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Jess Zimmerman's Posts


Surprise! Fracking fluid kills trees

Not that this is a big surprise or anything, but a new study shows that disposing of fracking fluid can do a number on local trees. One perfectly legal dump of used fracking fluid in West Virginia ended up killing more than half of the trees in the affected area. Companies don't disclose -- and don't have to disclose -- the actual composition of fracking fluid, so it's hard to predict exactly what its effect will be. But they're still allowed to dump it in forests, because that makes sense. And here's what happens when they do: Almost immediately after …


Could you squeeze into the world's skinniest house?

The world's skinniest house, currently being built in a tiny alleyway in Warsaw, is 40 feet long but only 60 inches wide. That's narrower than a queen-size bed, narrower than most couches -- even narrower than some people's TVs. Like any tiny housing, it encourages low-impact living, with the bonus that it sits in urban space that would otherwise go unused.  The skinny house already has a resident: Israeli writer Etgar Keret, who writes very small, very weird stories. That, at least, should be a perfect fit.

Read more: Green Home, Living


Why this drought will be way, way worse than the last one

A New York Times article about the current drought in the South compares it to a record-setting dry spell 60 years ago: Climatologists say the great drought of 2011 is starting to look a lot like the one that hit the nation in the early to mid-1950s. That, too, dried a broad part of the southern tier of states into leather and remains a record breaker. But this time, things are different in the drought belt. With states and towns short on cash and unemployment still high, the stress on the land and the people who rely on it for …


Do you live near America's Fukushima?

This infographic from -- click for the much bigger original, which has details about all the plants -- shows at-risk nuclear facilities in the United States. Most of the ones situated in high-population areas (the larger gray circles) don't coincide with the high seismic risk areas (yellow and red), so that's comforting ... but two California stations, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, and one Washington station sit in areas at risk of earthquakes. (San Onofre also once had its reactor vessel installed backwards. Oops.) On the plus side, all three are a decade newer than Fukushima Daiichi.


Think you're so smart, humans? Even fish can use tools

Tool use: It's not just for humans anymore. Actually, it hasn't been just for humans for a long while -- yet another form of homo sapiens exceptionalism we're having to learn to do without. But now it's not just for humans, apes, monkeys, certain birds, and possibly octopuses: There's documented evidence that fish can use tools too. Take that, practically everything except fish! You're not so smart after all. These photos show a blackspot tuskfish cracking open a clam by hitting it against a rock. It may not be as sophisticated as a socket wrench, or even a stick poked …

Read more: Animals


Thomas Edison would have loved energy-efficient bulbs

Thomas Edison's great-grandson, David Edison Sloane, is not mincing words when it comes to the GOP wanting to repeal energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs: As an inventor, Edison would have no interest in turning back the legislative clock. The wizard of Menlo Park dedicated himself to advancing human comfort, not freeze life as we knew it in 1879. Oh snap! Edison's great-grandson just called you retrogressive. It's kind of amusing to dig up a scientist's great-grandson (who is not a scientist -- he's an English professor) to guess at what his famous scientist ancestor would have wanted. It's as if, …


But what if NYC bikers were terrorists??

This is not even the first time that someone in New York City has compared cyclists to terrorists, but it might be the dumbest: New York's CBS 2 is concerned that bike lanes will facilitate acts of terror. A Second Avenue bike lane is next to the Israeli consulate, leaving many wondering what would happen if a man on a bike were a terrorist. It's true! If a terrorist could ride his bike in the street only a sidewalk's width from the door of the Israeli consulate, which would be shielded by nothing except giant concrete planters (yes, I Street …

Read more: Biking, Cities


Michigan woman could face jail time for growing a garden

The green movement doesn't have much use for lawns. Yeah, they make suburban enclaves look tidy and uniform, but really, would it be so effing bad if your house had something useful -- say, a vegetable garden -- instead of a high-maintenance water-hog outdoor carpet? What's the worst that could happen? Well, as Michigan woman Julie Bass discovered, if your city planner is certifiably power-crazy, you could be looking at 93 days in jail. After her front yard got dug up for sewer line maintenance, Julie Bass decided to put in raised vegetable beds instead of reseeding the lawn. It …


How many lives did the EPA just save with coal pollution regulation?

The EPA's new rules regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, limiting air pollution from coal plants in 27 Eastern states. According to the agency, this could result in 34,000 fewer premature deaths per year by 2014, plus preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma every year. (The above map shows how many early deaths could be prevented in each state.) By then, the rules will have cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent below 2005 levels -- an ambitious goal, but one that will save lives and, not incidentally, also save $280 billion a …


Could your dildo kill you?

Germany's Green Party has a penetrating concern: Toxic substances in sex toys. Vibrators and other plastic entertainments can contain high levels of plastic softeners like pthalates, which can cause a host of ills such as hormone imbalances, Green Party members of parliament wrote in their report "Sexual Health as a Consumer Protection Issue." Pthalates and other plasticizers are highly regulated in children's toys, but adult toys -- which are, after all, designed to get all up in your mucus membranes -- can have all the plasticizers they want. The Greens want to know what the government is proposing to do about …

Read more: Living, Sex