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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Uehara

Weekly News Blast | Jan 7 - 14

the Atacama lithium mine with three flags erected

In response to environmental and human rights concerns, indigenous communities have blockaded roads around the Atacama lithium mines (Nicolas Nova, Flickr)

Indigenous Communities Combat Lithium Mining in Chile

Lithium mining in Chile has been suspended at the Atacama Salt Flats, the world’s largest lithium deposit, after indigenous groups blocked public roads in protest of the mining operations. According to the Atacama Indigenous Council, the protesters will end the occupation after the Chilean Ministry of Mining promises that President Gabriel Warwick will visit the area and bring reforms.

These demonstrations first began when an agreement was signed last month to discuss lithium mining in Atacama—these have yet to occur. The Atacama Plateau mining companies use a water-intensive technique to mine for lithium. This technique causes the surrounding area to dry out, and surrounding communities have been forced to rely on tankers to deliver potable water. Lithium mining has also adversely impacted native animal species and the environment (around 80 percent of the Atacoma animals are native, with 17 out of 53 animal species considered endangered in Chile). 

As demand for lithium increases, companies have moved to mines in other areas, such as the mighty Conga Salt Flat. Last year the government approved a mining project in the area, but the project is currently going through an appeals process as activists fight to keep mining away from the flats. They state that the companies behind the project are violating the community’s rights by failing to obtain consent to operate on their ancestral land, as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As the demand for clean energy technology continues to soar, Chile is in the middle of rewriting its Constitution, which could prevent further mining projects.

U.S. Calls for Development of Drone Defenses

Since October 7, Israel and Hamas have been using drones against each other in Gaza, similar to what is seen in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. As the use of drones increases, the U.S. has been working to develop defenses against potential terrorist drone attacks. Some new technologies have been evaluated at remote sites in Oklahoma and North Dakota. However, the demand is expected to grow rapidly as these technologies are implemented at police departments, airports, and sports stadiums.

At least one hundred companies are actively working to develop drone defense technology. According to Jamey Jacob, an engineering professor at Oklahoma State University and director of the university’s Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education, an ideal system will not only be able to detect and identify a drone but also defeat it by jamming its signals, disabling it, or destroying it.

The Biden administration has been pushing for anti-drone technology by issuing a call last year for universities, private companies, and other researchers to produce ideas. While drone terrorism has been a threat for years, recent wars have added urgency by demonstrating how drone technology can be used. Drones have also become cheaper, faster, better able to carry weapons, and more autonomous than ever before. Drones are frequently used by unauthorized people at major events, and the Department of Homeland Security’s authority for detecting and taking down illegally flown drones may expire as soon as February 3 without further congressional action.

Arctic Blasts Across the U.S. 

For the first time this winter, much of the U.S. will receive impactful snow and ice as an ongoing Arctic blast envelops the country. The outbreak is tied to a polar vortex and a strong area of high pressure near Greenland. It left 110 million people under wind chill warnings and advisories Sunday evening. This is the fourth storm in the last two weeks, but the pattern has shown no signs of stopping. The National Weather Service warned that parts of the Midwest would again experience “near-record, dangerously low temperatures and wind chills,” with wind chills below negative 30 degrees from the Northern Rockies into Iowa. 

The ice and wind combined have had deadly results in Oregon. The warmer South has also been struck by tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. In the next seven days, 75 percent of the U.S. population will experience temperatures below freezing. The storms have already broken 250 daily cold temperature records from Oregon to Mississippi. The prolonged cold could lead to damaged pipes and water main breaks. The storms have affected Iowa as they head into the first presidential primary for the 2024 elections. 

The cold will also test Texas’ power grid for the first time this winter, although the cold is expected to be less severe and shorter than in 2021 when a similar arctic storm caused mass outages. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has issued a weather watch and warns of the surge and a potential dip in electricity reserves. A new study published Wednesday warns that there is a detectable trend toward less spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a cause for alarm as many of these places rely on the water from the snowpack.



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