In this week's landscape reads, we rediscover the future of steampunk energy, we walk the radioactive shores of a manmade island in San Francisco, we climb to the top of California's surreal palm tree economy, and we look back with both amusement and horror at pest control in communist China.
In 1939, the Army Corps of Engineers dumped tons of sand into the middle of San Francisco Bay to create Treasure Island. In the decades afterward, the resulting landform became a training ground for the navy's nuclear war academies. Today, although apartments now dot the island, it is still contaminated with radioactive waste. A long investigation reveals how the Navy has mishandled its cleanup of Treasure Island. [Center for Investigative Reporting]
In what I've always considered a bizarre landscape decision, palm trees dot the median of the approach to the new Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Where are they getting the palm trees? From anyone's backyard, it turns out. Because nurseries don't grow palm trees large and mature enough for the project, the bridge's contractor has been paying Bay Area homeowners to dig up trees from their own yards. [KTVU]
The oceans absorb massive amounts of solar energy, and that energy can be harnessed. We think. Jules Verne first anticipated ocean thermal energy conversion in Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and a new 10-megawatt plant off the coast of China means science fiction could finally become reality. [New Scientist]
As part of the deeply misguided Great Leap Forward, public health officials under Mao Zedong took up the "Four Pests" campaign to eradicate flies, mosquitoes, rats and sparrows. "This public health good would be implemented by everyone—from troupes of children to the elderly—with beautifully illustrated posters released to the masses that encouraged the wielding of fly swatters, guns and gongs against the regime's diminutive enemies," writes Rebecca Kreston. The plan only worked too well, wiping out the sparrows that once kept locusts in check—contributing to a massive famine across the country. [Discover Magazine]
Top image: A "Four Pests" campaign poster urging children to do their part. National Library of Medicine.