Too many inexperienced climbers are attempting to scale Mount Everest. A few are losing their lives, and many others are littering the mountain with garbage:
"Everest has always been a trophy, but now that almost 4,000 people have reached its summit, some more than once, the feat means less than it did a half century ago. Today roughly 90 percent of the climbers on Everest are guided clients, many without basic climbing skills. Having paid $30,000 to $120,000 to be on the mountain, too many callowly expect to reach the summit. A significant number do, but under appalling conditions. The two standard routes, the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Ridge, are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps. And then there are the deaths. Besides the four climbers who perished on the Southeast Ridge, six others lost their lives in 2012, including three Sherpas.
"Clearly the world’s highest peak is broken. But if you talk to the people who know it best, they’ll tell you it’s not beyond repair."
PUBLISHED: May 17, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2649 words)
How modern fertilizer, and the nitrogen in it, have led to bountiful harvests with a larger environmental cost. Scientists are trying to find a balance:
"The nitrogen dilemma is most starkly visible in China, a country that loves its food and worries that supplies might run out. To the casual visitor, that anxiety seems misplaced. There’s a feast, it seems, on every street. In a restaurant called San Geng Bi Feng Gang, on the outskirts of Nanjing, I watch with wonder as dishes parade by: steamed fish, fried mutton chops, chrysanthemum-leaf-and-egg soup, a noodle dish made from sweet potatoes, fried broccoli, Chinese yams, steaming bowls of rice.
"'Did you always eat this well?' I ask Liu Tianlong, an agricultural scientist who’s introducing me to farmers nearby.
"His boyish smile fades, and for a second he looks grim. 'No,' he says. 'When I was young, you were lucky to get three bowls of rice.'"
PUBLISHED: April 24, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2929 words)
Zimbabwean activists are fighting against the violence and oppression their country has felt under president Robert Mugabe, who was named Foreign Policy's "second worst dictator in the world," after North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il:
"Mazvarira was abducted in 2000 from her home in Chivhu, a small town south of Harare, and raped by two ZANU-PF CIO officers after her 17-year-old daughter, an MDC organizer, was killed by a petrol bomb. Mazvarira contracted HIV from the assault. 'They told me, ‘You and your daughter are Tsvangirai’s bitches.’' When Mazvarira went to the police station to report the attack, the officer in charge refused to hear her case. 'The police are only ZANU-PF,' she said.
"The two women are not placid about what happened to them, but what converted them from victims into activists is that they were never able to hold their attackers to account. 'The government won’t help us. No one can help us. It is up to us, ourselves, now. That is where we are.' In 2009 Munengami launched Doors of Hope, a nonprofit organization that supports and speaks for victims of politically motivated rape. Doors of Hope now has 375 members from all over the country. 'We are standing for women,' Munengami said. 'Those so-called war vets raped so many women during the liberation struggle, but they don’t want to talk about it. So we are going to talk about it. Whether it’s 1975, or now, we don’t want this to continue. We have had enough. We are sick and tired of being quiet. Where has silence got us?'"
PUBLISHED: April 15, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2744 words)
Scientists have made advances in cloning procedures that would conceivably allow them to bring back extinct species. But is "de-extinction" something humans should be doing?
"Other scientists who favor de-extinction argue that there will be concrete benefits. Biological diversity is a storehouse of natural invention. Most pharmaceutical drugs, for example, were not invented from scratch—they were derived from natural compounds found in wild plant species, which are also vulnerable to extinction. Some extinct animals also performed vital services in their ecosystems, which might benefit from their return. Siberia, for example, was home 12,000 years ago to mammoths and other big grazing mammals. Back then, the landscape was not moss-dominated tundra but grassy steppes. Sergey Zimov, a Russian ecologist and director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy in the Republic of Sakha, has long argued that this was no coincidence: The mammoths and numerous herbivores maintained the grassland by breaking up the soil and fertilizing it with their manure. Once they were gone, moss took over and transformed the grassland into less productive tundra."
