret weapon: A library card.

Posted on: June 16, 2015, 6:00 am Category: Current Issues Tagged with: , , , , ,

Helium: A Noble, Rare, and Versatile Gas

It’s graduation season: Seal some money in an envelope, drag a lawn chair over to the driveway, and dodge that cluster of helium balloons while you snag yourself a slice of cake.

balloons-small-mylar-and-latex-balloons-276x300

Source: Balloonballoons.com

While you’re shoving that cake in your piehole, contemplate that cluster of helium balloons and think about this: The Federal Helium Reserve, which holds 10 billion cubic feet of helium—much of the world’s usable supply—was scheduled to shut its doors in 2013. Congress passed the Helium Stewardship Act to keep it open, thereby averting a global crisis.

Now put your down your fork and think about that. Yes: The United States has a Federal Helium Reserve. It’s an underground wonderland that stretches from Kansas to Texas, with its main storage facility in a cave just outside Amarillo. The government established it back when air travel by dirigible was the height of fashion.

Source: http://flickr.com/photos/29998366@N02/4796119948. Interior of the Hindenburg c. 1936.*

Source: http://flickr.com/photos/29998366@N02/4796119948. Interior of the Hindenburg c. 1936.*

The Texas facility is the world’s largest repository of helium. The reason why it was scheduled to close in 2013 is because the government was in the process of deaccessioning it via the Helium Privatization Act of 1996. This dandy piece of legislation exemplifies the heady days of the Clinton administration, when Newt Gingrich was determined to shut down the government. No government was good government.

Being of sound mind and body, you ask: Why in the world does the federal government control the world supply of a gas that is used as a party favor? Because balloons are just one of helium’s many uses. Helium is not only a noble gas; it is also a versatile gas. It is used in MRI scanners, fiber optic manufacturing, arc welding, and in LCD screens. Its top use is in cryogenics. It also cools superconducting magnets and is used to grow crystals for silicon wafers. Much of the helium used for these applications is supercooled liquid helium—the coldest substance on Earth.

Liquid helium cooled below the Lambda point, where it exhibits properties of superfluidity. Source: Wikipedia.

Liquid helium cooled below the Lambda point, where it exhibits properties of superfluidity. Source: Wikipedia.

In fact, some scientists get mad when helium is wasted on balloons. Each Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon of Snoopy or SpongeBob uses up to 400,000 cubic feet of helium, which is simply released into the air when the parade is over. Meanwhile, researcher Richard Shoemaker “will sometimes see two- and three-week delays in delivery of the liquid helium used to cool his University of Colorado facility’s giant magnets. His worry isn’t that his research will have to wait—it is that the millions of dollars of equipment it requires will be knocked out,” writes Kelly Jane Torrance in the Weekly Standard.

Source: Associated Press.

Source: Associated Press.

Paradoxically, helium is the second most abundant element in the universe but rare in Earth’s atmosphere. We can’t make more of it, meaning it’s nonrenewable. On Earth, it’s produced by slow radioactive decay deep underground. The Federal Helium Reserve collects helium that is recovered in the natural gas of Texas and Oklahoma, which is naturally high in helium. The helium is separated from the natural gas and transported by pipeline to the facility.

The Crude Helium Enrichment Unit outside Amarillo, TX. Source: U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Crude Helium Enrichment Unit outside Amarillo, TX. Source: U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Helium Privatization Act ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to sell off the reserve by 2005. But you know how the federal government works. It was 2007 before they started getting around to it, at which time they began drawing down the amount of helium held in the facility. By 2011 they still weren’t done, but helium supplies were running low. By 2013, with helium production seriously in danger, Congress had a change of heart and decided to retain control of the reserve, basically because no private buyer stepped forward to take over the duties from the Feds.

When Congress reversed itself with the Helium Stewardship Act, their actions were swiftly applauded in the media, not the least by Gail Collins in the New York Times, whose op-ed piece, “An Ode to Helium,” noted that the resounding bipartisan support led to a final Congressional vote of 394 to 1. “The lone ‘nay’ came from Representative Linda Sanchez of California, who accidentally pressed the wrong button,” she wrote. Collins further noted that “The helium program is great; it provided the country with a crucial product that business wasn’t prepared to produce. It spurred economic growth and scientific research and made enough profit to pay the taxpayers back.”

