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Samantha Larson's Posts

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Plant Suits

Patagonia makes waves with plant-based wetsuits and obligatory weed jokes

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Patagonia, the outdoor clothing outfitter, has figured out what gets surfers’ attention -- and it’s something more blunt than big breaks. Yep, the company plans to bring them in with the promise of weed.

In a new print ad Patagonia declares, “We have the best weed in town (and we’re giving it away)":

Patagonia's ad will show up in print publications this fall. Click to embiggen.
Patagonia's ad will show up in print publications this fall. Click to embiggen.

No, don’t be silly, not that sort of weed! In most states that’s still illegal. What Patagonia's got on offer isn't actually a weed at all: The ad refers to guayule, a desert shrub native to the Southwestern U.S. that's being baked into wetsuits instead of brownies. Priced between $529 and $549, the company's hardly giving the suits away -- but it's decided to make the new biorubber, made by Yulex, available to the rest of the surf industry.

Why? It's not just out to leave you duped. The brand believes that open sourcing a rubber made from greener alternatives will give the surf industry a break from non-biodegradable, resource-intensive neoprene.

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Tuna-ed Out

Farming bluefin tuna might be out of our depths

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Close your eyes. Think fish. Do you envision half a ton of laminated muscle rocketing through the sea as fast as you drive your automobile? Do you envision a peaceful warrior capable of killing you unintentionally with a whack of its tail? These giant tuna strain the concept of fish.

-- Carl Safina, Song for the Blue Ocean

When most of us think tuna, the image we conjure is more along the lines of a friendly looking tin of Starkist than a voracious top predator. But Atlantic bluefin -- not actually the tuna you'd likely find in a can, but the type that ends up as expensive sushi -- are just that. Because sushimongers' insatiable appetites for bluefin are wiping the fish out of oceans, some scientists hope that aquaculture can relieve the pressure from the wild stocks. Turns out, that's a hard thing to do.

Why? Well, think about it for a second: Would it ever sound like a good idea to farm tigers?

Read more: Food

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El Niño flakes out

Not even Jesus is going to save California from this drought

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California is looking pretty thirsty these days, having gotten less than half the historical average rainfall over the past year. But a few months ago the state began think that a great wet hope might step in to save them: El Niño, the weather system named after Jesus himself. Now the forecasts have changed, however, and it looks like Californians are SOL.

Back in April, scientists said there was a close-to-80 percent chance that an El Niño would form this year. Some believed that all of the pieces were in place for a particularly strong one. And while this would've raised certain flavors of meteorological hell, at least the boy would have brought copious amounts of much-needed rainfall.

But over the past few months the probability of an El Niño forming has decreased. And if one does form, it's becoming clearer that it won't be a strong one -- meaning that it probably won't bring Californians the break they were hoping for.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Blue is the new orange

Netflix is about to hijack our evenings with grim environmental films

Netflix has already burned weeks of our lives with its early ventures into original programming. You know what I'm talking about. Every episode of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black left you tearing out your hair screaming, “I NEED JUST ONE MORE, PLEEEASE!”

Now that the good people at Netflix have come to realize their power, they’re going to try to use it to show us something even more unnerving than murderous politicians: real life. As part of their new documentary push, they bought the rights to two films focused on the state, and fate of our planet -- Mission Blue (watch the preview above) and Virunga.

Read more: Living

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Exctinction VI: This time it's personal

Dead elephants, plagues, and rats: Why the sixth extinction is bad for you and everyone you know

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Hey, remember the dinosaurs? Yeah, neither. All it took was one massive asteroid, and all the dinos were wiped off the face of the planet. Well, there’s a new asteroid in town: us.

New research published in the journal Science lays out the scope of the destruction we've wrought -- and suggests that it's going to come back to bite us. Not only will the so-called sixth extinction make that wildlife safari you’ve always wanted to take a lot less interesting, it could increase disease and make it even harder to feed our own ever-growing population. Happy weekend!