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3657 words)
A couple has trouble finding a treatment for their 13-year-old daughter's undiagnosed illness. Sequencing her genome provided a promising path to an answer:
"The family has a mantra: It’s a marathon not a sprint. They were battle-hardened from a long road of possible fixes and disappointments. 'We thought: This is great but it’s probably just going to be another data point that we add to the binder,' says Steve. 'Lilly’s already had a lot of bad news in her life,' says Gay. 'Her biggest fear was that we wouldn’t find anything. Not knowing would be the worst thing.'"
PUBLISHED: March 11, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3222 words)
A writer returns to Fuling, China more than a decade after he lived there as a Peace Corps volunteer. He witnesses major changes:
"The writer’s vanity likes to imagine permanence, but Fuling reminds me that words are quicksilver. Their meaning changes with every age, every perspective—it’s like the White Crane Ridge, whose inscriptions have a different significance now that they appear in an underwater museum. Today anybody who reads River Town knows that China has become economically powerful and that the Three Gorges Dam is completed, and this changes the story. And I’ll never know what the Fuling residents of 1998 would have thought of the book, because those people have also been transformed. There’s a new confidence to urban Chinese; the outside world seems much less remote and threatening. And life has moved so fast that even the 1990s feels as nostalgic as a black-and-white photo. Recently Emily sent me an email: 'With a distance of time, everything in the book turns out to be charming, even the dirty, tired flowers.'"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4286 words)
Venom can be deadly, but it can also heal:
"The molecular gifts of toxic animals offer hope in the fight against a host of debilitating diseases. Heart patients owe gratitude to the Eastern green mamba, a deadly African tree snake whose venom impairs its victim’s nerves and blood circulation. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic fused a key peptide from the venom with a peptide from cells in the lining of human blood vessels to make cenderitide, the subject of clinical trials. It is intended not only to lower blood pressure and reduce fibrosis (the growth of excess connective tissue) in a failing heart but also to shield the kidneys from an overload of salt and water. 'That’s the beauty of this drug,' says Mayo cardiovascular researcher John Burnett. 'It’s designed to cover both things.' The closely related black mamba, a snake whose open mouth resembles a coffin and whose venom can quickly put you in one, holds a toxin with huge potential to be a powerful new painkiller."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 28, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3962 words)
In December 1912, 30-year-old Douglas Mawson lost most of his supplies while exploring uncharted territory in Antarctica. The story of his survival:
"For three hours, Mawson and Mertz called into the depths, hoping against hope for an answering cry. They had far too little rope to lower themselves into the crevasse to search for their companion. At last they accepted the inevitable. Ninnis was dead. Gone with him were the team’s most valuable gear, including their three-man tent, the six best huskies, all the food for the dogs, and nearly all the men’s food."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2431 words)
A reporter spends a winter in Cuba and takes a look at life in a post-Fidel era, which is changing gradually for some, but not fast enough for others who are still looking to escape to the U.S.:
"'Viva Cuba Libre,' Eduardo muttered, mimicking a revolutionary exhortation we’d seen emblazoned high on an outdoor wall. Long live free Cuba. 'Free from both of them,' he said. 'That’s when there might be real change.'
"If there is in fact a Cuba under serious transformation—and you can find Cubans all over the country engaging now in their own versions of this same debate—Eduardo is a crucial component of it, although not for the reasons you might think. “Dissident” is the right label for a subset of politically vocal Cubans, notably the bloggers whose critical online missives have gained big followings outside the country, but Eduardo is no sort of dissident. He’s not fleeing persecution by the state. He’s just young, energetic, and frustrated, a description that applies to a great many of his countrymen. Ever since he was a teenager in high school, Eduardo told me, it had been evident to him that adulthood in revolutionary Cuba offered exactly nothing by way of personal advancement and material comfort to anybody except the peces gordos. The big fish. (Well, literally translated, the fat fish—the tap-on-the-shoulder parties.) Nothing works here, Eduardo would cry, pounding the steering wheel of whatever car he’d hustled on loan for the day: The economic model is broken, state employees survive on their tiny salaries only by stealing from the jobsite, the national news outlets are an embarrassment of self-censored boosterism, the government makes people crazy by circulating two national currencies at once.
"'I love my country,' Eduardo kept saying. 'But there is no future for me here.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 25, 2012
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6772 words)