The Atacama desert in Chile holds much of the electric-car future … The Wall Street Journal

.

.

By Ryan Dube Photographs by Tamara Merino for The Wall Street Journal 

Listen to article

SALAR DE ATACAMA, Chile—Hailed as the Saudi Arabia of lithium, this California-sized chunk of terrain accounts for some 55% of the world’s known deposits of the metal, a key component in electric-vehicle batteries.

As the Chinese EV giant BYD Co. recently learned, tapping into that resource can be a challenge. Earlier this year, after BYD won a government contract to mine lithium, indigenous residents took to the streets, demanding the tender be canceled over concerns about the impact on local water supplies. In June, the Chilean Supreme Court threw out the award, saying the government failed to consult with indigenous people first. 

“They want to produce more and more lithium, but we’re the ones who pay the price,” said Lady Sandón, president of one of two Atacameño indigenous hamlets that filed a lawsuit against the auction. A BYD spokeswoman declined to comment.

Similar setbacks are occurring around the so-called Lithium Triangle, which overlaps parts of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. Production has suffered at the hands of leftist governments angling for greater control over the mineral and a bigger share of profits, as well as from environmental concerns and greater activism by local Andean communities who fear being left out while outsiders get rich.Production of lithium carbonate equivalentSource: U.S. Geological SurveyAustraliaChileChinaArgentina2016’20050,000100,000150,000200,000250,000300,000350,000tons

At a time of exploding demand that has sent lithium prices up 750% since the start of 2021, industry analysts worry that South America could become a major bottleneck for growth in electric vehicles.



“All the major car makers are completely on board with electric vehicles now,” said Brian Jaskula, a lithium expert at the U.S. Geological Survey. “But the lithium may just not be enough.”

In Bolivia, the government nationalized its lithium industry years ago and has yet to produce meaningful amounts of the metal. Mexico, a smaller player, also recently nationalized lithium. In Argentina, output is only starting to take off.

Here in Chile, where lithium is already tightly controlled, President Gabriel Boric’s new leftist government plans to create a state lithium company after criticizing past privatizations of raw commodities as a mistake. A new constitution, if approved in a September referendum, would strengthen environmental rules and indigenous rights over mining.

“This is a strategic resource for the energy transition,” said Chile Mines Minister Marcela Hernando. Ms. Hernando recently told Chile’s congress that while the government didn’t have the know-how to mine lithium on its own, it would insist on majority control of any joint venture with private firms. 

Evaporation ponds at an Albemarle Corp. lithium mine in Chile.

A brine reservoir, a step in the lithium-extraction process. 

A few years ago, Chile was the world’s largest lithium producer, turning out slightly more than Australia. While Chile has expanded output at its existing operations by 80% since 2016 to about 140,000 tons annually, it hasn’t opened a new mine in about 30 years. It now produces about half as much as Australia, which has quadrupled its output in the past five years, according to the USGS.

Unlike oil, which is produced all over the globe, lithium is less common. South America, Australia and China are the key locations. Outside South America, it’s extracted from hard-rock. In the region, lithium is found in salty, underground water that is evaporated by the sun after being pumped into large man-made ponds. South America’s lithium is less expensive to produce, but miners say the drawback is it takes far longer to build a mine—about eight years.

Chilean officials and environmentalists worry about the impact on water supplies. Willy Kracht, Chile’s undersecretary of mining, said recently that up to 2,800 cubic meters of water are needed to produce one ton of lithium in Chile, versus 70 cubic meters for a ton of copper.

Environmentalists believe that mining has caused some nearby lagoons to dry up, harming the population of wild flamingos that rely on them to feed on shrimp and build nests. “The damage is irreversible,” said Cristina Dorador, a biologist who was a member of a special assembly that wrote the draft for Chile’s new constitution.

~~~ CONTINUE READING THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ~~~

Extremes on Mont Blanc Prompt Mayor to Seek ‘Funeral Deposit’ for Climbers ~ Gear Junkie

August 4, 2022 | By Sam Anderson

Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn more.

~~~~~

Amid chaotic weather and resulting surface conditions on high peaks all over Europe, one French Mayor takes a stand for his constituent taxpayers.

Accessing “the roof of Europe” has never been so prohibitive during any previous summer climbing season. Now, the mayor of Saint-Gervais, France, proposes to place the onus of rescue and funeral costs on climbers willing to take the risk.

