It's no secret that manufacturing solar panels often requires toxic heavy metals, explosive gases, and rare-earth elements that come from shoddy mines in war-torn republics. But here's a surprise: The solar industry is actually getting dirtier in some respects. The latest Solar Scorecard from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), released last week, reports that the industry has slipped on several key environmental metrics, with many solar-panel manufacturers now refusing to provide any information about their manufacturing practices at all.
In terms of market share, only 35 percent of the solar-panel industry responded to this year's SVTC survey, compared to 51 percent last year. According to SVTC, several major solar companies have provided almost no meaningful information about their environmental performance—stats such as the toxicity of their panels, the use of conflict minerals, or the sustainability of their supply chains—through reports to the group or on their websites.
"If they are not providing the information, we have to assume the worst," says SVTC executive director Sheila Davis.
Solar companies that do provide sustainability stats are in some cases scaling back their environmental commitments. This year, Arizona-based First Solar started giving customers in most countries the option of buying its panels without participating in its recycling program, reducing the number of solar companies with mandatory recycling programs in the United States to zero. Also, fewer companies this year told SVTC that they would commit to supporting a program to take back and recycle their used solar panels.
Davis blames the poor scores on a global glut of photovoltaic (PV) panels. Huge Chinese subsidies for solar companies have driven down global PV prices (and helped boost sales) but have forced many companies to cut costs. Some major European- and American-based manufacturers (and a few Chinese ones) that abide by strict environmental standards have lost market share or gone out of business and stopped responding to the surveys.
The environmental opacity of the PV industry stands in ironic contrast to that of the PC industry, which, after years of pressure from SVTC and other groups, now routinely discloses a wide range of information about the environmental lifecycle of its products.
"My gut feeling is that solar companies need pressure just like the electronics industry does," Davis says. "They are not going to rise to the top on their own."
Pot-growing hippies who fled San Francisco for Northern California's rural Humboldt County are victims of their own success in this multigenerational epic about the pathologies and paradoxes of the nation's biggest weed-based economy, and how a growers' utopia devolved into paranoia and violence. It's an empathetic but unflinching portrait of a community caught in the legalization movement's crosswinds.
When Pakistani painter Mahwish Chishty returned from the United States to her native Lahore in 2011, her friends and family couldn't stop talking about the American-led drone war raging along the border with Afghanistan. That's how she got the idea to reimagine drones in her country's colorful truck art tradition. So has the US Department of Defense asked her to repaint any Predators yet? See her answers and more of her hauntingly beautiful paintings below.
Mother Jones: How did you get the idea for these paintings?
Mahwish Chishty: In 2011, I went back home to Lahore. I'd heard all this propaganda behind the drone war, and I was curious about that. It triggered my imagination. Are you familiar with the truck-art genre from Pakistani culture?
MJ: Why don't you explain it.
MC: It's kind of a folk art. It's a tradition, a culture. People who drive these trucks basically live on those trucks, sleep on those trucks. They kind of make that into their mobile home and they decorate it into something that's eye pleasing. They're extremely beautiful paintings. They spend so much time on it and they don't get any funding. This is something that they do, just a personal interest. It has no reason whatsoever other than just an aesthetic sense. I always thought that it was not given any importance in the art world back home, and I wanted people to think maybe what would happen if these drones were friendlier looking, instead of such hard-edged, metallic war machines.
MJ: Some people might see this as a positive spin on drones.
MC: I don't know if I am glorifying it. I just want people to talk about it. At the same time, it has some kind of beauty to it. I am also looking at them as objects, and not as much as war machines.
MJ: So has the Department of Defense asked you to repaint any of their Predators yet?
MC: [Laughs.] No, but I was thinking that would be so cool. I probably should put in a proposal for that.
After Amanda Stevenson and her fiancé approached Anonymous, the authorities reopened her 12-year-old rape case.
A few weeks after Amanda Stevenson was allegedly drugged and gang-raped, the 14-year-old high school freshman packed a bag and fled her tiny hometown of Laurelville, Ohio, for a new life in suburban Virginia. But memories of that horrific night still haunt her, she says: the party in the hunting cabin deep in the woods. The locked room full of laughing young men. Trying to fight her way out of a fog of tranquilizer to say, "I feel strange" or "Take me home" or even simply "No." Her naked body flopping like a rag doll as the teens passed her around and fondled her. Blacking out and awakening to find one guy after another climbing atop and penetrating her.
Despite the passing of years, Stevenson, now 26, says she still has trouble sleeping, still winces at any mention of the word "rape," and still sometimes curls up in a corner, sobbing and angry. So one day this past January her fiancé, Tim Tolka, offered to help her go after the rapists, if that what she wanted.
She wasn't sure it was. But then she read a story about a high school rape in Steubenville, Ohio, that had become national news thanks to the efforts of Anonymous, the hacker collective. "It was just so similar to what I had experienced," Stevenson recalls. She decided then and there that her silence made her part of the problem.
The very next day, using a pseudonym, Tolka posted a plea on the Anonymous website AnonNews.org. "I have information about a second case of gang rape by local athletes in a small Ohio town that was squashed by the authorities," he wrote. The couple went on to post the names, a phone number, and links to the Facebook pages of two of the men Stevenson said had raped her.
At last week's annual summit of the Organization of American States, Latin American leaders distanced themselves from the United States' drug policies and agreed to consider the widespread legalization of marijuana.
The OAS summit "was really a tipping point for this movement" to end the war on drugs, said Pedro Abramovay, a campaign director for Avaaz, a global nonprofit group that has petitioned the OAS to liberalize its drug policies.
The move comes as Uruguay debates a bill to legalize the production and sale of pot (it is already legal there for personal use) and as Chile considers decriminalizing it. Latin American leaders also have kept a close eye on how Colorado and Washington, having legalized marijuana, will go about regulating its consumption.