Source: USGS Mineral Study 2013.

Source: USGS Mineral Study 2013.

The Helium Stewardship Act did preserve the U.S. supply, but a remaining problem is the fact that the government sells helium below market prices. Instead of dealing with this valuable gas as a commodity, like natural gas, for instance, it sold it only with an eye toward recouping the costs incurred in running the reserve. The upshot is the price of helium on the market is out of whack, basically much lower than if the law of supply and demand were in effect.

Yet, by 2014 worldwide helium production was up, thanks to Qatar. The tiny Arab state is now the world’s second largest helium producer after adding a new production capacity at their existing facility. They now produce 75.4 million liters of the gas, about 14 percent of the world’s supply as opposed to the U.S.’s 33 percent. The Qatar operation is the world’s largest helium production plant.

But the demand for helium continues to outstrip supply, especially during peak times of the year. This has led to rising prices. And to add to the severity of the situation: Congress only funded the Federal Helium Reserve through 2021, after which it once again faces privatization or shuttering. Enter the Liquid Helium Purchase Program: The American Physical Society, Defense Logistics Agency, and American Chemical Society have teamed up to make sure that all universities and research facilities have access to the helium they need. These three entities can negotiate better prices on liquid helium on behalf of these institutions, which frequently need only small amounts. This will help avoid the wild price fluctuations that these institutions often experience—anything from $8 per liter to $25 per liter.

The moral of the story is that all our natural resources need to be carefully managed and considered if we are to achieve true sustainability. Fossil fuels get the brunt of the natural resource attention, but the unsung heroes of the periodic chart deserve some love too. Our high-tech world requires that our political leaders engage in critical thinking and foresight to properly manage our natural capital. As Shoemaker told Torrance, “The United States needs to look at helium as a strategic resource and manage it as they do any other their other strategic resources for defense and technology purposes. They need to understand there’s a need for it in the foreseeable future. Do we depend on Qatar, and Algeria, and Russia to provide us that?”

Source: Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia.

*You know the Hindenburg exploded upon landing in New Jersey in 1937, killing 36 people as the hydrogen went up in flames. But did you know this was the sixth major airship disaster in just sixteen years? All told, 287 people died in these infernos; 77 people died when the USS Akron, which was the largest helium-filled airship ever constructed and which served as a flying aircraft carrier for the U.S. Navy, was destroyed in a storm off the coast of New Jersey in April 1933. It was the deadliest airship disaster in history. No wonder these behemoths are no longer soaring through our skies.

Kathy Wilson Peacock is a writer, editor, nature lover, and flaneur of the zeitgeist. She favors science over superstition and believes that knowledge is the best super power. Favorite secret weapon: A library card.

Posted on: June 2, 2015, 6:00 am Category: Current Issues Tagged with: , , , ,

The Fatberg That Ate London

Don’t flush wet wipes, people! Don’t pour fat down the drain! They will glom onto each other like sequins onto Mariah Carey, and you’ll end up with a 10-ton fatberg the size of a double-decker bus. It happened last month in London. The fatberg took 10 days to blast away and caused $600,000 in damage. It was super gross.

Source: Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

A fatberg is the perfect storm of citizen stupidity and nefarious marketing. The stupidity comes from people disposing of fat by pouring it down the drain. Everyone knows you collect used cooking oil and dispose of it as solid waste. But in London, apparently our grandmothers’ traditions are too old fashioned, too environmentally sensible, for busy restaurant staffers who just really, really can’t be bothered to do the right thing. Two things England apparently doesn’t have: cold soda and grease traps.

Source: http://www.100dollardrain.com/used-cooking-oil-grease-drain/

Source: http://www.100dollardrain.com/used-cooking-oil-grease-drain/

The nefarious marketing has created a demand for toilet paper you can’t flush, i.e. wet wipes. How is this even a thing? They cost more, they’re less convenient, and they jam up the plumbing. Did Don Draper craft a poignant ad campaign that equates people’s happy childhood memories with the feeling of wiping your bum with a damp sheet of chemicals and plastic? Let’s take a lesson from the Japanese and adopt their high-tech, jet-stream, blow-dry commodes. Sanitation plus space-age design—now that’s the future!

