Weekend Reads: A Lake's Sad History and Dusty Present, the Future of the Helmet, and Please Refrain from Spray-Painting the Cacti
Five #greenreads that don't end like the "Red Wedding" in Game of Thrones -- we promise.
Bruce Barcott in Bicycling on hitting the road: When at a bike shop buying a helmet for his daughter -- surrounded by all sorts and styles of "lids" -- Barcott begins wondering just how far helmet tech has come. He tours labs, interviews brain researchers, and dives into medical archives, and finds that while helmets look much different than the first ones that appeared on the market in 1975, they aren't much safer. "You can buy cough syrup in 14 formulas, coffee in dozens of permutations. Yet when it comes to bike helmets," Barcott writes, "we're all wearing decorative versions of the same Model T." The good news is that bicycle-related deaths have declined, even as more Americans have been hopping on two wheels for work and recreation (in large part due to growing helmet use). The bad news is that there has been a steep increase in concussions. Turns out, the same helmets that are great at preventing your skull from cracking in a hard crash aren't so good at attenuating softer, albeit damaging, blows to the brain. And finding one that can absorb both types of impact is the Holy Grail of helmet designers -- and worried parents -- everywhere.
Will Oremus in OnEarth in defense of slacktivism: Older generations accuse millennials of having a lack of political drive, but Oremus finds that today's twenty-somethings just handle their protests differently: over the Interwebs. Sure tweeting and hacking don't require getting up from the couch, but they can be just as effective at helping causes reach critical mass as sit-ins and foot soldiering. Street protests aren't going away, but young activists have many other tools in their arsenal. And when someone sees an impassioned message from a "friend" or a "follower," it often holds more weight than one received from a stranger with a sign. "Asking why today's youth aren't passing out pamphlets or forming agitprop theater companies is like asking why they've forsaken vinyl records and the Encyclopedia Britannica," writes Oremus. "The times, they have a-changed."
Felicity Barringer in the New York Times on tagging the wild: Grafitti in nature is arguably as old as the cavemen, and many Western pioneers once carved their names into rocks. But lately, visitors to national parks have been leaving their own marks on cacti, ancient petroglyphs, famous rocks, and archaeological sites. A photographer who has been documenting the destruction says, "It’s one thing to see a pioneer’s inscription on a wall. It’s another to see the signature of the 1,237,000th of 2 million visitors.” In Arizona's Saguaro National Park, rangers recently found 16 tags covering fragile 150-year-old Saguaro cacti. Authorities in Colorado have gone so far as to indefinitely close Rattlesnake Canyon to hikers to protect native art against can-carrying copycats. Few vandals are ever found, but wildlife cams and savvy rangers have caught some violators in the act. For instance, the girl who added “Super Duper Dana” to the names etched by Spanish and American soldiers and pioneers -- dating as far back as the 1600s -- on New Mexico's Inscription Rock? She was fined $15,000.
Louis Sahagun in the Los Angeles Times on hallowed ground and dusty air: On March 19, 1863, California settlers and the U.S. cavalry chased down 35 Paiute Indians (accused of killing livestock) and forced them into Owens Lake. Those Native Americans who weren't shot as they attempted to swim away eventually drowned. "The soldiers and citizens formed a line along the … shore, and remained there until the bodies began to wash ashore," wrote one historian. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then, but not all for the better. The lake involved in the mass execution has been drained for the region's growing water needs, and the dust from the dry lakebed is causing worrisome levels of air pollution. Intentional flooding and applying gravel to dust-prone areas has helped, but today's Paiute members believe the place -- where archeologists recently uncovered bullets, musket balls, military uniform buttons, and tribal artifacts -- should be left alone. Currently, a compromise is in the works to concentrate dust-mitigation efforts elsewhere in Owens Valley. As one air pollution officer says, "You don't come across massacre sites very often.”
Molly Redden in the New Republic on fracking Amish farms: Like so many other modern contrivances, the Amish don’t believe in lawsuits -- that issues of right and wrong are not for a court to decide. Unfortunately, their lack of experience with the legal system leaves them vulnerable to companies that want to drill for natural gas on their land (see "Fracking the Amish"). In eastern Ohio -- home to the largest Amish community in the world -- “geysers of riches” could be worth billions if not trillions of dollars. Yet some landowners are receiving drilling leases at a fraction of the market value. Amish dairy farmer Lloyd Miller realized too late that he shouldn't have trusted the land agent who showed up at his barn. He tells Redden: "'My wife and I took turns kicking each other in the butt.' He paused for a long while. 'Our ten dollars an acre compared to $1,000.'”
Tired of Reading Yet? Watch This.
Outside magazine on one beautiful blaze: When filmed just right, sometimes a raging nighttime wildfire can resemble molten lava flowing from a volcano. Bonus: keep an eye out for the shooting stars.