National Geographic May 2014

With this post, I will pretty much run out of National Geographic posts from my old blog.  I am going to attempt to keep posting entire issues, but I may go back to the pattern I originally set up on the old blog, where I generally posted two articles at a time.  If I were to keep posting entire issues, it likely would slow me way down on my reading.  The magazines just seem to go faster when I read two and review two, rather than reading the entire issue.

The “pretty much” is because I do have three National Geographic posts left, but two are from the October 1888 issue, which I am still plugging away at slowly.  National Geographic didn’t start trying to attract a general audience until around 1905, so those first 17 years of issues will be slow going.


A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, by Jonathan Foley, photographs by George Steinmetz and Jim Richardson

Over the next 35 years, from 2015 to 2050, the food needs of the world will likely double.  This is due not only to population increase, but also to the increase in prosperity of formerly impoverished nations.  These developing nations are now demanding more in terms of meat, milk, and eggs, as well as of produce.  As a result, scientists need to come up with new ways to feed these people while not wrecking the environment in the process.  Foley led what he refers to as “a team of scientists” who have studied this very question and they came up with five steps that may help with this.

These five steps are to freeze agriculture’s footprint, to grow more on farms we’ve got, to use resources more efficiently, to shift diets (to less meat-intensive diets, for example), and to reduce waste.

These goals seem to be pretty obvious to me.  Further, while this article gives a few examples of how these goals might be achieved, it then ends with “we already know what we have to do; we just need to figure out how to do it.”  I felt sort of underwhelmed by this conclusion.  I guess I should count it as a good thing that scientists are thinking about this topic at all.

Digging Utah’s Dinosaurs, by Peter Miller, photographs by Cory Richards

In Digging Utah’s Dinosaurs, we meet the Miller brothers, Ian and Dane, who are paleobotanists.  We join the Miller brothers on an expedition at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, where they are searching for signs of the lost continent of Laramidia.

90 million years ago, the area which is now North America was two separate continents, Appalachia to the east and Laramidia to the west.  The Western Interior Seaway lay between them.  The Miller brothers, along with other scientists, are searching for the species of dinosaur who lived in this area and trying to figure out why the dinosaurs of northern Laramidia were so different from those in southern Laramidia. It is possible that there was a physical barrier of some sort, but they have not yet found any evidence of such a barrier.  Instead, the going theory is that the area, much of which is now desert, was a tropical rainforest.  This means that the herbivorous animals would not have had to have gone very far in search of food.  This also means that any carnivorous animals in the area also would not have had to wander very far.  The result would be a less dramatic version of how isolation caused divergence in Australia and Madagascar.  The species would have had different pressures causing different traits to be selected for, resulting in very different species.

Finally, I noticed that the writer, Peter Miller, shares a surname with the Miller brothers.  Miller is a very common name in the United States (the sixth most common, as of the 2000 census), so it is not impossible that this is a coincidence.  However, it is also not impossible that all three Millers are related in some way.  I have been unable to determine which of these it is.

The Ship Breakers, by Peter Gwin, photographs by Mike Hettwer

Oceangoing ships have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years. After that, it becomes so expensive to insure them that their only value is for scrap. Ships are not just made of steel. There are other substances involved, such as asbestos and lead. In most developed countries, the safety measures necessary for such work would eat into the profits from recycling the recyclable bits, such as the steel. As a result, “the bulk of the world’s shipbreaking” takes place in countries with lower safety standards, such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

In The Ship Breakers, Gwin takes us to one of the shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh.  In Bangladesh, the shipbreaking yards recycle around 90% of each ship and, overall, make a profit of three to four million dollars a year.  The yards used to be open to tourists, but a while ago, they closed the yards to visitors.

Gwin and Hettwer show us some of the process of shipbreaking in Bangladesh, in which these elderly ships are taken apart by hand. We also hear from an activist who wants the process of shipbreaking to be done in a cleaner, safer way.  At the moment, the shipbreakers risk their lives daily and allow toxic chemicals to leach into the environment.  Hopefully, someday the shipbreaking yards will find a cleaner, safer way to do their work without putting people out of their jobs.

The Generous Gulf, by Rob Dunn, photographs by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes

When the European colonists arrived in North America, they were overwhelmed by the variety of life, and number of fish, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  This was for two good reasons.  First, their own waters back home had been overfished and second, the Gulf of St. Lawrence had an unusually high number of lifeforms because of its position.  The waters of several rivers collect organic matter which becomes food for smaller lifeforms, which then become food for larger ones until you have cod, and herring, and sturgeon, and even whales and walruses.  The Europeans seemed to think that the supply of fish and other animals was infinite and immediately set about overfishing the Gulf.

There is a new threat to the Gulf as well.  Oil has been found under the Gulf and the oil company executives are making plans to begin drilling.  This runs the risk of leaking into the Gulf and causing ecological damage.  Hopefully the oil companies that are planning this well will be careful with the ecosystem that they are about to venture into.

Love and Loss on the Seine, by Cathy Newman, photographs by William Albert Allard

Love and Loss on the Seine is a series of vignettes of life on the Seine, the river that flows through the heart of Paris.  We meet people who have chosen to live on barges in the river.  We see workers setting up for Paris Plages, a summer festival in which the expressway along the right bank of the river is blocked off and turned into a beach with sand and portable palm trees.  People discuss the color of the Seine with Newman.  We see the history of Les Berges, a sort of River Walk for Paris, where the expressway along the left bank has been closed in favor of parks and restaurants.  We visit a homeless shelter on a barge on the river.  Newman discusses breaking the law on the Seine (no swimming or wading, no protests, no banners and so forth) with a police officer.  We see people fishing on the Seine (a difficult task considering the embankments that have been there since the 1700s).  We see Paris at 3:00 in the morning.  We visit a mental hospital on a barge on the Seine (there is little to no aggression in the patients in this hospital; no one is sure why).

Overall, Love and Loss on the Seine is very quick, easy reading, and helped me see more of a city that I have only visited for one very pleasant day in 2002.

(originally posted in July and August 2015)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.