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Sarah Laskow's Posts


A guy in China is trying to sue the government over the terrible smog

Alicia Griffin

Li Guixin lives in the Chinese city Shijiazhuang, which you’ve probably never heard of but which is gigantic. It is the capital of northern province Hebei, has a metro population of 10 million (about the same as Chicago or D.C.), and is among the country’s 10 worst cities for smog pollution. Living there, Guixin has not only put his lungs at risk, but his wallet too. He's spent a boatload of money on "face masks, an air purifier and a treadmill to get indoor exercise," Reuters reports.

And now he's suing the Chinese government to make it stop:

[Guixin] submitted his complaint to a district court asking the city's Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to "perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law", the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said.

He is also seeking compensation from the agency for residents for the choking pollution that has engulfed Shijiazhuang, and much of northern China, this winter.

Read more: Cities, Living


Blast from the past: Audio project reminds us that times, and temps, are changing

Library of Congress

One afternoon a few weeks back, sunny, crisp, below freezing, I was on the edge of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, about a mile from home. It felt like the first time I'd been out in the sun in days, after it snowed, and snowed, and snowed again. The frozen piles on the city sidewalks were grey with dirt and yellow with dog pee, but the path leading into the park was clear and lined with white.

I put in my earbuds and pressed play.

“It's cold, so let's go outside,” I heard Josie Holtzman say. “Find somewhere you can walk uninterrupted for about seven minutes -- anywhere that you can just walk and think. So bundle up and I'll wait for you outside.”

I was bundled: warm socks, winter boots, poofy Patagonia vest under wool coat, hat, mittens, and a scarf (or, really, almost a blanket) that's made from llama wool and is so, so warm. Minus the vest, which was an extra concession to the cold, this has been my get-up almost every day this winter. It's been a cold one here.

“Outside?” Holtzman asked. “Good.”

This was “The Walk,” one of the “soundwalks” of Winters Past, an audio project that can make you hear and remember that winter is changing. That this season has been cold -- but not so cold that in years past it would have been anything remarkable. That we're already forgetting what winter was.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


This nifty box can (illegally) turbo-charge your bikeshare cycle

ku-xlarge (1)
Share Roller

Jeff Guida's soon-to-be-Kickstarted ShareRoller is a hack for your local bikeshare -- a briefcase-looking block that takes just a minute to attach to a bikeshare bike and that gives you an electric assist, up to 18 mph.


To interface with the bike, the ShareRoller uses a retractable powered wheel that relies on friction to drive the front tire. Acceleration is adjusted using a simple throttle control, temporarily mounted to the bike's handlebars, that propels the bike at varying speeds when pushed, but automatically turns it off when released. And braking is, of course, handled by what the bike already has in place.

Two hours of charge will get you 12 miles of riding.

All of this is rad! There are just three problems.


Florida judge rules it’s illegal to unhook from the city’s water system

Justin Mechell

Near the end of 2013, a Florida official decided Robin Speronis was doing something too strange to tolerate: She was trying to live off the grid.

Off the Grid News reports:

Speronis has been fighting the city of Cape Coral since November when a code enforcement officer tried to evict her from her home for living without utilities. The city contends that Speronis violated the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid.

And now, a judge has ruled that living independently of the city's water supply is illegal. "She must hook up to the water system, although officials acknowledge she does not have to use it," says Off the Grid News.

Read more: Living


Watch the Arctic’s oldest ice melt away

The Arctic's "old ice" -- ice that had been around for at least four years -- used to make up about a quarter of all the ice in the Arctic sea. But it's disappearing, and in the NOAA video above, you can watch it happen. It’s kind of unnerving -- the ice cover looks almost like it's in pain, and if the Arctic could feel pain, this probably would hurt.

But, really, we're the ones who are hurting here. The Guardian explains:

Replacing this thicker, harder old ice with young ice, which is generally thinner and melts more easily, is also contributing to the steep decline in summer sea ice extent and could trigger a feedback loop.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Buy this gizmo, and you’ll only ever need one candle for the rest of your life

Benjamin Shine

This very clever gizmo solves a problem that humans have struggled with for hundreds of years: the stupid mess of dripping wax that happens every time you light a candle. (OK, to be fair we struggled with this a lot more hundreds of years ago than we do today, but still.) But now you can capture that wax and turn it into another candle, creating an infinite candle!

Well, not quite infinite, says FastCoExist:

Each time the Rekindle Candle burns, there’s a little less wax left, and eventually you’d have to start over with a new candle. How long it lasts, Shine says, depends on the specific candle -- some burn faster, some are drippier -- but you might be able to reuse the wax as many as five times.


This new IKEA bookshelf system could save forests of trees


IKEA is, functionally, in the business of selling ground-up trees, sometimes covered in very, very thin slices of not-ground-up trees. And it's not even clear that they get those trees in an above-board manner. (Get it, board?) But, when you need a bookcase, we know where you head.

We're not judging. We keep our records in Expedit bookshelves, too. In fact, we LOVE the Expedit, and we did a double-take when we found out IKEA was discontinuing it, just like you did.

But, as Gizmodo explains, this is actually a good thing -- a way for us all to do a little bit better by the world while still paying bargain-basement prices for furniture made of ground-up trees. Because IKEA is making a very, very similar shelf that uses slightly less wood.

The thickness of the wide outer edge that makes Expedit so distinctive. It seems like a minuscule change to us, but it's not. Sales numbers for Expedit aren't public, but we know that Ikea sells some 41 million similar Billy bookcases a year.

If Ikea can cut even a centimeter of wood on each of those products, it will save massively on material costs. It's also going to help them make good on their claim of sustainability.

Read more: Living


Farmers fed their hogs ground up piglet intestines … but, um, for a good cause?


Well, this is horrifying. A bunch of piglets at a hog farm contracted "porcine epidemic diarrhea virus," which sounds bad enough in and of itself. But then, after they died, the farmers used their intestines to inoculate grown pigs against the disease. Which is slightly better than feeding the grown pigs baby pig innards just all willy-nilly, BUT STILL. Is there really no better way to do this??

There's video, but, assuming you don't want to watch it, NPR reports:

In this video, we learn what happens to the piglets at Iron Maiden Hog Farm in Owensboro, Ky., that succumbed to the virus: The animals' intestines are ground up and fed, as a "smoothie" — as [Humane Society of the U.S.] dubs it -- back to the sows, which could be their own mothers. (The exact size of the farm is unknown, but the barn shown in the video houses about 2,400 sows.)

Read more: Food, Living


Train passengers rescue baby elephant from a ditch

baby elephant
Joachim S Mueller

Elephants are smart about many things, but trains are not one of them. In India, Metro reports, they are constantly falling onto the tracks:

Accidents involving elephants in the country are not uncommon. On Monday, one was killed after it froze on tracks as a train sped towards it.

And seven elephants died when a train rammed them at 50mph in November -- prompting calls to restrict rail speeds to protect India’s wild elephant population, estimated to be about 26,000.

But this week, one baby elephant got lucky.

Read more: Living


Climate change is going to cause 1.3 million extra burglaries before 2099

angus mcdiarmid

The hot, hot heat of climate change is not going to bring out the best in humanity. A new study mashed up FBI crime data with past and future climate data in order to try to estimate how many more crimes we'll commit if it's hotter out.

Apparently, a lot. The Los Angeles Times:

Between 2010 and 2099, climate change can be expected to cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft, the study published this week in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management says.

Read more: Living