In an Aug. 3 statement, Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex announced plans to levy a €15,000 ($15,341) deposit to climb Mont Blanc (15,771 feet) via the popular Goûter route.

Peillex said €10,000 ($10,227) would cover the cost of rescue or body recovery; the remaining €5,000 ($5,113) would cover climbers who paid the ultimate price. His town rests at the foot of the mountain and serves as its de facto access point for climbers.

It is “impermissible that the French taxpayer be the one to cover such costs,” the mayor asserted Wednesday. “[Summit hopefuls] want to climb with death in their backpack, so they anticipate the costs of relief and burial.”

Heightened Objective Hazards on Mont Blanc

Barbed as Peillex’s terminology may be, the actions of local climbing guides back up his assertion that climbing on Mont Blanc this summer is dangerous to the point of recklessness. The prolific Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix strongly advised staying off the Goûter route 2 weeks ago and ceased its activity there until further notice.

Rockfalls, shifting crevasses, and landslides have become common on the mountain as temperatures continue to soar all over Europe. Echoing the Guides de Chamonix’s protocols, Peillex made his statement on July 15.

“Mountaineers are recommended to postpone their ascent, that is to say, to listen to the mountain, not to want to be stronger than nature,” he urged. “We have significant rockfalls. [T]here is less precipitation, less snowfall, and that is why a crevasse opened on the Bosses ridge this year, which makes the ascent even more complicated.”

mont blanc gouter route

Despite his and the guides’ pleas, the mayor said several dozen “pseudo-alpinists” have sought to climb Mont Blanc this summer. Mountain rescue teams, he said, have counted at least 50 people who have defied their recommendations. He cited one example of several Romanian tourists attempting the summit in “shorts and sneakers.”

Closures Could Escalate

The deposit proposition of €15,000 ($15,341) constitutes one more step toward the Goûter route’s effective closure. Peillex previously stated that his office would shut down the Goûter refuge, a critical waypoint for climbers, if they deemed conditions dangerous enough.

He said, “If it becomes really very dangerous, we will close the Goûter refuge, that is to say, that there will no longer be this possibility for mountaineers to stop there and sleep there.”

For now, the mountain hut and the route to the Mont Blanc summit are technically open.

~~~

matterhorn
The iconic Matterhorn: closed to climbing; (photo/Jakl Lubos via Shutterstock)

CLASSIC CLIMBS CLOSED: RECORD HEAT CANCELS EUROPEAN ALPS TOURS

August 3, 2022 | By Angela Benavides

The sweltering, dry conditions in the European Alps have turned glacier areas and classic routes into deadly traps.


While it’s virtually impossible to ban climbers from pursuing a summit,authorities and guides have had to make some tough recent decisions in the European Alps.

Headlines worldwide describe “closed mountains” this week as temperatures in the country soar, even at altitude. Officials have closed refuges, canceled guided trips, and strongly recommended that climbers don’t go on their own.

Classics Out of Reach

“Conditions are changing fast and not in a good way,” the High Mountain Office of Chamonix reported on July 20. Back then, most guiding companies refused to take clients up Mont Blanc. Meanwhile, because of open crevasses and constant rockfall, climbers turned around on dozens of other famous ascents, from the Aiguille Verte to the Grandes Jorasses.

Even the bergschrund at the base of the Aiguille du Midi opens wider daily. Although local conditions change almost daily, high temperatures have given no respite to an already-scorched Europe.

Last week, guides working on the Matterhorn (Cervino) between Switzerland and Italy and the Jungfrau at the Swiss Oberland decided to stop guiding these classic peaks as well, Barrabes.com reported.

european alps climbing

Guided trips canceled include those to the following:

  • Refuge Gouter on the normal route to Mont Blanc from France
  • The Dente del Gigante (Dent du Géant or Giant’s Tooth)
  • The Matterhorn, either via the Hornli or Lion’s Ridges (the normal routes from Switzerland and Italy)
  • The Castor to Pollux traverse

ELECTRIC CARS TOO COSTLY FOR MANY, EVEN WITH AID IN CLIMATE BILL

Battery-powered vehicles are considered essential to the fight against climate change, but most models are aimed at the affluent

Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with a theoretical starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough.
Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with a theoretical starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough.Credit…Sylvia Jarrus for The New York Times

By Jack Ewing

Aug. 8, 2022

Policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change. But an uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.

Congress has begun trying to address that problem. The climate and energy package passed on Sunday by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act, would give buyers of used electric cars a tax credit.

But automakers have complained that the credit would apply to only a narrow slice of vehicles, at least initially, largely because of domestic sourcing requirements. And experts say broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable and to get enough of them on the road to put a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

~~~ READ IN NYT ~~~

New Mexican death mud …

.

The variety of clouds and the spectrum of light and color has been spectacular this summer. Although the roads are New Mexican death mud as I heard it described in the NYTimes a while back..

Crédito total, Eric Ming

Mexico’s Drought, THE FUTURE … NYT

Photographs by Cesar Rodriguez

Written by Maria Abi-Habib and Bryan Avelar

  • Aug. 3, 2022

Mexico, or large parts of it, is running out of water.

An extreme drought has seen taps run dry across the country, with nearly two-thirds of all municipalities facing a water shortage that is forcing people in some places to line up for hours for government water deliveries.

The lack of water has grown so extreme that irate residents block highways and kidnap municipal workers to demand more supply.

The numbers underlining the crisis are startling: In July, eight of Mexico’s 32 states were experiencing extreme to moderate drought, resulting in 1,546 of the country’s 2,463 municipalities confronting water shortages, according to the National Water Commission.

By mid-July, about 48 percent of Mexico’s territory was suffering drought, according to the commission, compared with about 28 percent of the country’s territory during the same period last year. 

While tying a single drought to human-caused climate change requires analysis, scientists have no doubt that global warming can alter rainfall patterns around the world and is increasing the likelihood of droughts. 

Across the border in recent years, most of the Western half of the United States has been in drought, with conditions ranging from moderate to severe.For the region, this period is now the driest two decades in 1,200 years. 

The water level under the Rodrigo Gómez Dam in Santiago, Mexico, is so low that people can get to it on foot or by car.
The water level under the Rodrigo Gómez Dam in Santiago, Mexico, is so low that people can get to it on foot or by car. 

The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important economic hubs and where the entire metropolitan area of about five million people is affected by drought, according to officials. Some neighborhoods in Monterrey have been without water for 75 days, leading many schools to close before the scheduled summer break.

The situation in the city has gotten so dire, a visiting journalist could not find any drinking water for sale at several stores, including a Walmart.

Buckets, too, are scarce at local stores — or being sold at astronomically high prices — as Monterrey’s residents scrape together containers to collect water supplied by government trucks sent to the driest neighborhoods. Some residents clean out trash cans to ferry water home, children struggling to help carry what can amount to 450 pounds of water.