Similar to previous extinction events, the large, cute animals (like elephants and polar bears) are disappearing the fastest: since 1500, more than 320 land-based vertebrates have gone extinct. Which isn't just bad news for wildlife junkies; their loss translates into a shift in the whole ecosystem. Scientists found that areas in which the big guys disappeared quickly became infested with rodents – who bring all of their disease-carrying parasites with them.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” lead author Rodolfo Dirzo says. “Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a viscious cycle.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Picture This

Climate change VR games make you a better person by making you kill trees and coral

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Despite our best efforts to convince people of the dangers of climate change, fully half of Americans still choose to ignore the 97 percent of scientists who say it’s real. Well, stop tearing your hair out, and get a load of this mind boggling study out of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which shows how virtual simulations might be the thing to do the trick.

Armed with an Oculus VR headset, one of the lab's games guides the participant on a walk through the forest. And then, things get a little weird:

From Smithsonian:

In a minute, she's handed a joystick that looks and vibrates like a chainsaw, and she's asked to cut down a tree. As she completes the task, she feels the same sort of resistance she might feel if she were cutting down a real tree. When she leaves this forest, and re-enters the "real" world, her paper consumption will drop by 20 percent and she will show a measurable preference for recycled paper products. Those effects will continue into the next few weeks and researchers hypothesize it will be a fairly permanent shift. By comparison, students who watch a video about deforestation or read an article on the subject will show heightened awareness of paper waste through that day—but they will return to their baseline behavior by the end of the week.

Just imagine what she’d do if we made her go out and cut down a real live tree!

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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The Bot Digest

Will drones save the rhinos? Some conservationists say it’s launch time

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Even as the teensy unarmed planes continue to invade American skies, words like "drones" and "surveillance" tend not to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings. But are there certain cases where being kept under bot watch will be welcomed?

Because drones are both nimble and thrifty, idealists are launching drones on feel-good missions across the globe. Yesterday, I wrote about the potential for drones to keep us in the know of what goes on with our food. Here are some other projects that aim to use camera-armed drones for the good of the planet -- and why skepticism might keep these projects from taking off.

Drones that spot illegal fishing

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Ocean conservationists may be psyched about Obama's plan for a supersized marine protected area. But, given that 20 percent of seafood is caught illegally, marine sanctuaries may matter a lot less when the rules aren't enforced. That's why the government of Belize is testing the waters with drone surveillance by using them to monitor their Glover's Reef Marine Reserve.

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Drone on

Could drones be our secret weapon in the fight against Big Ag?

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If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again. Manure lagoons fester. Animals cram into tiny spaces. Unsanitary conditions abound. Which is exactly why Big Ag would rather you just didn’t know. At least seven states have now made it illegal to use undercover evidence to expose the unsavory practices that take place on factory farms. Award-winning journalist Will Potter thinks drones could be the workaround to these controversial “ag-gag” laws.

NPR reports that Potter raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to buy drones and other equipment in order to investigate animal agriculture in the U.S.

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Hospital food gets a locavore makeover

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If you’re reading this from a hospital bed, you’ve probably got a lot feel crummy about. And sometimes it seems like hospitals are actually trying to add insult to injury by what they serve up. Like this: Mark HillaryEw. hirotomo tNope. SiobhanOK, that doesn't even look real. And yet ... it is. Yuck. But there's good news spreading through hospital corridors across America: The promise of a meal that's actually palatable and good for you -- and for the environment. AP reports that a "growing network of companies and organizations is delivering food directly from local farms to major institutions like Thomas Jefferson …

Read more: Food

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Algal Pints

Another reason kelp will win over hipsters’ hearts: craft beer

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Valentyn Volkov

Yesterday, I gave you the top reasons why kelp could bump out kale as hipsterdom's star vegetable -- it's environmentally friendly, nutritious, and delicious (maybe?). If seaweed really wants to reign king, what better way to win cool hearts than becoming an ingredient in craft beer? (There's no such thing as Kale Light.)

Turns out, kelp is already a step ahead of me. On July 15, the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., in Belfast, Maine, began pouring the Sea Belt Scotch Ale. Sugar kelp is a main ingredient.

Brewery owner David Carlson had reason to believe his experiment would be a success: What gets kids excited these days like weird ingredients, especially if they're locally sourced? But, as NPR reports, he approached the experiment with reasoned caution:

Read more: Food, Living