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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fracking, nuclear waste and wolves: The West in Europe

Sometimes, sitting here in downtown Berlin, listening to American classic rock on the radio, I feel like I never left the American West. And it's not just the radio, or even Randy Rudd's Lucky Star Western Store in a nearby neighborhood. No, it's the news -- the environmental news, even. Some recent am-I-in-the-West headlines:

LONE WOLF ATTACKS 15 SHEEP. Wolves had been systematically exterminated in Germany by the early 1900s, much as they were in the U.S. West. But those crazy wolves ignored borders, and over the years continued to wander over from Poland into East Germany. When East and West were reunified, the government gave wolves protected status. Now, about 60 are in the country, mostly roaming around military training grounds and old strip mines, occasionally having a sheepy feast. And it's causing the same sorts of conflicts as in the U.S. Hunters are upset. Ranchers are scared (though, as in the U.S., they get reimbursed by the government for any livestock they lose), and some residents are pretty sure the wolf's going to eat their children. Yesterday, Das Bild (the sensationalist tabloid) ran the first photo of "der Killerwolf von Brandenburg."

EUROPE GETS FRACKED, TOO: That's right. That zany method of drilling and then "fracturing" the shale in which natural gas is trapped by shooting thousands of gallons of water -- mixed with a mysterious soup of chemicals -- into the ground is coming to Europe. It's been common in the West for a long time, and news outlets like High Country News have been questioning it for just as long. But it wasn't until fracking headed east, to Pennsylvania and New York, that most of the nation actually started noticing. Now, the practice is about to hit Europe (actually, Halliburton has already done it in Poland), and the rest of the world's getting a taste of that sweet and fizzy fracking soda. Of course, as the CEO of Cuadrilla energy, a UK drilling company, said: It's not fracking that's unconventional, it's the source where the gas is found that's unconventional. Which means what, exactly?

THOUSANDS PROTEST NUCLEAR WASTE SHIPMENTS: Germany actually has more nuclear waste dumps than the West (though certainly not more contaminated sites, in general, i.e. abandoned uranium mines, mills, etc.). But, like the West, they take nuclear waste from other countries. Still, when did you last hear about thousands of Americans protesting against all that nuke waste headed across the region to WIPP in southern New Mexico? That's right, you didn't. You gotta hand it to the Germans: They know how to protest.

Now, what happens when the wolves hang out in the nuclear waste dumps?

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