While Monterrey’s poorest neighborhoods are the hardest hit, the crisis is affecting everyone, including the wealthy.

~~~ CONTINUE READING NYT ~~~

FEDS PROPOSE RESTRICTIONS ON BLUE LAKES RECREATION ~ Ouray County Plaindealer

With visitation up 300% in last decade, forest management plan calls for limiting camping, permits in some areas

By Erin McIntyre on Thursday, May 5, 2022

  • Lower Blue Lake is located at the base of Mt. Sneffels in the Uncompahgre National Forest, southwest of Ridgway. A new plan unveiled by the U.S. Forest Service proposes limiting visitors in a newly created Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Zone and requiring permits for overnight use in some areas. Adobe Stock/Krzysztof WiktorLower Blue Lake is located at the base of Mt. Sneffels in the Uncompahgre National Forest, southwest of Ridgway. A new plan unveiled by the U.S. Forest Service proposes limiting visitors in a newly created Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Zone and requiring permits for overnight use in some areas. Adobe Stock/Krzysztof Wiktor
  • Vehicles crowd the parking area at the Blue Lakes trailhead last summer. Erin McIntyre — Ouray County PlaindealerVehicles crowd the parking area at the Blue Lakes trailhead last summer. Erin McIntyre — Ouray County Plaindealer

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect there is a proposed permit system for hiking the Blue Lakes Trail. While the trailhead for Blue Lakes is NOT in a permit-required area, the trail itself is located inside the wilderness zone and would require a permit for day use.

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing use restrictions on the area around Blue Lakes, in response to impacts from increased visitation and impacts from more people using public lands.

The proposed management plan would require permits for hikers on the Blue Lakes Trail, as has been implemented for some other popular trails. The plan also proposes limiting camping, requiring permits for overnight use in some places, and other ways to mitigate the impacts of visitation.

The Blue Lakes area receives around 35,000 visitors per year, with the majority of those visitors flocking to the trails from June to September, according to the Forest Service.

The increased visitation, which exacerbated during the pandemic, resulted in various recreation-related impacts, including, “human waste (unburied waste and trash), vegetation loss from campsite expansion, dogs off-leash, illegal campfires, unintended wildlife encounters, social conflicts (loud music), overcrowding, and parking issues,” according to the agency.

The plan proposes management of 16,200 acres within the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness and the surrounding areas – dividing the area into five zones that have different levels of restrictions, depending on the impacts in those areas and how they’ve been used for recreation. Those zones are referred to as the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Zone, the Mt. Sneffels Peak Zone, the Yankee Boy Zone, the Lower East Dallas Zone (which includes the main access to the popular Blue Lakes trail) and the Blaine Basin Zone. The Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Zone does not include the trailhead for the Blue Lakes Trail, but it includes the majority of the trail itself.

In all the zones, camping would be limited to designated sites or campgrounds to minimize resource damage. Camping near the lower and upper Blue Lakes has been of particular concern in the past. The proposal would limit camping within the wilderness zone to Lower Blue Lake.

The plan also calls for permits and reservations in certain areas – including the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Zone – from May 1 to Sept. 30. These permits would limit group sizes to 10, among other rules, and would be limited to no more than 40 permits per day for day use and 24 permits for overnight camping. That means the limit for the number of people hiking the Blue Lakes Trail would be 40 permits, with 10 people per permit in a group.

Permits would also be required for overnight camping in the wilderness zone with an online limited permit, reservation and fee system from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Those permits would limit campers to two nights per stay, with no more than four nights total in a season for a permit holder. Only six people would be allowed per campsite, among other rules.

Permits would also be required for the Mt. Sneffels Summit Zone – but those permits would not be limited.

During the pandemic, locals who were concerned about overuse and preserving the natural resources at Blue Lakes launched a campaign to help educate visitors about “leave no trace” principles. Volunteers staffed the trailhead during heavy-use periods of the summer, providing information on everything from proper human waste disposal to other best practices to lessen the impact of their recreation. The “Save the Blues” campaign, launched in partnership with the Ridgway-Ouray Community Council and the San Juan Mountain Association with the Forest Service’s blessing, had a goal of educating the public to lessen impacts, as the federal agency collected more information and started drafting a proposed plan.

Last year, Western Colorado University master’s student Abraham Proffitt conducted a study on usage and impacts to the area. He recently finalized the report, and its findings include:

– Roughly 300% increase in visitor numbers at the Blue Lakes trail since 2011.

– Approximately 3,000 monthly vehicles were observed on off-road trails in the area. The busiest route is Camp Bird Road, and the highest recorded number of vehicles was on July 3, with 5,051 vehicles counted in one day at the summits of Camp Bird Road, Black Bear Pass, Corkscrew, Imogene Pass and Ophir Pass.

– The Blue Lakes Trail has an average of 164 hikers per day, with the busiest traffic on Saturdays. The highest recorded number of hikers was 509, on Sept. 5, and the total number of hikers counted from June through October was 22,402.