Source: Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia.

But back to London’s fatberg infestation. April’s 10-ton behemoth wasn’t even the biggest ‘berg on record. That honor goes to the toxic 15-ton “congealed lump of lard” that blocked a 2-meter diameter sewer pipe and nearly flooded Kingston upon Thames with an unholy sludge of stink in the summer of ’13. Many others have made the news, including an 80-meter clump beneath Shepherd’s Bush Road.

The problem is that wet wipes don’t break down after the flush. As they travel through the sewers, they get snagged on joints and bricks. Layers of fat build up over time. It’s like old-timey candle dipping. With human waste.

Oddly, the only business trying to slay the greasy beast is McDonalds, which collects its used oil from its London establishments and uses it to fuel its trucks. The mayor of London has called to scale up this newfangled “biofuel” concept with the city’s buses, but the Google trail goes cold after 2013, so I don’t think it’s actually happened.

 

Source: http://www.mcdpressoffice.eu/photography/cat06/.

Source: http://www.mcdpressoffice.eu/photography/cat06/.

That still leaves the wet wipe half of the equation. And it’s not only sewers that are the beneficiaries of this waste. The UK’s Marine Conservation Society found 35 wet wipes for every kilometer of beach during their annual clean up in 2014. Just like with other beach trash, wildlife suffers. Birds and animals eat the wipes and don’t digest them. With their stomach full of garbage, they die of starvation.

Source: Gareth Fuller/PA, Guardian.com

Source: Gareth Fuller/PA, Guardian.com

London has suffered the brunt of the wet wipe problem, but New York City has had its trials too. And the city’s solution is litigation—ain’t America grand?—against manufacturers that label their products flushable. These “demon snowballs” are flushable in the same way “a golf ball is flushable,” according to a sanitary engineer interviewed in the New York Times. The city has spent millions of dollars to install equipment to rake out the used wipes at the sewage plant, a cost that is passed along to city residents. The city is also launching a public awareness campaign to teach people not to flush them.

Many brands readily tell consumers right on the package that the wipes are not flushable. But Cottonelle wipes made by Kimberly-Clark proudly proclaim they are flushable due to their “patented dispersible technology.” But ask any self-respecting wastewater treatment plant operator, and they’ll tell you a whole ‘nother story.

Source: Cottonelle.com

Source: Cottonelle.com

The fatberg that ate London and that tried to eat New York is s spreading to other states. A class-action lawsuit against Target, which claims its store brand wipes are septic and sewer safe, was filed in northern Ohio. Hawaii, Alaska, Wisconsin, and California have all battled the beast. The only difference in the States is that people generally don’t exacerbate the problem with pouring oil down the drain; thus the fatbergs aren’t growing beneath the feet of oblivious urban pedestrians. Instead, the wet wipes become a problem at the sewage plants, where, according to Marshfield, Wisconsin’s wastewater superintendent Sam Warp, workers need to dismantle equipment, get sewage on the floor, “then they end up laying down there and reaching up into the pump, pull the rags back out—and they don’t smell real good the rest of the day.”

Source: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Source: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

 

Kathy Wilson Peacock is a writer, editor, nature lover, and flaneur of the zeitgeist. She favors science over superstition and believes that knowledge is the best super power. Favorite secret weapon: A library card.

Posted on: May 19, 2015, 6:00 am Category: Current Issues Tagged with: , , , , ,

Pescetarian Nightmares: Incognito Fish and Forced Labor on the High Seas

You aren’t ready to go full-throttle vegetarian. Sure, you can eat vegan with the best of them, but you still want your occasional omega-3’s from your scaly, fishy friends. Who doesn’t love sushi?

  Source: http://aviceramics.deviantart.com/.


Source: http://aviceramics.deviantart.com/.

