Yes, those are two men walking in the desert and yes, they are walking past a fishing fleet. The nearest water is miles away, and it is toxic to fish. For years, I have thought that images such as this were the most distressing indications of one of the world's greatest environmental calamities -- the loss of the fourth-largest inland sea on the planet.
Sadly, the current issue of National Geographic describes a post-Aral hellscape that is worse than I realized. Waters divided among five nations and controlled by a sixth (the former USSR) have disappeared. I knew that this was a story of drought, greed, and dust. But it is also a story of oil, vodka, poison, and even slavery.