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Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species

dog nose
Shutterstock

There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter -- until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.

The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog's favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.

Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):

Read more: Uncategorized

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Scientist: Save Earth by shrinking humans — and making them hate hamburgers

mad-scientist
Edward Fielding

If the Earth were a potluck, humans would be the guest who shows up empty-handed and already drunk, eats all the dip, knocks over the fish tank, and electrocutes the dog. There’s a reason why there’s a billion trillion planets out there and only one invited us to the party: No matter how many times we offer to fix the coffee table, perhaps with some sort of whacky pseudo-sciency scheme using Duck Tape and a hundred or so tons of iron sulphate, we’re still shitty guests.

Maybe it’s better to change ourselves -- and not just switching from bourbon to beer, but serious change, on the genetic level. At least that’s what Matthew Liao, director of the bioethics program at New York University, is suggesting.

Frank Swain with the BBC has more:

“We tried to think outside the box,” says Liao. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”

The answer they landed on is human engineering: the biomedical modification of human beings to reduce their impact on the environment. The associate professor suggests that by changing our underlying biology – altering our size or diet, for instance – we could create greener humans. ...

“We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people,” says Liao

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You know what this threatened Florida forest needs? A Walmart and a Chick-fil-A

PineRockland
Miguel Vieira

Walmart is all about convenience, which is probably why the company is building its new Miami-Dade store on 125 acres of Florida’s dwindling pine rockland: There are currently about 2,900 acres of pine rockland left outside of the Everglades, and Walmart’s new store will make choosing a home about 5 percent easier for the many imperiled species that live only in these shrinking forests. Thanks, Walmart!

Jenny Staletovich at the Miami Herald has more on this developing story:

About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chick-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

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This cute solar puppy needs a name. Won’t you help?

solar-dog
CPS Energy

Everybody knows solar farms need solar sheep, but did you know solar sheep need solar dogs? And apparently, those solar dogs need solar names. That’s where you come in.

CPS Energy, the Texas utility that uses sheep to cut the grass on its solar farm so technicians can access the panels, is letting people vote on the name for its latest ecofriendly herding dog. Which makes sense: Since CPS is owned by the city of San Antonio, the pooch kind of belongs to the whole town.

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As Arctic sea ice melts, polar bears eat less surf, more turf

polar bear
iStockphoto

The Polar Press, the leading polar bear paper, recently ran this uplifting headline: “Ice-starved polar bears find finless food far from flows.”

In related news, the Daily Caribou News Gazette, the paper of record for arctic ungulates, had this tragic headline: “Ice-starved polar bears find finless food far from flows. RUN!”

Also on arctic news stands this week, the Seal and Sea Lion Standard, the largest weekly news magazine amongst pinnipeds and similar semi-terrestrial sea mammals, led with: “Top 10 recipes for cooking caribou.” It was the most popular cover since last year’s fashion issue, headlined, “Gortex: Inuit. Sealskins: Outuit.”

Wise-cracking aside, it turns out receding ice may not spell doom for polar bears. Scientists have long thought that the bears spent the summer months living predominantly on fat reserves from the winter seal season, when they hunt on the sea ice. Linda Gormezano, an ecologist with the American Museum of Natural History, has presented new evidence showing polar bears are adapting successfully to longer summers on land by eating caribou, geese, and goose eggs.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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This Texas solar farm uses sheep for its landscaping needs

curious-sheep
Eric Gevaert

Using livestock in the solar power industry is a time-honored practice dating back to at least last Monday. But as handy as it is to have a donkey saddled with solar panels, when the energy requirements grow beyond charging tour laptop, larger and larger solar-animals are required. Eventually, strapping panels to grazing mammals becomes impractical.

That doesn’t mean that big solar plants don’t have a place for some four-hooved hench-creatures, however.

Enter the sheep. (Enter the Sheep, by the way, was to be the title of Bruce Lee’s next film). A small solar farm owned by CPS Energy, the municipal power company in San Antonio, Texas, has enlisted the help of the wooly workers to keep its grounds safe and tidy.

