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Samantha Larson's Posts

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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

ocean
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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?

factory-cows
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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

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Nouveau Veg

Five reasons why kelp could be the next kale

Eating kelp sounds gross. But even the mighty kale was once largely regarded as a leathery, bitter garnish. Look how far that leafy green has come now! We're bound to tire of smothering kale in peanut butter and baking it into cookies someday. When that happens, we might turn to the oceans to satisfy our next big veggie craze. In the video above, Bren Smith, the director of Greenwave, explains why he thinks seaweed is poised to invade our plates. Here's a few reasons: 1. It requires no fresh water or land to grow. At the rate we're going, we probably want to be more frugal with both these resources. Smith points out that kelp can be grown in …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Nestlé doesn’t want you to know how much water it’s bottling from the California desert

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Nestlé may bring smiles to the faces of children across America through cookies and chocolate milk. But when it comes to water, the company starts to look a little less wholesome. Amid California's historically grim drought, Nestlé is sucking up an undisclosed amount of precious groundwater from a desert area near Palm Springs and carting it off in plastic bottles for its Arrowhead and Pure Life brands.

The Desert Sun reports that because Nestlé's water plant in Millard Canyon, Calif., is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians' reservation, the company is exempt from reporting things like how much groundwater it's pumping, or the water levels in its wells.

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What kind of environmentalist are you? This time, you decide

What is the IPCC saying?
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A couple weeks ago, I put together a highly scientific questionnaire in order to dig into the depths of our readers’ environmental motivations and psyches.

Ha, no I didn’t. But I did ask a few silly questions and then mercilessly stereotype you all!

Putting the “What kind of environmentalist are you” quiz together felt like a fun experiment in the ways of the internet, because quizzes are internet crack -- and not just for BuzzFeed. The New York Times' most popular article of last year was a quiz (by a long shot). But I recognize that, to many people, I kind of missed the mark.

Part of the fun of taking a quiz is recognizing yourself in the results and poking fun at that. The way I saw it, half of the joke was mocking the fact that I even made a quiz -- and so most of the answers I provided weren't actually serious (raise your hand if you actually get around in self-driving cars or communicate with Occupy hand signals). So, probably no one fully recognized themselves in his or her result. But a lot of what I felt I was making fun of were the glimmers of myself I saw in each of the included parodies, and I hoped others could do the same.

Read more: Living

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Oklahoma hit by eight earthquakes in two days. Is the fracking industry to blame?

oil drill in Oklahoma
Shutterstock / Anthony Butler

The eight earthquakes that occurred in Oklahoma over the past couple of days may be yet another side effect the U.S.’s insidious fracking boom.

The quakes hit between Saturday morning and early Monday morning, most of them small enough that people didn’t realize the ground was shaking beneath them (they ranged from 2.6 to 4.3 on the Richter scale). But they’re part of a broader trend of increased seismic activity in the heartland over the last few years, a trend that correlates with the growth of fracking. As the L.A. Times reports, Oklahoma experienced 109 tremblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013, more than 5,000 percent above normal.

Fracking itself isn't thought to blame, but the disposal of fracking wastewater might be. Scientists have found that pumping the wastewater from fracking operations into wells likely triggers earthquakes because it messes with ground pressure, especially as those wells become more full. Like the wastewater well in Youngstown, Ohio, that triggered 167 earthquakes during a single year of operation. The biggest one, a sizable 5.7, happened the day after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources finally stepped in to shut the well down.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Get off my ice

John Oliver’s Antarctic tourism PSA: “Stick your d*ck in a freezer” instead

antarctica tourism

John Oliver understands why 40,000 people visit Antarctica a year. Free snow cones! And, as if that weren’t enough, free penguins! That sounds like my kind of vacation.

Which is exactly the problem: Tourists bring invasive species along with them, which has some researchers concerned for the future of the frozen continent's unique ecosystems, some of our last remaining pockets of pristine. So, on Last Week Tonight, Oliver offered up his idea for the Antarctica’s new tourist campaign: “Stop coming here.”

Sorry, Oliver, too late. When I was lucky enough to go to Antarctica in 2005, I was blown away by the vastness of the place -- a feeling that set me on track to give a damn about our planetary woes today. It's a bit of a conundrum: I'm glad for that perspective but, like almost anything that anyone does, I know it wasn't free of broader consequence. In any case, we can at least be more thoughtful about how we go about visiting the world's last wild places -- like maybe skip the Neil Armstrong impression on that ancient moss bed.

Read more: Living

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Cycle Hack

Easy tip for biking in a skirt: Put a penny in yo’ pants

I love biking to work. The sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the breeze blowing up my skirt.

Eep, actually, that last one gets annoying fast. But ladies, don’t let a fear of public indiscretion stand in your way of reveling in your own freedom! There’s a solution: Put a penny in yo’ pants.

Read more: Living