But there’s danger lurking on the menu. What you see isn’t always what you get. Fish fraud is real, and chances are you’ve been a victim. Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing costs the regulated fishing industry somewhere between $10 billion and $23 billion in lost profits each year. IUU fishing harvests massive amounts of seafood illegally and way beyond sustainable limits. Real fishermen care about sustainable oceans; pirates do not.

The first hint that something was rotten came in 2011 when a Boston Globe investigation revealed that half the fish on the city’s menus were mislabeled. Escolar instead of tuna; swai instead of flounder; hake instead of cod; 24 of 26 red snapper samples weren’t. Fish marketed as fresh and local is often frozen and from a nonlocal ocean. Invariably, the substitutions were an inferior fish that customarily sells for much less on the market. Some of the substitutions can have serious health effects.

This lil’ guy wants you to know that he’s the real deal: A bona fide grouper. Source: http://www.fastcompany.com/1759658/gulf-wild-cuts-down-seafood-fraud-tagging-fish.

This lil’ guy wants you to know that he’s the real deal: A bona fide grouper. Source: http://www.fastcompany.com/1759658/gulf-wild-cuts-down-seafood-fraud-tagging-fish.

On the other hand, fish at the grocery store is more likely to be what it purports to be, but not always. The culprit can be anyone in the supply chain: The fishermen, the importers, the wholesalers, the restaurants. Often, fish fraud is driven by the fact that the desirable species are overfished and largely unavailable. People continue to order red snapper because it continues to appear on menus, even though red snapper is rarely what the diner receives. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 57.4 percent of fish stocks are exploited and in danger of collapse; 29.9 percent are completely depleted.

A Consumer Reports investigation in 2011 broadened the Globe’s findings. Their study found that 20 percent of their fish purchases at East Coast grocery stores were mislabeled. Fortunately, some high end cuts were always correctly identified: Chilean sea bass, coho salmon, bluefin tuna, and ahi tuna. Lemon sole and red snapper were most likely to be misidentified.

Good thing the government’s got our back. The Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud has released an action plan. The problem has long been tracing where our seafood comes from. Quite frequently our packages and menus lie. To counteract this, the action plan outlines 19 steps organized into four general themes:

  1. International: Combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud at the international level.
  2. Enforcement: Strengthen enforcement and enhance enforcement tools to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
  3. Partnerships: Create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and NGOs to identify and eliminate seafood fraud in the U.S.
  4. Traceability: Create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into the United States to prevent entry of illegal fish into the supply chain and better inform retailers and consumers.
Source: http://themetapicture.com/vegetarian-girl/.

Source: http://themetapicture.com/vegetarian-girl/.

While the Presidential Task Force is fighting the good fight, perhaps I buried the lede:

IUU pirate fishing vessels are even guilty of human trafficking and slave labor. Think about that the next time you pick up a package of shrimp that was farm raised in Thailand, which is one of the regions that pirates love. Time magazine said it best: Child Slaves May Have Caught the Fish in Your Freezer.

Fishing has always been an industry that relies on migrant workers, who are vulnerable to trafficking and forced labor. Fishing is ideal for the practice, because once aboard a vessel, workers are captive in the middle of the ocean for months—sometimes even years—at a time. And fishing boats are the most dangerous workplaces in the world. They always have been, but now it’s especially true when they take risks to go after declining fish populations.

Child slaves in Ghana. Source: GlobalGiving.org.

Child slaves in Ghana. Source: GlobalGiving.org.

Many forced laborers in the fishing industry are children. As always, the root cause of the problem is poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, children who have been orphaned due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic are especially vulnerable. In the Philippines, according to the International Labor Office:

Children are engaged as swimmers and divers in muroami (a type of net) fishing, targeting reef fish—an extremely hazardous form of work. Child labourers are reportedly at risk of ear damage, injuries from falls, shark attacks, snake bites and drowning.

This actually sounds preferable to child labor practices in Bangladesh:

Child labourers in shrimp processing (de-heading) depots in Bangladesh tend to work hours that prevent them from attending school. They often work for nine hours without a break in extremely unsanitary conditions, and are frequently cheated of their pay. Cuts to hands and feet are common and can become badly infected, abscessed or swollen. Sexual abuse, including rape, is also reportedly common. For unmarried girls, the very fact that they work in the industry can mean their reputations and marriage prospects are tarnished.