– There was a 740% increase in the number of campsites from 2010 to 2021, in dispersed camping areas in the Blue Lakes areas.

– Trash and human waste are significant problems at Blue Lakes. Profitt documented several examples of found items, including: feces, sleeping bags, a family-sized tent, socks, plastic bottles, soda cans, cotton balls, food wrappers and a hammock.

Profitt used infrared trail cameras, campsite inventories and water tests to help inform his report. His research found “a substantial increase in ecological damage in the Blue Lakes area and the OHV trails system compared with prior smaller-scale studies.” His work is the most tangible evidence the Forest Service has of current usage and impacts on the area.

His recommendations included instituting a permit system; restricting areas for rehabilitation; updating infrastructure, including better parking, toilets, campsites and signs; and increasing backcountry education.

Profitt noted in his report that he also collected comments from users, many of whom were surprised there wasn’t a permit system already in place.

“Nearly every visitor I spoke with, whether on the trail or virtually, was unhappy with the conditions of the trail and its impacts on the camping area,” he wrote. “Many people commented on the abundance of human waste and trash scattered throughout the campground and often asked why we did not have a compost toilet at the campground.”

He also noted there was a divide between hikers who said they lived here and others, in regard to opinions about a possible permit system.

“Most people in favor of a permit system claimed to be residents of the area and argued that only tourists should be required to buy a permit,” he wrote. “While this might limit the influx of visitors to the Blue Lakes area, I am not sure preferential treatment is the best solution because it could cause resentment between tourists and residents.”

The public has until May 20 to comment on the Blue Lakes Visitor Use Management Plan #61979, available online at www.fs.usda.gov. There will be another opportunity for public comment later, when a preliminary environmental assessment is ready for review. There are no public meetings scheduled at this time.

Comments on the proposed plan can be made online or sent to Ouray District Ranger Dana Gardunio, 2505 S. Townsend Ave. Montrose, CO 81401. Anyone with questions can contact Natural Resource Specialist Julie Jackson at 970-240-5429.

THE CRISIS ON THE COLORADO RIVER ~ NYT

Aug. 4, 2022

John Locher/AP

By Daniel Rothberg

Mr. Rothberg is a reporter for The Nevada Independent, where he covers the environment, water and energy. He is writing a book about water scarcity in Nevada.

~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s past time to get real about the Southwest’s hardest-working river.

About 40 million people rely on the Colorado River as it flows from Colorado to Mexico. But overuse and climate change have contributed to its reservoirs drying up at such a rapid rate that the probability of disastrous disruptions to the deliveries of water and hydroelectric power across the Southwest have become increasingly likely. Now the seven states that depend on the river must negotiate major cuts in water use by mid-August or have them imposed by the federal government.

Those cuts are merely the beginning as the region struggles to adapt to an increasingly arid West. The rules for operating the river’s shrinking reservoirs expire in 2026, and those seven states must forge a new agreement on water use for farmers, businesses and cities.

What’s worse, all of this is happening in a region that is one of the fastest growing in the United States, even as the signs of an impending crisis become more pronounced. Outside of Las Vegas, Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir by volume, fed by the Colorado and three smaller tributaries, is nearly three-quarters empty and at its lowest level since April 1937, when it was first being filled. The 22-year downward trend is “a stark illustration of climate change and a long-term drought that may be the worst in the U.S. West in 12 centuries,” according to NASA’s Earth Observatory program.

A century of agreements, contracts and contingencies known as the Law of the River are meant to settle who gets water in times of scarcity. But this framework overestimates the availability of water; the legal rights to water held by the river’s users exceed the amount that typically flows into it. The law is also untested in key areas — for instance, the exact terms by which states along the upper reaches of the river must send water downriver for the states there to get their full allocation. All of this has created a great deal of uncertainty, and it’s hard to say how the federal government will go about reducing water allotments, if it comes to that.

As a result, the Colorado River is hurtling toward a social, political and environmental crisis at a pace that surpasses the Law of the River’s ability to prevent it. In a world of less water, everyone who uses the river must adjust.

~~~ CONTINUE ON NYT ~~~

TONIGHT … LIVE … PAT WILLITS TAKES YOU ON A VIRTUAL TOUR OF RED MOUNTAIN MINING DISTRICT … YOU’D BETTER BE THERE

.


Saving Red Mountains’ Historical Gems

Tuesday August 2

Wright Opera House, Ouray

Doors open 7:00 pm, Presentation begins 7:30

Pat Willits tells the story and takes us on a virtual tour of the Red Mountain Mining District and the variety of historical sites of that District’s mining heyday that are now conserved and protected.  Thanks to a unique collaboration of partners, including the Red Mountain Project, OCHS, the Trust for Land Restoration, the Ridgway Railroad Museum, USFS and Ouray County, ten sites of historical significance in the District are now under some form of permanent conservation protection, including five sites owned outright by Ouray County

Pat Willits is executive director of the Trust for Land Restoration.  He is the former Mayor of the Town of Ridgway (2000-2012) and the founder of the organization that saved the Sherbino Theater, the Ridgway Chautauqua Society.