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Jess Zimmerman's Posts

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The most danceable fracking explainer you’ll see today

"My Water's On Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song)" is "Why Does The Sun Shine?" for fracking. ("Your groundwater is a mass of incandescent gas ...") It explains enough about hydraulic fracturing -- what it's for, how it works, where it can go wrong, why your sink just went up in flames -- for you to get through a reasonably intensive cocktail party conversation, or understand most news articles on the subject if you're the type of person who never gets invited to cocktail parties and instead just sits home reading the Times. (It was made by journalism students, so you …

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In memoriam: Douglas Adams, environmentalist

Douglas Adams, who died 10 years ago today, was the best writer of humorous science fiction who ever lived. (Note that I did not say "arguably," all objective-journalist style. I will hear no argument. The best.) If, like me, you can recognize and recite parts of the passage on the towel he's draped himself with in the above video, you don't need me to say any more about that. But he was also a committed environmentalist who devoted a chunk of his post-Hitchhiker's Guide career to increasing awareness about endangered species. Try this on for activism: He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro …

Read more: Animals

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Charge your phone by yelling at it

As if cell phones don't already encourage enough annoying, disruptive public noise, researchers at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul have developed a phone battery that you charge by yelling at it. The battery has zinc oxide wires running between two electrodes; sound vibrates the wires, and that creates electricity. Right now, it only works with sounds over 100 decibels, which is unfeasibly loud -- think motorcycle, chainsaw, or train. (It would be good for motorcycling rail-riding lumberjacks, though.) But in theory, batteries like this could charge off the sound of your voice, or -- ideally -- the obnoxious cell phone chatter …

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Transportation secretary: ‘Hipster? I hardly know ‘er’

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is a bike fan, and he doesn't care if that makes him look like a hipster, because he doesn't know what the word means. In an interview with the Huffington Post, LaHood made some perfectly reasonable, and indeed heartening, statements about the importance of bike lanes: And as head of the Department of Transportation, LaHood noted his “concern” over the “way that bikers are treated when they are on streets.” “I’m concerned that people that are driving cars have a level of respect for bikers, and that’s the reason that we have these bike lanes,” …

Read more: Biking, Cities

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Japan (shockingly!) gives up on further nuclear power

Once irradiated, twice shy: Japan is giving up on plans for future nuclear reactors after the disaster at Fukushima. The country had planned to build 14 more reactors by 2030, aiming to provide 50 percent of its electricity supply with nuclear power. Now, those plans are off the table, says Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Of course, new reactors might -- or might not -- have fared better in a natural disaster than the slightly antiquated Fukushima Daiichi plant. But regardless of the technical details, there's a huge public opinion barrier to get past. And public opinion seems to be …

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Tired of the climate change battle? How about a climate change RAP battle?

Is that global warming, or am I just flushing in embarrassment? This awful/awesome rap about anthropogenic climate change lets actual climate scientists take the stage for once -- and then proceed to make fools of themselves. We learned several things from the video: There's no denying this: Climate change is real! (real real real) Climate scientists are really, REALLY white. No, I mean like, they are worse rappers than Flight of the Conchords. By a significant margin. Also, maybe not everything sounds better autotuned. On the other hand, you gotta give them props for going balls to the wall. How many …

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The bike economy is booming

We don't want to underestimate Americans' ability to buy things they don't use, but bike sales were up 9 percent this quarter. There was an even bigger jump -- 29 percent -- in sales of road bikes, implying that people are using their new vehicles to commute. Gas-powered scooter sales went up even more -- those are still gas-powered, duh, but a hell of a lot more environmentally friendly than a car. Is this because of $4-a-gallon gas? It's too early to tell, but it seems reasonable. Then again, it could be because of increased bike-friendliness. The federal government has …

Read more: Biking, Cities

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Two hours of your work day goes to paying for your car

Americans work 500 hours a year -- two hours every work day -- just to pay for their cars, says James Schwartz of the blog The Urban Country. That's 12 and a half working weeks. Basically, you only work to pay your rent, feed your family, clothe yourself, buy iPad apps, etc. through about the end of September. The rest of the year, your ass belongs to your car. Schwartz based his calculations on the average car-owning household, which has more cars than working adults -- 2.28 cars and 1.147 full-time wage earners on average. Jesus, no wonder our economy …

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Peabody Coal’s new site is too awful to be believed, but some of you believed it anyway

Hey, did you hear about Peabody Coal's unconscionable new site, Coalcares.org? They're offering free Dora the Explorer and Justin Bieber-branded inhalers to kids living near coal plants! They have a "Kidz Koal Korner" with these cartoon characters called "Puff" and "Ash," and they say clean energy will kill you, and they want to make kids think asthma is cool because coal pollution causes asthma! It's like something out of the Onion! It almost reads like a spoof site! It ... oh. Yeah, if you retweeted an angry tweet or signed a hasty petition (ETA: Which was apparently part of the hoax, …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Coal

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Is climate change causing the Mississippi flood?

Mother Jones has posted everything you might want to know about the record flooding along the Mississippi, including the big question: Is this destruction just the ravages of an angry Nature, or is it the ravages of an angry Nature that's pissed about climate change in particular? The answer to "did climate change cause this?" is basically "well, no." Of course the direct cause of the flood was massive rainfall: up to four times the normal amount in some areas this April. But what caused the rainfall? As usual, we're going to pussyfoot around saying that climate change is definitely …