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Kidney stones: One more thing to look forward to in our climate-changed future

KidneyStone

With the world’s weather warming, you can expect a commensurate rise in the typical summertime body bothers, but what’s the big deal? That’s just the price you pay for modern convenience. Who can’t handle a case of stink-foot, a spot of swamp-butt, pit-stained T-shirts, and stabbing pains in the abdomen and lower back accompanied by excruciating and bloody urination.

Wait a minute, what was that last one?

New research from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that even slight warming causes a marked increase in kidney stones. The study focused on 60,000 patients in five U.S. cities, analyzing the frequency of patients seeking treatment for kidney stones within 20 days of temperatures rising above a pretty mild 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In Philadelphia, when average temperatures rose to 86 degrees, kidney stone cases went up a startling 47 percent.

While excessive heat was a big factor, rapid changes in temperature were also a big predictor. Atlanta and Los Angeles, for instance, have the same average temperature of 63 degrees, but Atlanta, which is far more prone to temperature extremes than seemingly climate controlled Los Angeles, had twice the reported rate of kidney stones. Sobering, as most climate models predict not only warmer temperatures, but more radically fluctuating weather patterns.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Chinese company creamed for GMO corn thievery

thief
iStock

The FBI has captured members of a super-secret Chinese spy ring whose arsenal included false identities, corporate fronts, Cold War anti-surveillance techniques, Subway napkins and, perhaps most cruelly, Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn boxes. What were they after? Diplomatic communiques? Launch commands? Plans for the Death Star? No.

They were after corn.

And to think they used his own popcorn boxes to smuggle corn out of the country. Poor Orville’s bowtie must be spinning in his grave (assuming he was buried with a novelty spinning bowtie and a robust power supply).

Edvard Pettersson at Bloomberg has cob-bled together the whole seedy tale:

Three years ago, a security guard working for seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred came across something unusual on a road in Iowa: Just off the pavement, a man was on his knees, digging in a field.

Challenged by the guard, Mo Hailong claimed to be an employee of the University of Iowa who was traveling to a nearby conference. He jumped back in his car and sped away.

U.S. authorities would later accuse Mo, and five other Chinese nationals, of stealing corn seeds and attempting to smuggle them back to China.

A seventh defendant, Mo Yun, was arrested and charged Wednesday with stealing trade secrets for her husband's seed company -- the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company.

The details of the case, laid out by prosecutors, underscore the difficulty of safeguarding U.S. intellectual property, and the determination of some foreign rivals to acquire technology by illicit means.

The Chinese company is accused of stealing trade secrets worth an estimated $30-40 million, so you can understand why the feds were all ears. The arrests include that of company president Mo Hailong, better known as the Jason Bourne of Corn. If there’s a kernel of truth to the allegations, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

Read more: Food

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Enough of the climate-denying clowns, say BBC bigwigs

clown
Shutterstock

There’s a fine line between impartial and stupid, and the BBC has been working the wrong side of the line. A report by the independent BBC Trust has concluded that the public broadcaster has been giving too much air time to climate deniers. Broadcasts, the report stated, should more accurately represent the best available science -- or, as The Telegraph elegantly put it, “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.”

Here’s more from Telegraph science correspondent Sarah Knapton, but I must warn you, more frightening British spellings appear below:

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.

“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Furries? Feet? Forget it: This flower’s weird sexual hangup has us humans beat

Axinaea-sp-Melastomataceae
Andreas Kay

It’s the age-old story: Boy lures bird close by offering bird his delicious genitals. Bird eats genitals. Boy, using his highly evolved bellows organ, explosively projects his gametes all over bird. Bird flies away, perhaps a little ashamed. Boy hopes bird lands on girl, covers her in his genetic material.

Or at least, that’s how Axinaea, a small South and Central American rainforest shrub, does it. And that’s the birds-and-the-bees story my kids are getting.

Phys.org has the rest of the tawdry tale:

Read more: Living