It goes on and on. Malawi, Ghana, Indonesia—those operating in different countries have created different ways to exploit children based on the regional characteristics of their fishing and aquaculture sectors.

The Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud does not address the labor issue specifically, nor are children and/or workers on fishing vessels mentioned in the U.S. Department of State’s Progress in Combating Trafficking in Persons: The U.S. Government Response to Modern Slavery. Looks like for the foreseeable future, exploited workers will need to rely on the UN’s International Labour Organization, which is responsible for monitoring topics as diverse as multinational enterprises, social dialogue, and wages. Child labor and human trafficking are just one program area among many.

But good journalism always helps. In April, 2015, the Associated Press ran a story about hundreds of men imprisoned on the island of Benjina in Indonesia, enslaved and beaten as fisherman, living without wages for up to 10 years. Embarrassed by the story, the Indonesian government stepped in and helped rescue many of them.

Source: AP. An enslaved fisherman on the island of Benjina, Indonesia.

Source: AP. An enslaved fisherman on the island of Benjina, Indonesia.

Slavery is a story as old as time but it will never stop being shocking. At least, let’s hope we never lose our ability to be shocked. The children and the dispossessed are relying on us.

Kathy Wilson Peacock is a writer, editor, nature lover, and flaneur of the zeitgeist. She favors science over superstition and believes that knowledge is the best super power. Favorite secret weapon: A library card.

Posted on: May 5, 2015, 6:00 am Category: Current Issues Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Mess at the Top of the World

Mt. Everest: The Holy Grail of the climbing world. Each year 230,000 people travel to China and Nepal to hike Everest and its sister peaks in the Himalayas. All climbers generate garbage, and the mountains have no way to process it. It’s a delicate environment where trash remains frozen for eternity—or until the greenhouse effect takes over and releases the stench of rotting what-have-you.

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar. Photo by Pavel Novak. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5.

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar. Photo by Pavel Novak. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5.

For perspective on the garbage problem, some numbers are in order. In 1963 six people reached the summit. In 2012, more than 500 made it to the top. This created a traffic jam at the final ascent, known as the Hillary Step. Climbers waited for hours to hoist themselves up along a rope. Those that made it to the summit had a hard time finding a place to stand. Another several hundred attempted to make the summit but were turned back by bad weather or common sense. But their garbage was just as real.

hilary-step-455v

The traffic jam on a summit day, as climbers wait to for the Hillary Step near the top of Mt. Everest. Source: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/06/125-everest-maxed-out/jenkins-text.

And it’s not only garbage that is left behind. Some 200 bodies of climbers who perished in the mountain’s “death zone”—the area above 25,000 feet where the oxygen level is insufficient for sustaining human life—dot the landscape. The death zone is literally a place between life and death. From Camp 4 to the summit, each climber’s body is in the process of shutting down and the goal is to get to the top and back before that happens.

For those who don’t make it, their bodies may be pushed over a ledge so climbers don’t encounter them. Others remain in the crevasses into which they fell. All are frozen solid in the positions in which they died, a process that can happen imperceptibly between one breath and the next as they stop for a momentary rest.

Even George Mallory, who died in 1924 just 800 feet below the summit on the world’s first ascent of Everest, still lies face down where he landed. His body was discovered in 1999 during a special expedition. His clothing is ripped, and his back is exposed to the frigid air in a manner that makes the grandma in me want to cover him up with a blanket.

The body of Green Boots, an Indian climber who died in 1996 near the summit. http://altereddimensions.net/2012/dead-bodies-on-mount-everest.

The body of Green Boots, an Indian climber who died in 1996 near the summit. http://altereddimensions.net/2012/dead-bodies-on-mount-everest.

While the “Leave No Trace” ethic runs deep in many areas of the world, this is not the case in Nepal, where climbing is big business and the ineffective government has little recourse in enforcing efforts to treat the mountain as the religious force that Buddhists believe it is.

