Feature Story

Nearly one-third of Vietnam’s energy consumption is for lighting, with almost half of that going to the country’s highly populated rural areas.

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Hout Bay, South Africa, lies in the shadow of Table Mountain, one of the continent’s most distinctive geological features and a symbol of the city of Cape Town.

The town of Hout Bay is in part a well-to-do suburb of that bustling city of some 3 million people and a tourist destination in itself. The body of water that is the town’s namesake is also among the busiest in the Western Cape, with an active, established fishing industry.

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The Bagmati River, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, flows down Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, through terraced rice fields and past ancient temples.

As the river nears the teeming cities of Kathmandu and Lalitpur, it becomes as much a garbage dump as a source of spiritual cleansing. Untreated sewage flows into the river, and generations of residents have used the waterway to dump their household trash as well.

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September, 1991, could hardly have been a less auspicious moment for bold environmental initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe.

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Thousands of years ago, the Nama people of what is now southern Namibia described the enormous desert that stretches for 1,500 kilometers along the Atlantic coast with a stark but telling word; they called it simply Namib, or “vast place.”

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In March of 2010, Beijing residents awoke to skies turned an eerie yellow.

A dense fog of wheat-colored dust enveloped the city as choking whirlwinds filled Tiananmen Square, coating cars and bicycles and reducing visibility to near zero. With so many tiny particles in the air the pollution index reached 500 — the worst level possible.

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When the Portuguese explorer Magellan landed in 1521 on the southern coast of what is now Argentina, the people living there were Tehuelche Indians.

The Tehuelche tended to be tall, at least compared to Europeans of the time, and Magellan took them to be a race of giants. He called them “Patagones,” after the frightening, dog-headed character Patagon in a chivalric novel of the day. The legend that giants bestrode the land henceforth called Patagonia would persist in Europe for centuries.

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Ask just about anyone who has thought about global climate change to name where most greenhouse gases come from and like as not they will respond, correctly, with energy production and industry.

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Legend has it that centuries ago a flood washed away a princess from Johor, Malaysia.

In his grief, her father ordered his subjects to sea, to return only when they had found his daughter. So goes the creation myth of the Bajau, a Malay people who are among the world’s last sea nomads.

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The wealth from some of the largest oil reserves in Central Africa pays for the city’s skyscrapers, hotels, and lush neighborhoods. Water, on the other hand, keeps the lights on. Water, that is, spinning the turbines of two dams on the Mbé River, about 100 kilometers northeast of the city center. About 60 percent of the country’s population, many of whom missed out on the oil boom, lives in Libreville.

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