James West

James West

Climate Desk Producer

James West is senior producer for the Climate Desk and a contributing producer for Mother Jones. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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VIDEO: What's Inside Your iPhone 5?

| Wed Oct. 3, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

The iPhone has become one of the developed world's most ubiquitous consumer products; the new iPhone 5 sold more than 5 million units in its first week. But the vast majority of iPhone users have no clue what goes into the guts of their coveted toy. That's no accident, since the phone's internal design and chemical content are closely guarded trade secrets and Apple deliberately makes it difficult for consumers to open up the device.

Enter Kyle Wiens, whose company, iFixit, aims to help users penetrate their gadgets' dark secrets, from how much toxic mercury they contain to how to change the damn battery. Last week, Climate Desk found shelter from a torrential rainstorm near one of New York City's Apple stores and watched Wiens go to work (see video above). Today, iFixit released the results of its chemical analysis of the iPhone 5 and a suite of other popular cellphones, conducted by the environmental nonprofit Ecology Center.

The good news: The iPhone 5 is far less toxic than the early models. The bad news: There's no such thing as a "green" phone.

First the good news: The iPhone 5 is leagues ahead of its more toxic predecessors—especially the original, 2G model. (The worst overall performers—most toxic first—were the iPhone 2G, Palm m125, Motorola MOTO W233 Renew, Nokia M95, BlackBerry Storm 9530, and Palm Treo 750.) The latest iPhone performed better on the toxins front than most rival models, including Samsung's Galaxy S III, and was only narrowly beaten out by the least-toxic phone examined, the Motorola Citrus.

Now the bad news: The iPhone 5 still tests high for mercury and chlorine, both of which can present serious health hazards if they leach into local water supplies from a dump somewhere—typically in a poor area of China, Ghana, or India. It also contained trace amounts of bromine, which has been linked to thyroid cancer and lung disease. "There's no such thing as a 'green' phone," Wiens points out. "There's no such thing as a phone that has no toxic chemicals."

iFixit.comiFixit.comStill, the new iPhone looks great compared with its original progenitor, which contained an astonishing 1,020 times more bromine and 97 times more mercury than the current model, according to iFixit. But the point of all of this is less about any one phone's chemical components, and more about the need to curb our addiction to throwing away phones that could be fixed rather than dumped. "It's critically important to consume as few phones as possible, to conserve the resources we have," Wiens says.

To see how iFixit helps make that happen, Mother Jones contributor Dashka Slater visited the company bat cave and came back with this great new profile.

 

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WATCH: Freak Summer Cyclone Speeds Record Arctic Melt

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 9:29 AM PDT

A freak summer cyclone churned already-weakened Arctic ice to slush, likely accelerating this summer's melt, say NASA scientists. The cyclone, which formed off Alaska and made a beeline for the North Pole in early August, severed chunks of ice and pushed them into warmer waters where some melted entirely. According to estimates by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in the last three decades only eight August storms have been this powerful.

This new visualization from NASA helps show just how far the Arctic ice has receded this summer. Strong winds colored red accelerated a record melt: Sea ice extent shrunk to 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers), or 293,000 square miles less than the previous low, set in 2007.

August's freak Arctic cyclone assisted in this year's record melt. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.August's freak Arctic cyclone assisted in this year's record melt. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Video courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC).

Occupy II: What's Happening Now in Lower Manhattan

| Mon Sep. 17, 2012 8:05 AM PDT

Twelve months after they slept, ate, and occasionally got arrested with the demonstrators, our team of journalists has returned to Lower Manhattan to follow #s17 protesters observing the birthday of Occupy Wall Street. Below is our Storify of MJ street reporting, plus updates from our friends and colleagues across the internets (please be patient: The Storify may take a few seconds to load):

 

Tue Jan. 7, 2014 12:51 PM PST
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