Given the difficulties in climbing the mountain, bringing a dead body down is harder than it seems. Several people attempting to recover bodies have died themselves. Now these 200 bodies are used as landmarks to guide Sherpas and their clients. Needless to say, the bodies will remain preserved and frozen until the rosy-fingered dawn of climate change reaches out and melts the Himalayan snow.

Thus, given the issue of its ill-fated explorers, it’s not surprising that the mountain suffers a litter problem. Expeditions are supposed to take their garbage with them, but this largely hasn’t happened. When commercial climbing took off in the 1970s, climbers routinely left tents, foot packaging, and what have you on the mountain. Things are better now, but it seems that the $65,000 in fees that each climber pays to the government of Nepal for the privilege of climbing makes them feel entitled to leave their empty water bottles and oxygen canisters behind.

According to writer Pablo Figueroa, “In essence, the mess at the top of the world is socially caused, and it has to do with the naturalization, promotion and exaltation of a culture of ambition and self-glory.”

Photograph: Daniel Byers./Mountain Institute Expedition

Photograph: Daniel Byers./Mountain Institute Expedition

Human waste is a big issue. None of the villages on the hiking trail to base camp have waste treatment systems. A group called Eco Himal is pushing for portable toilets at base camp and maybe even a waste treatment facility. Climbers are supposed to carry their own waste with them, but that’s not really feasible, given that climbers may stay several weeks at Everest Base Camp and higher levels. As of 2015, human waste at Everest Base Camp is stored in barrels that are later removed from the mountain. But this isn’t the case at the other three higher camps where it remains a huge problem.

The waste issue is monitored by the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, which is small, underfunded, and lacks the authority to do much about the problem. However, one recent improvement is that all expeditions must pay a $4,000 deposit on their equipment in hopes they will bring back what they took. This is helping enormously, according to people who have seen a marked difference in the once-trash strewn base camp. But much still gets left behind. Even when waste does make its way back to Kathmandu, the city has no recycling facility to handle it.

According to one article in the Guardian, in 2010 the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee recovered 25 tons of garbage from Everest; about half was paper and plastic, the other half human waste. What remains on the mountain stays perfectly preserved, like the bodies of those unfortunate climbers. In 2014 the Nepali Ministry of Tourism required all climbers to descend the mountain with 18 pounds of trash, which is the amount that the average climber generates during his or her time there. However, enforcement was sketchy to nonexistent.

Climate change is adding to the problem. Glaciers are receding, and freshwater is increasingly contaminated with human and animal waste. All of these factors create a situation that is unsustainable. The campaign “Saving Mount Everest 2011-2012” is on a quest to restore dignity to the mountain, but its quest is far from over. According to one Sherpa quoted in Treehugger, “The garbage was buried under snow in the past. But now it has come out on the surface because of the melting of snow due to global warming. The rubbish is creating problems for climbers . . . . Some items of garbage are from Hillary’s time.”

 

Source: http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/everest-expedition-to-clean-worlds-highest-garbage-dump.html

Source: http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/everest-expedition-to-clean-worlds-highest-garbage-dump.html

According to Mark Jenkins, writing in National Geographic, there are six ways to restore Mt. Everest:

  1. Limit the number of climbers and Sherpas on the mountain.
  2. Make teams smaller to reduce the traffic jams near the top.
  3. Certify climbing companies to make sure they know and exercise proper safety and conservation procedures.
  4. Require climbers and Sherpas to have high-altitude experience beforehand.
  5. Leave no trace. Those who leave garbage or human waste on the mountain will suffer penalties.
  6. Remove bodies to show respect for both the living and the dead.

It’s an uphill battle, but one that’s worth it if we are to truly respect the awesome power of Everest and respect the memory of those who have lost their lives seeking to reach its summit.

Kathy Wilson Peacock is a writer, editor, nature lover, and flaneur of the zeitgeist. She favors science over superstition and believes that knowledge is the best super power. Favorite secret weapon: A library card.

Posted on: April 21, 2015, 9:56 am Category: Current Issues Tagged with: , , , , ,