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Sarah Laskow's Posts


Tsunami debris on the West Coast could be ‘far worse than any oil spill’

Last year's tsunami in Japan threw 1.5 million tons of debris into the ocean. It's starting to show up on the West Coast -- a soccer ball here, a motorcycle there, a 66-foot, 165-ton dock. According to the Associated Press, more might be coming. Or it might not. But when the debris arrives, if enough arrives, it could be dangerous enough to be a national emergency.

No one knows for sure what's going to happen next. The AP talked to “some experts” who thought most of that debris would chill out in the ocean, far from American shores. But they also talked to experts with names, like Chris Pallister, who was not so sanguine:

"I think this is far worse than any oil spill that we've ever faced on the West Coast or any other environmental disaster we've faced on the West Coast" in terms of the debris' weight, type and geographic scope, said Chris Pallister, president of a group dedicated to cleaning marine debris from the Alaska coastline.

Read more: Pollution


Honda Fit, most efficient car EVER, gets 118 MPG equivalent

In England, when you want to say that a guy or a gal is h-o-t-t HOT, you say "He/she is FIT!" And that is what we want to say about the 2013 Honda Fit EV. The Fit is FIT. F-i-t-t FIT!

This car -- this car! -- according to the EPA, gets the fuel efficiency equivalent if 118 miles per gallon.


As an electric vehicle (EV), the car does not use fuel, so one might also say that it gets 29 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. That's better than the Ford Focus Electric, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the Nissan Leaf, according to Wired. The Fit also charges in three hours and has a range of 82 miles. It costs $36,625, which, admittedly, is pretty expensive. (A new Prius, for instance, now starts at $24,000.)


First-graders protest Starbucks to save local coffee shop

Back in 2011, a tragedy of epic proportions struck the East Village: Starbucks moved in. And not only did it move in, it kicked a beloved local coffee shop, The Bean, out of its flagship location. Even non-coffee drinking elementary school students were outraged, as Majorie Ingall discovered:

Here we have a piece of paper recovered from the recesses of the backpack of an East Village, NYC elementary school student.

Translation from first-grader-ese:

Starbucks: The Bean Instead.

These budding activists handed out their hand-drawn flyers to their schoolmates, plus some for the Bean staff. According to other local kids, they also came up with some righteous chants, such as “The Bean rules, Starbucks drools.”

The Bean didn't let Starbucks' incursion get it down. In fact, it expanded, opening up a store to replace the flagship and launching plans for additional outposts. But a bond was forged between the coffee shop and kids who valiantly defended it.

Now, this spring, the neighborhood school that these same kids attend (it's actually named The Neighborhood School) found out that it might need to shut its library. Since then, grown-ups have raised funds to save it from imminent demise. But they're still worried about its future.

Enter: The Bean.

Read more: Cities, Family, Urbanism


Horseshoe crabs have weird, bright blue blood

Horseshoe crabs have bright blue blood. They are like aliens. (Does this one not look like a dead alien?) Nature, you are weird.

Robert Krulwich explains why the crabs’ blood is so beautifully blue:

Their blood kind of sloshes around in their bodies carrying oxygen to various organs, as our blood does.

Our blood is red because we use hemoglobin to move oxygen around. Hemoglobin has iron in it, which gives off a reddish hue. (Think of rust.) Horseshoe crabs use a copper-based molecule called hemocyanin to distribute oxygen. In nature, copper turns things blue or blue-green. So that's why their blood is blue; it's copper-based.

Besides being blue, horseshoe crab blood has another amazing property: It clots when it comes into contact with foreign bacteria. In other words, this stuff's ideal for detecting impurities. And humans use it to do just that, in products like pharmaceutical drugs.

But humans are amazing, too, and they have found a way to steal some of this blood (it's worth more than $10,000 a quart!) without killing the crabs. Okay, without killing most of them.

Read more: Animals


GZA and Neil deGrasse Tyson team up on a hip-hop record about science

I do not know much about writing rap lyrics, but I'm guessing that most rappers do not meet with physicists and cosmologists from MIT and Cornell before sitting down to write. But that’s exactly what Wu-Tang Clan founding member GZA did during the creation of his new album, Dark Matter -- a project the rapper hopes will turn his audience on to science.

GZA’s partner in this endeavor: Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the fusion of astronomy and awesome in the shape of a man. Oh yes. Pretty sure this is going to be amaaaaaazing.

Read more: Living


A cell phone charger made out of viruses

Except for the whole “make you sick and can’t be killed” thing, viruses are basically the ultimate renewable resource. They’re natural. They're numerous. They replicate themselves. And, after some tinkering by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, they can generate electricity.

A project at the lab has incorporated genetically modified viruses into a piezoelectric system -- a way of generating electricity based on touch. Piezoelectric systems exist already: They're behind the shoe- and pavement-generated electricity projects. But the current generation are made from ceramics, which create toxic byproducts. Viruses, by contrast, are environmentally friendly. The virus-based generator is five or 10 years from viability, but in the future the same organisms that give you the sniffles might also charge your phone.


A solar-powered cell phone charging station inspired by Occupy Wall Street

Photo by Dawn Danby.

Tommy Mitchell wasn't an Occupier, but when he visited Occupy Wall Street, he found out that OWSers were charging their cell phones at a hot dog vendor's gas-guzzling generator, The New York Times reports.

“I was like, ‘Well that’s awful,’” he said. That’s when he began thinking about inventing a device that could harness renewable electricity in a public space without outlets. “It’s so practical that you can see it,” he said.

So Mitchell whipped up a solar cellphone charger, then brought it back to Occupy, where everyone loved it and declared him a hero of the people.

Read more: Cities, Politics, Solar Power


Disney bans junk food ads from kids’ programming

Saturday morning cartoons will never be the same. Disney is announcing today that the company’s media properties -- its websites, its radio stations, and its TV channels, which include the ABC stations that rule the pre-10 a.m. cartoon lineup -- will no longer broadcast or post advertisements that promote unhealthy food.

That means nothing that’s overly high in fat and sugar but low in nutrition. No more ads for Capri Sun. No more Kraft Lunchables. No more teeth-melting sugary cereal. No more fast food.

Read more: Food


Critical List: Northeast cap-and-trade program dropped emissions; World Environment Day

It's World Environment Day -- bring out your green-minded celebrities!

In the Northeast, power plants' carbon emissions fell an average 23 percent during the three years of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative's cap-and-trade program (compared to the previous three years).

By 2050, Latin American and Caribbean countries could be racking up $100 billion in damages from climate change each year.

Read more: Uncategorized


Four innovations that will make the future less wasteful

The New York Times Magazine has a lovely list of "innovations that will change your tomorrow." Many of these innovations will give people fabulous new ways to consume more: New coffee! More screens! Underwear that monitors how lazy you are! But a few will also change our tomorrows to help people use less. Naturally, those are our favorites, and here they are: